Carmel’s faith was fostered within the loving environment of her family and while as a student at St Aloysius College.
She was the oldest child of John and Susan Hennessy and was a great help to her mother as each of her siblings – John, Ann, Therese, Peter and Denis – arrived.
In 1947 Carmel entered the convent in Angas Street where she was received into the novitiate and took the name Sister Mary Damien. She was professed in 1949 and then began a teaching career.
Carmel was an excellent teacher, creative and energetic and for many years she taught students at St Aloysius, Goodwood Orphanage, Mercedes College and primary schools at Elizabeth and Parkside. She was hard working and completed every task wholeheartedly.
Her experience, skills and knowledge led her to being appointed supervisor of novices teaching in Mercy parish schools. With encouragement and kindness, she critiqued the novices’ work and helped them plan and prepare for lessons.
Halfway through 1979 Carmel began a six month spirituality program in Baulkham Hills, Sydney. On her return to Parkside she taught part time and began pastoral work in the parish and by the following year, after 20 years’ teaching, she decided to take on pastoral care for the people of the Parkside parish on a full-time basis.
For the next 15 years she was very much part of the life of the parish community, carrying out her ministry with generosity, kindness and compassion.
In 1989 Carmel participated in the Scripture program at St Georges College in Jerusalem. She was grateful for that opportunity as it led her into a deepening experience of her Religious life and ministry.
By the mid 90s the decision was made for the Sisters to leave the Parkside convent so Carmel chose to live in a community at Angas Street while continuing her Parkside ministry. However, when she was appointed community coordinator in 1996 she had to relinquish the ministry she had loved and found so life-giving.
Not long after the Adelaide Day Centre opened in Moore Street in 1996 Carmel was one of the earliest volunteers giving her time and skills to supporting homeless people who visited each day. One of her regular tasks was to answer the phone, take details, relay messages and for many years she maintained the database for hundreds of Christmas hampers packed each year.
On other days she could be found peeling and chopping ingredients for daily lunch, packing vegetables into bags for distribution to people in need, sorting items – in fact, whatever tasks she was assigned she did with care because she wanted to be part of that community supporting Adelaide’s homeless people.
It was a two-way process for Carmel and while she gave of her time and herself, she would also acknowledge the tremendous love and support she received at the Day Centre, not only from staff and volunteers but also the many men and women who visited daily.
In 2002 Carmel spent some time travelling in Ireland. On her return she lived in community in John Street, Adelaide, then later when it was sold she moved to Stanley Street, North Adelaide.
Carmel had always demonstrated a loving care for people who were sick, particularly the Sisters in her community. She was a regular visitor to hospitals where Sisters, parishioners and family alike appreciated the time she spent with them and the tasks she did for them.
When Stanley Street was put on the market, Carmel moved to a communal unit at Plympton until her physical health deteriorated and she moved to Netley and then Southern Cross Care at Plympton where she continued for as long as possible her weekly volunteering at the Day Centre.
Carmel’s life was not all work. In her early years at St Aloysius and Mercedes, she could often be seen on the tennis court, black habit tucked up, veil flying while hitting a mean backhand.
She spent many a Saturday afternoon attending yoga classes but the real love of her active life was bushwalking.
She joined a bushwalking group and walked all the tracks in the Adelaide Hills and beyond. With her family she travelled overseas and together they walked many of the more challenging and long-distance tracks.
Carmel was devoted to her family. In later years she delighted in the birth and subsequent milestone achievements of each of her nieces and nephews.
As we mourn her death and offer our condolences to her family, we know that probably by now she has already checked out the walking tracks of Heaven with her God.
Taken from the eulogy by Sr Margaret Adams