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Sister act


Life has always been a drama for Mercy Sister Kathryn Travers, but at the age of 83 she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Celebrating the 65th anniversary since joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1957 (and making her profession three years later), Sr Kathryn’s ministry has included teaching at several schools throughout the State and promoting her love of drama with students of all ages.

A mainstay in her life has also been the Therry Dramatic Society, the local group founded by Archbishop Beovich and George Walton in 1943, which is still going strong – despite the effects of a pandemic – nearly 80 years later.

This year is a significant one in the history of the Society, as it commemorates the 60th anniversary since the establishment of the Therry Schools Drama Festival. Running from 1962-1976, the festival provided an outlet for Catholic school students to become involved and experience what it is like to be in a drama production.

Over 15 years, more than 4000 students participated in an astounding 300-plus plays. At its peak the festival had almost 600 students from about 40 schools participating.

When the final curtain came down in 1976 the objective of the festival had been achieved, with drama becoming an essential part of the curriculum in almost every secondary school in the country.

Some of the students who took part in the schools festival went on to carve out professional careers in the theatre, including internationally. ‘Big name’ graduates include actors Kate Fitzpatrick, Peter O’Brien, John Noble and Peter Dunn, with Dennis McKie becoming a stage manager and Brian Gilbertson an opera singer and also running the Adelaide Christmas pageant.

Sr Kathryn has fond memories and was closely associated with the festival, directing 11 plays in the 1960s when she was teaching at Star of the Sea School, St Aloysius and Mercedes colleges.

“I was involved right from the beginning,” she told The Southern Cross.

“Because of Therry and having these festivals it was the first time, apart from school concerts, that students had the opportunity to be in a drama production.

“I just loved the interaction with the students and enjoyed the creativity of it all and seeing them come alive and enjoy it.

“At the beginning of every school year they would be asking, what are we doing this year, and I read plays until they came out of my ears!”

A few of the “memorable” productions were Alice in Wonderland, which received first place in the inaugural festival, The Mayor of Torontal, a joint production between St Aloysius and Sacred Heart colleges in 1970, and The Nightingale in 1966, featuring St Aloysius students. This play received first place in the festival and was later performed for an ABC children’s television program.

Sr Kathryn said the commitment to each production from both the students and members of Therry was immense.

“The members of the Society attended every play, as well as in the weeks before as every school had the opportunity of a rehearsal in Willard Hall (where the Church Office in Wakefield Street is now located),” she explained.

“It was an enormous commitment of nearly or over a month each year, along with their work and family commitments. They also helped with makeup and visiting the schools to offer any help needed. They were incredible!”

Always enjoying her behind-the-scenes role, Sr Kathryn did tread the boards on two occasions. She played one of the women of Canterbury in the production of the aptly-named Murder in the Cathedral and also performed in Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings, a play set in a retirement home for retired actresses.

“I had a walk-on part and one line to say, and then the curtain came down,” she laughed.

With the schools festival ending in 1976, Sr Kathryn continued to share her love of drama with students around the State during her 54 years in Catholic education. Other schools where she taught included St Raphael’s Parkside, St Martin’s Greenacres, St Anthony’s Edwardstown and St Anthony’s Millicent. She was pastoral associate at St Michael’s College for nine years.

Her association with the Therry Society has never wavered and she has served in several capacities.

“I was appointed spiritual director to the Society by Archbishop Faulkner in 1999. For this I attend Council meetings, where the activities of the Society are discussed, including the choice of plays and directors,” she said.

“I also attend as many rehearsals as possible – there are three a week – work at front of house during productions (there are four a year) and contribute and take part in the annual Australia Day Mass at the Cathedral, which marks the official beginning of Therry’s year.”

Since 1983 she was responsible for taking all the production photos of the plays but recently handed this task over to another Society member.

And despite COVID – which unfortunately impacted the most recent production, Betty Blue Eyes – Sr Kathryn said the Society was still “going strong”.

“It’s such a welcoming group and we do good quality plays and people like coming back to see them,” she said.

“Adelaide has a wonderful amateur theatre community and we all support each other. All the different groups are so alive and we have a very rich supply of talent.”


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