Sr Janet, 84, died peacefully at home after succumbing to cancer on the morning of January 26, 17 years to the day that she became the first woman to be named South Australian of the Year.
Recognised for her social justice work, she was actively involved in anti-war protests, support for refugees and First Nations people, and fundraising for those in need locally and overseas.
News of her death spread quickly with media outlets around the world recalling the success of her rock version of The Lord’s Prayer and her decision to shun the limelight and donate the proceeds of her chart-topping hit to charity.
An obituary in The Washington Post, said long before her record brought her wider recognition, Sr Janet was well-known in Australia for her regular ‘Rock Mass’ in the St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Adelaide. “She encouraged young Catholics to play guitar or drums and sing like Presley or Bill Haley,” the article said.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall posted a tribute on Facebook saying “she touched millions of people worldwide with her inspired version of the Lord’s Prayer.”
The leader of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, Sr Eveline Crotty, said Sr Janet was a “well-loved Sister of Mercy” and “loved by the many pupils taught by her”.
“With the Romero Community, with whom she lived and worked, Janet was also a great advocate for those unable to be heard on many fronts.
“Janet was a fine woman of Mercy and a true daughter of Catherine McAuley (founder of the Mercy Sisters).”
The Romero Community said the “profound sorrow” of St Janet’s death on January 26 compounded “our mourning on this anniversary of Aboriginal dispossession”.
“Her sense of outrage at the ongoing injustice inflicted upon Aboriginal people, refugees and the poor continues to burn white-hot in the many works that she established”.
“Janet died in the hope that the cruel, mean spirit which has taken hold across this nation and across the world will be defeated by the resurgent spirit of compassion which defined her life,” the Community said in a tribute published in The Advertiser.
An old scholar, past staff member, friend and supporter of St Aloysius College (SAC), Sr Janet established the popular youth Rock Mass in 1972 to make the Mass more accessible for her students. It drew large crowds to the Cathedral in the seventies and eighties.
Sr Liz Morris RSJ, Vicar for Religious, said while many of us would remember the Cathedral youth Masses, “we also know of Janet’s outstanding outreach and advocacy for the voiceless”.
She worked tirelessly with homeless people through the Adelaide Day Centre, which she founded in 1985 with other members of the Romero community, and right up until last year she spent countless hours and enormous energy on the Romero Company theatre performances that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for overseas projects.
SAC principal Paddy McEvoy informed the college community of Sr Janet’s death.
“Our staff and students join with the Romero Community and the Sisters of Mercy in their grief, and give thanks for a life that gave so much to many vulnerable members of our community here in SA,” she said.
According to the Catherine McAuley Library at SAC, Sr Janet was a student at the college in Wakefield Street from 1943 to 1954 and entered the Convent in 1955. She studied piano at the Adelaide Conservatorium and taught at SAC from 1958 to 1962 and from 1969 to 1981.
In 1963 Sr Janet moved to Mater Christi in Mt Gambier until 1968 and returned to SAC in 1969, where she taught a range of subjects, including music and drama.
Sr Janet produced more than 20 full-scale school musicals, numerous plays and various musical performances and liturgies. In 1981 she embarked on a year’s sabbatical and effectively retired from teaching.
In 1973 she began making professional recordings of her music for schools and churches and came to the notice of Festival Records.
Her version of The Lord’s Prayer was not only a huge hit in Australia but was distributed to 31 countries and sold over 3 million copies world-wide. A music video of The Lord’s Prayer was filmed at SAC.
In 2004 Sr Janet received the Yamaha Golden Gospel Award in recognition of her services to Australian Christian Music.
The Romero Community and the Sisters of Mercy have advised that St Janet’s funeral will be held in the Dunlevie Courtyard, adjacent to the Chapel at St Aloysius College on Saturday February 12 at 10am. To provide an idea of numbers, people wishing to attend are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Fulham Funerals 8234 0506 by Wednesday February 9, if possible.Jump to next article