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The girl from Gundagai reaches 90


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I am so grateful to God who reminds me every day: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’.

With these words, Sr Pat Phillips thanked God for calling her to become a Sister of Mercy when she celebrated her 90th birthday on July 23 at Mass at St Joseph’s Brighton and at a party with friends, fellow Sisters and parishioners.

Born and raised in Gundagai, Sr Pat came to Adelaide 18 years ago after a long and illustrious career in Catholic education in New South Wales.

Educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Stanislaus Convent School, Gundagai, she loved the nuns who were her teachers and joined the juniorate for the Wilcannia-Forbes Congregation of Sisters of Mercy at Parkes when she was 13.

For the girl who had roamed the hills of Gundagai and had spent most of the summer in the cool, refreshing waters of the Murrumbidgee, the discipline of life at the juniorate came as a shock.

“Nevertheless we were happy and did contrive to have lots of fun,” she said.

The restrictions of juniorate life were nothing compared with those of the novitiate: “We were not allowed to speak to our friends, the professed sisters. In fact, it seemed, we could not speak at all – except at ‘recreation’ times, when we darned our stockings. I was often in trouble over lack of ‘custody of the eyes’; it seemed that whenever I sensed the approach of the novice mistress I just had to look up. I later realised that these practices were aids to recollection and to prayer.”

After her profession, Sr Pat spent three years in Condobolin as teacher, footy coach and maintenance manager.

In 1952, after final profession, she was sent to Broken Hill to St Joseph’s High School. In her last year of that appointment, 1957, there were 72 students in the Year 7 class to which she taught geography. Three of those students, Marie Ralph, Daphne McKeough and Helen Owens went on to join the Order and later became congregation leaders. (Sr Marie, the Delegate for Religious in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, is her close companion and carer.)

In 1962 she was appointed principal of St Joseph’s High School, Broken Hill. School holidays were dedicated to study. She was the first of the Sisters in her Congregation to graduate with a Master’s degree and to be awarded a university medal.

Sr Pat remembers her 15 years as principal of St Joseph’s as happy years with excellent staff, committed to giving students a first class education. She guided the process of the amalgamation of St Joseph’s with the Marist boys’ school and was principal of the new St Joseph’s College for three years.

“I loved teaching,” she said. “I remember fondly our musicals which ran for several nights in the Broken Hill Civic Centre. Sr Maria Pia followed by Marie Ralph were the producers, Daphne did the scenery, Yvonne the costumes, Lecia the music, and I was the choreographer. A great team effort!”

In 1976 she was granted sabbatical leave and spent a year at Berkeley, California, at the Jesuit Graduate College of Spirituality and Worship.

“This became a very significant experience in my life: engaging with men and women (mainly Religious) from many parts of the world…I received a broad education in the spiritual life, specialising in spiritual direction and counselling.”

She returned to Australia still keen to be involved in the formation of youth and joined the staff at Red Bend Catholic College, Forbes, where she taught Year 11 and 12 English and Religion, coordinated Religious Education for the senior years, was a member of the retreat team and a permanent member of the College Executive and College Council. Later, counselling became her major role. During this period she was a member of her Congregation Council for 12 years, the Vicar of the Congregation for six years.

“As teacher and counsellor I have had many profound experiences. An example – when Michael came to board at RBCC. He had a very tragic background: he had seen his father shoot his mother and then shoot himself. I spent many hours with Michael and often wondered how much I was helping him. When I was leaving Red Bend, he wrote me a touching letter in which he told me he had loved our meetings together.”

That was two decades ago and Sr Pat still keeps in touch with him through his grandmother.

At 72, she retired due to ill health and after the local convent in Parkes was sold she came to live in Adelaide. Here she volunteered as a counsellor at Sacred Heart College Middle School, grief counsellor in the Brighton parish, in the local RCIA program and children’s sacramental preparation.

“Supported and inspired by my Sisters, I have been opened up to God’s mercy in my own life and hopefully have been a channel of that loving kindness to the people with whom I have been called to share my life, mainly young people and their families,” she said.

“I have had such a happy, fulfilled life, in the presence of my God who loves me with an everlasting love.”


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