Carmel was the second child of Kathleen Crowley and John Christie of Parkside and a sister to Ron. Together with her sister-in-law Margaret, they shared a lifetime of loving family ties.
Carmel joined the Adelaide Sisters of Mercy at the age of 17 in February 1951 and her first ministry was teaching at parish primary schools in developing areas such as Elizabeth where classrooms were transformed into churches at the end of the week. Moving the desks out each Friday and back in on Monday was the norm, as was living in a tiny house with limited space and teaching resources. But it was a life rich in hope, laughter, and dreams for a better future shared with families in similar circumstances.
In 1964 Sr Carmel moved to St Vincent’s at Goodwood and so began almost 50 years of her life devoted to children in residential care. And care she did.
When nominated for one of her many awards, the Pride of South Australia Medal, she said: “I really couldn’t believe it when I received the nomination. I really thought it should be the children who get it. They have been such an inspiration to me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Following the mantra of the Sisters’ foundress, Catherine McAuley, who knew it was those in need who call ‘mercy’ out of us, the children she met irresistibly called her to love and to action on behalf of justice.
Sr Carmel worked with other Sisters to design a model of child care that moved away from large residential settings to cottage homes. This saw her move to Royston Park in 1975 and more than 10 years later to East Street, Torrensville, where she fostered many children. When that house was vacated in 2012, the extent of her public advocacy for children and for foster carers became apparent. She had written letters, interviewed politicians, met with local government and collaborated with other voluntary bodies doing similar work.
Teaming up with the Christian Brothers, her ‘children’ attended the Edmund Rice camps and she chose carefully schools that best met the gifts of each of her children and discussed their needs with sympathetic school principals.
She did her share of tuck days, attended Parents and Friends meetings, worked closely with her peers in foster care and advanced the support needs of foster carers with government departments.
A photo of Sr Carmel in the company of the Premier of South Australia and Adelaide’s Lord Mayor was typical. She simply asked her ‘how come’ and ‘what if’ questions and stayed on track until action for change occurred.
A ‘mother’ and homemaker first of all, Sr Carmel was a cook par excellence, a gardener with the greenest of fingers who won at least six awards, a friendly person who delighted in the company of neighbours, played tennis, enjoyed luncheon parties and coffee with friends. Frequently she arrived at the Mercy Office with a basket of delicious hot scones or Jubilee fruit cakes.
Sr Carmel saw the beauty around her, in others, in the seasons, all the while developing a vibrant, welcoming home for the generations of children for whom she was mother. There was always a pet dog to share in family life, Champ being a favourite.
She was a balanced, fun loving, clear thinking woman who easily distinguished reality from fantasy, truth from ‘alternative facts’; one who related to all as equals, be they friends, family, colleagues, those in public office in Church or State, neighbours or fellow residents. She always saw good in the other, always saw the funny side and always spoke with genuine appreciation: even when asking searching questions, which she also did respectfully but fearlessly.Jump to next article