Beth, third child and only daughter of Reg and Ella Radford, was born in Croydon. She grew up in Kilkenny and gained her primary and secondary education with the Sisters of St Joseph at Alberton. Needless to say, she was a staunch Port Adelaide supporter and later moved her allegiance to Port Power!
Why then, did Beth become a Dominican (other than for the obvious black and white garb)?
The answer is to be found in an article she wrote, entitled In-spired. While travelling to the city by train as a small child she admired the spire of a chapel on the hill. Later, on her way to work, the chapel spire prompted her to pray.
She first met the Sisters in the 1950s when she attended a State live-in conference of the National Catholic Girls’ Movement (NCGM) at St Dominic’s in the January holidays, and she discovered that the spire was above their convent chapel.
She felt a call to be a Religious, sometimes trying to ignore it and then discussing it with the NCGM chaplain Fr Len Faulkner. When Beth expressed a desire to enter the Order, her non-Catholic mother went to talk to the current superior. Her verdict? ‘Give it a try but I don’t expect you to stay long. You’ll never be able to keep the silence or the white dresses clean.’
When Beth first entered, the Sisters had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 6am-10pm. Her favourite ‘shift’ was in the early afternoon when the sun streamed through the stained glass windows and the colours spread their beauty. If the sun wasn’t shining she could focus on the Eucharistic images on the high altar – the marriage at Cana, the Feeding of the 5000 and the Last Supper. In those days the Divine Office was sung, chanted or recited in Latin and she loved classical music, hence the choice of Latin hymns at her Requiem.
Beth joined the Dominican Sisters of North Adelaide in April 1957 and at the end of that year received the Dominican habit and the religious name Sr James Mary. Most of the Sisters were called Sr Mary Something, whereas Beth had her name reversed and chose Mary not James as her patron, such was her devotion to Mary and the Rosary.
Beth loved sport. She played cricket and netball before entering the convent. For many years as sports mistress she taught young people the value of sport to develop team spirit and a sense of fair play. In retirement she watched TV and was up to date with cricket, football and tennis. She has indeed run the course to the finish and kept the faith. Now she is awarded the crown of righteousness reserved for those who have longed for God’s appearing.
After first profession of vows, Beth moved out from St Dominic’s and learnt teaching on the job from ‘practitioners’ in our various schools. For the next 30 years she was regularly assigned to teach in the classroom at Salisbury, Prospect, Findon and Seaton, or to provide religious education on the Motor Mission for Catholic children in State schools in the Salisbury, Parafield Gardens, Brahma Lodge, Para Hills area. There were few lay teachers and classes of 70 plus children were the norm due to an influx of European migrants.
She was a very good teacher – firm but fair – and her students were promoted with a solid grounding in the three Rs. For much of her teaching career she also coached sports wherever she was stationed. Sometimes Beth doubled her role as teacher, principal and/or local community leader as well as being a member of the Provincial Council for several terms.
Beth relished her times for personal renewal including a Kairos course in Sydney in 1978. Through Deirdre O’Sullivan she learnt about and became involved in a program known as PRH (Personality and Human Relationships). PRH holds the belief that all people aspire to live their potential and to contribute in their own unique way to society.
During her sabbatical year in 1990 Beth undertook an extended PRH course in Bangkok and later in the United States. She capitalised on her round the world air ticket to visit the Holy Land, Italy, Scotland, and spent 10 days in Stone in England from where the founding Sisters came to North Adelaide.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42) in the Gospel reading at her funeral Mass, Beth was able to confront her true self – warts and all – under the gentle gaze of Jesus who knew all about her and loved her unconditionally.
The last 12 years of Beth’s active ministry (the longest in any one place) were spent at St Dominic’s Priory College in the office and library.
Beth moved to residential care at the end of 2014, first at Tappeiner Court then Calvary Flora McDonald Retirement Community where she died. While resisting her loss of independence she quoted ‘In God’s will is my peace’, the motto she adopted as a guide for life.
Although Beth had no family members to attend her funeral in St Dominic’s Priory Chapel, the presence of friends from pre-convent days and colleagues was testament to the wide network of people she had impacted in some way during her long life and many ministries.
– Sr Noreen Reynolds OPJump to next article