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Tuesday, 24 October 2023 09:51

Eulogy: Sr Robyn Reynolds (29.11.1942 – 1.10.2023)

srrobynreynolds 250May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be Everywhere Loved

“You are a spark of the Divine”.

These words spoken to Rob, by her mother, sum up her life. ‘You are a spark of the Divine’ On Sunday, 1st October, in Dublin, Ireland, our dear Sister, Robyn was totally enfolded by the all-powerful love of the Divine: her God, her love, her light, her friend, the one who called her into life 80 years ago, and whom she had lived for faithfully and lovingly as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for nearly six decades.

Since Rob’s death, the outpouring of grief and gratitude, from people around the World, has been tangible. Today, there is shock and a deep sadness as we come to remember with love and gratitude our dear Robyn, Rob, Robbie. We come to celebrate the vibrant spirit of a woman who embraced life as a divine dance.

To Robyn’s sister Liddy, brother Kerry and sister-in-law Helen and Rob’s many nieces, nephews and their partners and her grand nieces and nephews, and extended family who loved her so much and are deeply saddened by her death, we unite our heartbreak and sorrow with yours and assure you of our love. We also offer sympathy to those who join us from around the world via live streaming: our Sisters, Rob’s relatives and her many dear and close friends. We remember in a special way Ned, Rob’s grandnephew who kept vigil with Rob from the time she was taken to the hospital in Dublin, until she left the shores of Ireland, to return to Australia. Thank you, Ned. What a courageous, loving young man you are! We also remember Sisters Mairead and Jenny for their care of Rob in Ireland.

Today we also remember Rob’s deceased sister, Maree, and other deceased family
members whom she loved dearly.

Robyn Anne Reynolds, Robbie to her family and friends and Rob to many of us, was born on 29th November 1942 to Jim and Molly Reynolds, the third of four children. Rob grew up in Hamilton, in Victoria. Her parents were reliable, ‘salt of the earth’ people, as noted by Fr Dunworth Parish Priest of Hamilton, who wrote Robs reference to enter the Congregation in 1962: ‘The Reynolds are among the leading Catholic Families in the Parish.’ All of Rob’s education was in Victoria. She attended the local Catholic primary school, and her secondary education was at Loretto, Ballarat.

Rob was a beautiful dancer and her flowing movements came from listening deeply to the beat of the music. At a young age, Rob listened deeply to the music in her heart, the heartbeat of her God. She knew God was calling her to follow as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. This call was so strong she could only respond with a wholehearted ‘yes.’

Robyn entered our Congregation in Bowral and made her first vows in 1965 and was known as Sr. St. Gabriel. Years later she changed back to her baptismal name. After completing her teacher training Rob moved to Darwin. So began the next stage of her

journey of the heart. This young woman, this spark of the Divine, had further discovered her life’s mission ‘to be the heart of God on earth.’ And so began Rob’s lifelong ministry as a passionate, brilliant, enthusiastic, creative teacher, linguist, lecturer, advocate, spiritual companion and so much more. Her ministry began in the NT, in Darwin. Life as an OLSH missionary began in earnest in Wadeye, and in later years with the help of the Wadeye women Rob was to reflect on these times in her PhD thesis entitled Catholic Sacrament engaging with Wadeye ritual, other places of ministry included Nauiyu, (Daly River), Ltyentye Apurte, (Santa Teresa) and Alice Springs. Her deep love and respect for First Nations people, their language and culture grew stronger as the years went on. This love and respect was mutual with First Nations people commenting: ‘Rob’s smile and compassion for First Nations people was exceptional.’ Her knowledge of traditional customs /language were amazing and an inspiration to all. It was in Daly River, with the encouragement of the local people and the Sisters that she studied linguistics at Monash University. Having completed her studies Rob moved to Santa Teresa and Alice springs. She stayed there for 20 years, living, and working amongst the aboriginal people. These years in the centre were intense, exciting, difficult and graced She devoted herself to learning the Arrernte language and developing deep connections with the local community by listening intently and drawing close to the people. Some of these women became her closest friends., Rob always longed for a better Australia and was grateful for the friendships she formed with Aboriginal families. It was a blessing that Rob got to spend some time in Alice and Santa Theresa a few months ago. Robyn completed her time in Darwin as Dean of the Catholic students at Nungalinya College where she also taught theology. Rob recalled during these years she experienced that Reconciliation included sharing life together, as well as acceptance, forgiveness and respect.

