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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:38

For the love of teaching

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The Sisters warmly remember their teaching days, which began in the early 1930s and continued until the mid 1980s.

"My greatest joy in life was the day that I was sent in to take a class," says Sister Mary Singer. "I was only a novice but that day I discovered the joy of teaching. I fell in love with teaching and I'm still in love with teaching."

Sister Patricia Keating has similar memories of finding her vocation in life. "I felt that teaching was in my bones," she says.

Both women were educated by the Brigidine Sisters in Coonamble, NSW. Some of their teachers were Brigidine Sisters from Ireland, who had been invited to Australia by Bishop Murray of Maitland to teach in the north-western town.

"As a kindergarten student right through to my leaving I was influenced by the strength, gentleness, patience and compassion of the Brigidine Sisters," says Sister Patricia.  "They seemed to be able to overcome the difficulties of the hot, dry physical condition of Coonamble and give everything they could to the education of the children at their school.

"I remember being sick as a boarder and being rather lonely because my mother was in Sydney. But there was an Irish nun there who seemed to understand my situation. It was then that I began to realise that perhaps God was calling me to give some compassion, some understanding, and whatever talents I might have to the spreading of the Brigidine charism."

Over their 50 or so years as teachers, Sister Patricia and Sister Mary have taught at many Brigidine schools - Coonamble, Cooma, Cowra, Randwick and St Ives in NSW and Scarborough and Indooroopilly in Queensland.

Between them they've taught English, Modern and Ancient History, Geography, Latin and French, and anything else they were asked to teach.

Both enjoy adding drama to the classroom to bring subjects alive. They also have a great love of poetry.

Sister Patricia fondly remembers trying to encourage an interest in poetry to a class of boys at Frawley College in Queensland.

"It was almost an impossible task," she says. "So I decided to do something different. I got them to go out in the paddock near the school and observe something they had never seen before or had never paid attention to.

"One boy described the striking colour of the flame trees that he hadn't noticed before. Another saw a young fellow tossing his child in the air and both laughing loudly. That's poetry I told them. I'll always remember the wonderful yet simple things those boys had observed."

Both agree it's not all plain sailing being a teacher,  but they believe there are certain attributes that make a good teacher.

"Number one is to have a friendly approach to your students," they say.  "Number two is to listen to them. Number three is to create a sense of drama around the subjects and topics you are teaching and number four is to give your students a confidence that you are there for them. And it's important to embrace the whole body of children and to try and draw each one out."

While their teaching days are over, their love of learning has never ceased. Sister Mary is regularly heard reciting the poems of Australian Judith Wright, the romantic poets and her particular favourite, Browning.

"She's got a colossal memory," says Sister Patricia, a fan of Gerard Manley Hopkins, among others.

They no longer have a classroom but they still get to share their favourites at the weekly poetry mornings at their home at Brigidine House in Sydney's Randwick.

Pathways, April 2011

Have your say...

"Sr Patricia trained me in oratory when I was in Year 7. I recall her standing at the back of the room using hand gestures to make me pause at then end of very sentence and encouraging lots of facial expression and good resonance. It was the beginning of my great passion in competing in public speaking throughut secondary school at Randwick. Sr Patricia also taught my mother at Randwick some forty years prior. Thank you for your commitment to education Sisters!"
- Jane Woolford, 15-04-2011

"Sr Patricia taught my mother at Randwick in the early 50's. I have heard many stories of happy days. I's fantastic that Sister is still able to attend Mum's Randwick reunions."
- Felicity Evers, 15-04-2011
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"I came to know Sisters Mary and Patricia in my novitiate days at Randwick. We are truly blessed with the 'wisdom women' we still have in our midst. Thank you for your true Brigidine spirit and your years of faithful service doing the Lord's work, by spreading "Brigid's Cloak" across many fields of education that have yielded scores of rich harvests. Thank you. "
- Monica Landy CSB (NZ), 18-04-2011