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A zest for life and generosity of spirit


Rosemary Campbell OP (born April 11 1931, died February 8 2024)

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Rosemary Campbell grew up in the Depression and World War II eras and came from a family that was poor financially but rich in kindness and generosity.

Her parents were among the mainstays of the Catholic Church in working class Kilburn and were always there for anyone who needed help in any way. This sense of community, kindness and selflessness became imbued in Rosemary’s character.

Educated at St Joseph’s Kilburn and then Rosary School Prospect, Mother Mary Vincent Conway was a powerful influence on her and she entered the Convent of the Dominican Sisters of North Adelaide on Good Friday 1952, her 21st birthday.

She took the name Sr Mary John and the motto ‘I came to serve’. She served in a variety of ways in Dominican schools during the 50s and 60s, including as boarding house mistress, a demanding role which called on compassion, patience and a level of appreciation of the many different ages and circumstances of those who had to leave home to further their education.

Boarders now in their senior years speak with deep gratitude of her fair-minded and compassionate approach and have never forgotten her.

Adaptability was one of her key strengths and, like many of her contemporaries, Rosemary was sent to teach children in the Catholic schools opening up to waves of migration to Australia. She was on the founding staff of St Augustine’s School which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

She was Prioress Provincial of the North Adelaide Province from 1977 to 1985 and at the same time was library coordinator of St Dominic’s Priory College, a position she held from 1973 to 1988. The school’s new Adams Mayo Library has a section named the Campbell Study Corner in appreciation of her work, particularly in the design and building of the Conway Library.

She was also renowned for popping up with her camera to take photos of staff and students. In a tribute from St Dominic’s Priory College, Rosemary was remembered for her ‘patience, practicality and professionalism’ as well as ‘her generosity of spirit, great humour and empathy’.

As Provincial in the post Vatican II years, Rosemary led the congregation through a period of new possibilities but also major changes.

She demonstrated great courage in managing change. Many young women chose to re-evaluate their decision to remain in religious communities and Rosemary was a wise mentor in assisting those making their transition. They speak highly of her acceptance of difference and her respect for the dignity of each person.

After spending a year travelling overseas in 1986-87, she spent five years in administration at the Dominican House of Studies in Rome. This was a source of great joy and growth for her, as well as providing ongoing friendship with Dominicans from around the world.

In the publication about North Adelaide Dominicans, Chapel, Cloister and Classroom, editors Kathy Teague and Stephanie Burley received frank responses to probing questions about Rosemary’s motivation for religious life.

Early in the interview she acknowledged that a loyal and persistent boyfriend did not persuade her to marriage: ‘As far as I was concerned God was the only one to whom I could give myself whole heartedly.’ And the arrival of birthday bouquets of flowers annually for some time did not lead her to any second thoughts.

Rosemary generously shared her practical skills and gifts, including providing vital support for big celebrations and projects such as the congregation’s centenary celebrations.

She worked diligently in the background on the congregational history and archives, leaving a legacy for the Dominican Sisters of North Adelaide.

An avid Port Adelaide supporter, she invested time and interest over her 92 years in a number of co-curricular activities ranging from the very active such as Tai Chi, surfing, woodwork and photography to the quieter comfort of stamp collecting, listening to classical music, watching the international tennis competitions and many more. Spiritually her activities included the leadership of a weekly meditation group at an Anglican Church in the city.

In the last days of her life Rosemary Campbell expressed heartfelt thanks for the life she had lived. She was always cheerful despite the continuous chronic back pain she suffered over many decades and which in the last two years left her completely bent over.

Although her mind was still so active and she did not relish losing her independence, Rosemary accepted with gratitude the kindness and company of the wonderful staff and her companion residents at Calvary Flora McDonald. And she never lost her sense of humour.

– Taken from eulogies by Sr Jill Havey OP and Paul Campbell

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