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Gifted and generous servant

Obituaries

Sr Charlotte (Gemma) Nicholas OP - Born: January 24 1927 | Died: June 13 2020

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Born in Mexico to Lebanese parents (Anthony and Margaret Nicholas), Charlotte migrated to Australia from Lebanon in 1939 with her father and one of her four sisters, Evelyn.

Charlotte’s other sisters Lamia, Linda and Violet and brothers Joseph, George and David followed years later.

As a young girl she worked at Myer and for a professional dressmaker before becoming a Dominican Sister in 1955 at the age of 20.

“Two of my cousins were in the Carmelite and Josephite orders but I didn’t look good in brown so I joined the Dominicans,” Charlotte cheekily told The Southern Cross in 2009.

At the Dominican teacher training college in Canberra she made curtains for the 60 rooms of the new two-storey building, earning her the right to shake the hand of Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies at the opening of the building in 1963.

After taking the name Gemma at her profession, her first posting was at the Kapunda Convent where she taught herself to cook and began teaching religion and dressmaking to students.

At the request of Archbishop Gleeson and Bishop Kennedy, she began looking after the Lebanese Church at Westbourne Park which she continued to do for many years.

Charlotte was sacristan of convent chapels and churches at Loxton, Stirling, Glenelg, Semaphore, Kapunda, Cabra and St Mary’s in Franklin Street where she also trained the altar servers.

For more than 50 years she used her skills as a seamstress to make albs and vestments for bishops and priests in South Australia and Australia, often at no cost to clergy.

She also provided great service to the Cathedral parish over three decades, catching the bus every day into the city from her home at Cumberland Park to provide the flower arrangements, altar cloths and cloths for the sacred vessels.

Charlotte loved flowers and had a beautiful garden in the former Cabra gatehouse where she lived. She did hundreds of floral arrangements over the years, for weddings and Masses at Cabra Chapel, the Cathedral and St Maroun’s Church, as well as the annual Marian Procession and other large Archdiocesan celebrations. She used cans of silver and gold spray paint to decorate the large leaves in her floral arrangements.

In 2009 she received a papal award for her outstanding commitment to the Cathedral over many years. At the time, Archbishop Philip Wilson said she had done this with “great generosity and loving service”. In 2015 she was given a beautiful icon of Mary by the Maronite community of St Maroun’s in appreciation of her dedication and commitment to the community for more than 40 years.

Despite having three heart operations and a pacemaker, Sr Charlotte was known by family and friends as “the flying nun” because of her energetic approach to life.

She would entertain her fellow Sisters and Cabra students with Coca-Cola and biscuits, particularly the Sudanese students and others who she knew must be feeling lonely and homesick.

When Cross Road was widened, she served the construction workers with icy cold homemade lemon juice on hot days, such was her warm hospitality.

One day when she was returning home from the city by bus she sat next to a nurse who was running late for work and had forgotten to change out of her high heeled shoes. Charlotte was wearing a new pair of comfortable flat shoes and she let the nurse try them on. They fitted and so she gave them to the nurse.

This is just one of the many stories of Charlotte’s generosity in life.

Adored by her large extended family – including 41 nephews and nieces and their children – Charlotte was also remembered at her funeral Mass for her great sense of humour and beaming smile.

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