Patricia Kathleen Phillips was born in Gundagai in 1927 but lived the early years of her life with her parents in Sydney at the home of her Nanna and Pop Phillips. When she was five, Pat and her mother went to live in Gundagai with her mother’s family, the Crowes. Sadly, after a short illness, her mother died at 33 when Pat was 13.
Educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Stanislaus Convent School, she loved the nuns who were her teachers and joined the juniorate for the Wilcannia-Forbes Congregation of Sisters of Mercy at Parkes when she was 13.
To the girl who had roamed the hills of Gundagai and had spent most of the summer in the cool, refreshing waters of the Murrumbidgee, the discipline of life at the Juniorate in Parkes came as a shock. Nevertheless, the Juniors were happy and contrived to have lots of fun, much of it instigated by Pat.
After her profession, Sr Pat spent three years in Condobolin, as teacher, footy coach and maintenance manager. During whole school singing lessons, some of the boys were assigned to help her fix fences and do other minor maintenance jobs. This suited Sr Pat, the boys and the singing teacher!
After six years at St Joseph’s High School in Broken Hill, she was given four years’ study leave to achieve history honours for her Bachelor of Arts degree and a Diploma of Education. She won the University of Sydney Medal through these studies, and began research for her MA. An article she wrote on Fr John McEncroe, based on her MA thesis, was published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume Two.
Pat returned to Broken Hill in 1962 as principal of St Joseph’s Girls’ High School. Under her leadership, St Joseph’s received glowing reports after inspections by the Department of Education, great HSC results and a fine reputation in the city. In recognition of her contribution to Broken Hill, the mayor presented Sr Pat with the keys of the city.
In 1974 St Joseph’s Girls’ High School amalgamated with the Marist Brothers College. Having been named principal of the new co-ed school, Sr Pat steered the staff of the two schools through a wonderful process which eliminated many teething problems other schools experienced in merging.
After 15 years as principal and choreographer of the annual musicals, Pat was given sabbatical leave. In 1976-77, she studied spiritual direction and counselling at the Jesuit Graduate College of Spirituality and Worship in Berkeley, California.
When Sr Pat returned from Berkeley, still keen to be involved in the formation of youth, she spent the next 22 years at Red Bend Catholic College, Forbes, a Marist School which became Marist/Mercy co-ed just prior to her appointment. Sr Pat taught Year 11 and 12 English and religion, coordinated religious education for the seniors, was a member of the retreat team and a permanent member of the college executive and college council. Gradually counselling became her major role with clients including parents (and grandparents), staff and students.
Since her death, tributes have flowed from her colleagues, students and their families, recognising her excellence in teaching and her love of the English language and literature. But it is Sr Pat’s personal qualities that are best remembered – her genuine care, compassion, non-judgemental stance, and unconditional acceptance of everyone. She is also remembered for her sense of humour, fun and cheekiness. Sr Pat obviously enjoyed life. Her endearing qualities brought others into a warm and loving experience of God.
Ill health caused Sr Pat to retire from school at age 72 and she came to live in Adelaide. Here she worked as a volunteer in several capacities: in the Brighton parish as grief counsellor, accompanying eight adults in their journey of membership into the Catholic Church, preparing children for the sacraments. She was also a voluntary counsellor at Sacred Heart College Middle School.
In gratitude for her long association with them, the Marists made her an Affiliate of their Order and provided her with a three-month overseas holiday.
A great contributor to the community life of the Sisters of Mercy, Sr Pat’s funeral was attended by many Sisters from her former congregations of Wilcannia-Forbes and Adelaide. For 12 years she was a member of the congregation council, the last six as its vicar and was the last local superior.
While Sr Pat enjoyed company, always adding to the life of the party, she also loved to just be still, reading the Scriptures, praying or listening to quiet music. While life had many difficulties over the past couple of years, she never complained or showed any frustration. She saw all the events of life as God’s blessings.
Sr Pat once said: As I look back over my life I thank God for calling me to become a Sister of Mercy. After my Profession I was able to spend a night in the convent I loved in Gundagai. On my first visit to the Chapel I was overcome by the words on the arch above the altar, which I read as God’s direct message to me: “I have loved you with an everlasting love”.
Delivering the homily at her funeral Mass, Archbishop Wilson said Sr Pat exemplified the life of the founder of the Mercy Sisters, Catherine McAuley.
“She was an agent of God’s mercy right until the very end of her life. We knew it and we experienced it – that’s why we have loved her so much and we will miss her so much. All of us have been privileged to have known her and be loved by her, all of us have much to learn from her life, and now she wants all of us to turn away from looking at her and turn to Jesus.”
Adapted from the eulogy by Sr Marie Ralph RSM, who is pictured with Sr Pat and Archbishop Wilson.
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