Kathrine (Kate) Conley grew up in Snowtown where her father Os was the local pharmacist. She and her younger siblings Bill, Moira and Joanne thrived in a happy loving family environment. Kate stood out as a vibrant fun-loving girl, full of ideas and a ‘leader of the pack’.
During the years of her secondary schooling, Kate was a boarder at St Aloysius College. It was here that she began to explore the idea of joining the Sisters of Mercy. Her parents persuaded her to first complete her teacher training. In1953, aged 19, Kate joined the Sisters of Mercy in Angas Street as a postulant and began there as a teacher. Following her profession in 1955 she took the name Sister Marian.
As a teacher and later as a school principal in a number of Mercy schools, Kate found herself drawn to help others, particularly women in need. Her gift for grasping the essentials of a situation and engaging with ‘anyone’ in need with cheerfulness, humour and a readiness to act, led over the years to many lasting connections.
Her ministry continued as a chaplain, particularly at the Women’s Prison. There, she encountered women with all manner of problems, homelessness, drug addiction, despair over broken relationships or grief at the loss of someone dear to them.
Always, Kate found the means and the time to listen and set something positive going. As appropriate she would include a short reflection or prayer that gave these women hope and a sense that they and their troubles were important.
She said of this work that she felt ‘ordained by circumstance’.
In 1995, Sr Kate was invited to a convention on restorative justice in Canada. Here she presented a booklet of reflections, prayer and short rituals which she had developed during her time as chaplain. Kate maintained her connection with many of the women she met in the prison and continued to support them on their release. In fact, her award of an OAM in 2021 was first initiated by one of these former prisoners.
Apart from her chaplaincy, Kate conducted retreats at Sevenhill for staff from Mercy schools and others. She travelled to the Philippines and spent a sabbatical in Manila working among the poor and marginalised there. She spent time ministering to the refugees in Curtin Detention Centre. She was on the board of Catherine House in its early years.
Alongside this very practical and involved approach to helping women and families on the margins, Sr Kate also enjoyed periods of solitude and contemplation where she nourished her creative self. She loved to paint, to write poetry and to be ‘still’, simply enjoying the beauty of nature.
In 1995 she spent a year’s sabbatical living in solitude in a shepherd’s hut in the Barossa Valley. Here with unlimited time to reflect, Kate was able to immerse herself in writing, painting and nourishing her spirit before returning to her prison work with renewed energy. She has left us with a lasting legacy of beautiful paintings, poetry and reflections.
Kate is remembered as a storyteller, a good friend to many, a community builder, a leader, a formator, an artist, a poet, a contemplative, an activist, a lover of life.
– Bill Conley and Joanne WrightJump to next article