In a fitting tribute to her outstanding service to education, the Catholic Church and the local community, more than 500 people farewelled Cecilia Quigley at Our Lady of Victories Church, Glenelg, on March 3.
The former school principal, president of the Catholic Women’s League SA and committed Glenelg parishioner was also remembered for her devotion to husband Peter and their six children and 13 grandchildren.
Cecilia Catherine was the third child of Tom and Kath Bennett, born down the road from their Hastings Street home in the Pier Street Hospital at Glenelg.
Her older sisters Judy and Mary remember Cecilia as a bit of a tomboy who found fun in taking on the boys in the neighbourhood in cricket, footy and tennis – often doing more than just holding her own.
Cecilia clearly developed her strong belief in the importance of family from her mum, dad and sisters. Tom would drive her (as he did for Judy and Mary) each day to school at Loreto College, with Cecilia’s procrastination in the mornings often resulting in him being late for work. He would then pick her up again when work finished, always with a smile and a nod.
She built strong friendships at Loreto including her best friend Mary Schinella who died six months ago.
Education was Cecilia’s great passion and it was no surprise when she entered teachers’ college in 1967.
Soon after graduating she was offered a job teaching at Burnside Demonstration School. In those days the demonstration schools in Adelaide were used to ‘demonstrate’ to other aspiring teachers how to teach well.
It was here that she first met fellow staff member Peter Quigley. They were married in October 1971 and for 51 years were soulmates. Through good times and bad they were always there for each other, right to the final moments of Cecilia’s life when Peter sat holding her hand and patting her head, telling her he loved her.
While Cecilia was pregnant with her first child, Kate, Peter was offered a position as deputy principal at Brown’s Well Area School. While no doubt a challenge, Cecilia was always going to make the most of this situation and she won over the Country Women’s Association with her famous sweets for a ‘gathering and welcome night’ and with her humble, warm and caring attitude.
As is tradition in the country, three more children came along quite quickly – Tom, Zoe and James. By that stage Peter was principal of Saddleworth Primary School and the local footy coach while Cecilia looked after four children under six years of age. A fifth child, Will, soon followed when the family was living in Crystal Brook, Peter’s third stint as principal.
After 10 years in the country, he was poached to come back and be principal of Antonio Catholic School in Morphett Vale. Joseph was born, completing the final piece in the jigsaw, and the family car was upgraded to a Mitsubishi van to fit the whole crew.
Shortly after, Cecilia went back to teaching, firstly as a teacher-librarian due to her passion for literacy, reading and books. She was an outstanding teacher – often a past student would come up and say they remembered her as the best teacher they had ever had – but she also had an itch for school leadership which she couldn’t resist.
Despite the challenges of raising six children and having a husband in a significant leadership role in Catholic Education SA, she completed her Master of Educational Leadership and took on her first role as deputy principal at St Mary Magdalene’s in Elizabeth Park.
Cecilia took great inspiration from Michael Campbell who was principal at the time, and together they supported staff, students and families in a way which inspired other teachers and staff to do the same.
But principalship was calling and after numerous conversations with CESA staff, Cecilia was offered acting principal positions, firstly at St Anthony’s Catholic School in Millicent and then Christ the King at Warradale. But she craved a school of her own. It was with a great deal of delight that she accepted the role of principal at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Albert Park in 2006, at the age of 58. This appointment was testament to her courage, determination, persistence and ‘just do it’ attitude.
The appointment meant much more than being a principal. It was her way of inspiring other female leaders, those who had families and not thought it possible, those who wanted more but didn’t think they could, should or would. It is an appointment that continues to inspire many others in the same position. She spent six years as principal and through her natural leadership style she became a much-loved member of the community. So much so, that Cecilia was still being invited to staff lunches some 10 years after she finished her time at Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Cecilia was also a very popular and respected member of the South Australian Catholic Primary Principals Association (SACPPA), evident in the many messages the family received from SACPPA colleagues after her death.
After her retirement, she immediately joined the Catholic Women’s League and soon enough took on the role of State president. Cecilia spent much time, energy and hard work in this role. No doubt the CWL is in a much better position today than when she took over thanks to her commitment and dedication.
Once again, this came through her desire for connection. She would drive to attend chapter meetings in the Far North, Mid North, South East and metropolitan chapters and everywhere in between. She formed great connections and friendships with those in the CWL and she loved her time with them.
An active member of the Glenelg parish, Cecilia had a deep faith and a contemporary and modern view on the role God plays in people’s lives. Celebrating the Eucharist was important to her and she developed great connections with the Our Lady of Grace Church parishioners.
She took on reading, special minister and flower arrangement responsibilities and was a long serving member of the parish council at Glenelg, resigning only two and a half weeks before she died and receiving a standing ovation as she left the meeting. Always someone willing to voice her opinion, with social justice, the role of women and the way we treat others at the centre.
Her love of entertaining others was legendary. Whether it was the local parish priest, her school friends, her family, her work connections, neighbours, sometimes even the person she met at the pokies that afternoon! Everyone was welcome and everyone was treated with great respect and love.
Cecilia was the hero of introductions and getting to know people. Her opening line in almost every situation was the same: ‘Hello, my name is Cecilia!’ It opened up so much for her. Before long, people who were strangers two minutes ago suddenly became a connection to her. They had worked out a few people or places they had in common, and she suddenly had another person she’d call a friend.
Later in life Cecilia found something which overtook all her other passions. In 2008 she and Peter welcomed their first grandchild, Isaac, and most years after, another one arrived. In 2021 Lottie made it a baker’s dozen of 13 grandchildren.
Diagnosed with cancer in late 2020, and after some initial treatment, Cecilia was told in August 2021 that she had an untreatable cancer and she should go home and prepare for her death, most likely to occur in a matter of months.
Typically, she saw this more as a challenge than a direction. She found a new oncologist, commonly referred to as St Carolyn Bampton, who gently and compassionately guided her through the next 18 months. Through sheer will and determination, she didn’t let her diagnosis and the disease stop her over the almost two years she lived with it. Whilst she did slow down a bit towards the end, that simply meant two diary bookings instead of four each day.
Cecilia achieved so much in her 74 years and packed an enormous amount into her life. But her greatest contribution to life, no doubt, is her six children and her wonderful life with her husband.