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A funeral like no other


They came in brightly coloured clothes, as the funeral notice instructed, to celebrate the life of their friend, Sr Janet Mead. They came from different cultural backgrounds and all walks of life to pay their respects to a woman they loved.

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More than 700 people gathered on a beautiful summer’s day in the canopied courtyard of the school where she taught and sang, St Aloysius College. Surrounded by artwork, posters and flowers, the setting looked more like a garden party than a funeral.

Multicultural community leaders and First Nations elders, representatives of other churches and faiths, students and old scholars, Adelaide Day Centre clients and staff, Religious and clergy, human rights activists – all were present, emphasising the breadth of her ‘lifetime of giving’.

Led by Fr Philip Marshall, the liturgy was rousing and radical with cries of ‘RISE UP AND SHOUT’ replacing ‘Lord Hear Us’ and the Gospel reading of The Parable of the Good Samaritan contemporised with references to modern day villains and heroes.

When they played Sr Janet’s recording of The Rose, there was hardly a dry eye among us. When we shouted VIVA SR JANET, concluding a South American tradition of calling forth the saints and ancestors, it felt more like a call to revolution than a farewell.

The talented musicians and singers brought us to our feet as they performed Sr Janet’s favourite song, Do You Hear the People Sing (from Les Miserables).

There was no mention of her reluctant rise to stardom, or the fact that she was runner-up to Elvis Presley in the Grammy awards, but when we sang the Janet Mead version of The Lord’s Prayer there was no doubting we were in the presence of greatness.

I have never been, and will probably never go again, to a funeral quite like it.

Being there was a ‘blast from the past’ for me, a child of the 60s educated by the Mercy Sisters in the 70s and an eager participant in the Cathedral Rock Mass. I stepped back into a time when Godspell was my favourite musical and when I couldn’t get Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord out of my head. It was a time of Bob Dylan, peasant dresses, high-waisted flares and Golden Breed t-shirts.

But most importantly it was a time when our youthful, some might say innocent, faith was inextricably linked to fighting for equality, speaking out against injustice and serving the needy.

It was a time when our deep desire to make a difference and create a better world was rooted in the core values associated with our religious upbringing, rather than a shallow social media campaign.

Sr Janet never lost that fiery faith and in doing so she changed lives. She may not have changed the world as much as she’d have liked, but as she said in a rare media interview, ‘We sing, not only to change the evils of the world, but so they won’t change us’.

Viva Sr Janet!


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