Towards the end of 2005 Robyn moved to Victoria where she took up ministry at Yarra Theological Union and Heart of Life Spirituality Centre. Rob made an outstanding contribution at both Institutes. Recently, Rob was increasingly involved with NATSICC and the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry of Victoria. The educational ministry and especially the formation ministry were precious to Rob, along with the good friends and colleagues she worked with and learnt from. One colleague commented that Rob ‘had been the Gospel in action.’

Rob’s contribution to the life of the Congregation and the wider Chevalier family, not simply of the Australian Province, cannot be overestimated. She was Sister, friend confidant, teacher, spiritual companion to many of our Sisters, and Brothers around the world: Indonesia, Fiji, Philippines, South Africa and PNG.

The above words speak of Rob’s achievements, and they were significant. But behind the achievements is a woman who cannot be captured in words. Rob was a truly remarkable, radical, visionary, wise, and inspirational woman.

Rob loved her life, living our charism to love as God loves with every fibre of her being. She saw her deep-down mission as striving to be on earth the Heart of God, the Heart of Jesus. For Rob, Jesus was the choreographer of her amazing life. Rob’s life’s mission was love. She loved intentionally, passionately, inclusively. Rob drew her strength from her deep desire to love as Jesus loved, excluding no one, especially the poor and marginalised who held a special place in her heart. Rob was a strong advocate for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.

Quite simply, Rob was beautifully human and a beautiful Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She rejoiced in the successes and achievements of others. Always with a spontaneous; ‘yahhh, I’m so proud of you.’ words she used often to describe her family. She often expressed herself through dance, like the times she introduced Sisters to the top end by performing the Brolga dance, or at a Chrism mass, noticing the absence of women involved in the liturgy, she spontaneously danced on the altar what she called, the ‘dance of the oils’.

Kindness was so much a part of her that it was almost taken for granted. She had a rare ability to make everyone feel seen and valued, welcoming them into her life with an open heart. Over these past weeks Rob had spent time visiting our sisters in Australia and PNG, relatives, members of the Chevalier family, and friends, showing many acts of kindness: writing a poem, having a cuppa, picking a flower as she ran in to say hi, writing a card, sharing a meal, playing a favourite song on the piano and dancing. I’m sure we all have memories of Rob doing exactly these things as well as those laugh out loud special together moments. Rob was very, very funny. This spark of the divine, this love in action, left us better off than when she found us.

Rob lived her life attentive to the world, with its pains and struggles and joys. She faced her own challenges, with faith, strength, and resilience, she was able transform hardship into joy. Such was the case when she formed a group of women cancer survivors called ‘candance.’ Rob was like a breath of fresh air reminding us ‘ that when the heart is open, the spirit truly breathes.’

For nearly 20 years Rob has been a much-loved member of the Bentleigh Community, and in more recent years, she lived with Mary Drum MSC. These years with Sr Liz and the community were very happy years for Rob, living in a relaxed, loving community sharing faith, fun and friendship.

Over these past days as we grapple with our disbelief, sadness, and shock, I am filled with gratitude to Fr Manus and our MSC brothers in Ireland for their care, compassion, and love during this time. How fitting it was that the MSC’s, who had a close connection to Rob and her family in Hamilton, and whom she continued to have a close relationship with, were the people to beautifully farewell her, along with our OLSH Sisters, from the land of her ancestors, Ireland, just last week.

Let us surrender to our deep grief as we enter the sacred dance of loss, trusting that Rob, the spark of the divine, is resting in the spirit, with the God of her longing, her heart God. And may we continue to dance the divine dance of life, just as Rob did, and so be the Heart of God, the Heart of love in the world.

Rob, thank you for you inspiration, deep faith, loyal friendship, kindness, trust, and love and for your joyful smile that brightened our lives. Thank you for the precious gift you were to each of one of us.

Sr Philippa Murphy
Provincial Leader

19th October 2023