Josephite Religious Sisters Louise McDonell and Kathryn McCabe represent a continual Josephite presence since the Sisters of St Joseph first came to the Forster Tuncurry parish in 1958 to establish Holy Name Primary School at Forster, writes Greg Byrne.
Sr Kathryn is the fifth of seven children – five of whom are teachers. Kathryn entered the Convent in 1955 and was professed in 1958. Like most Josephites she spent her life as a teacher until 1986 when she was asked to consider parish ministry. In 1994 she came to Forster when Fr Kevin Corrigan enlisted her services to organise the Sacramental Program. A Parish Assembly in 1999 suggested the parish investigate an outreach to the local Aboriginal community. Sr Kathryn took up the task which initially involved conversations with the Aboriginal Elders in Forster and study of Indigenous Culture. She remains committed to that ministry today. When asked about her “work” with the Koori people she explains it is not work, but merely forming friendships with them. Her aim is to be a helping hand to them and so it is not uncommon for her to receive calls for assistance at all hours of the day and night. Her duties often involve her being a furniture removalist around town. She undertakes these visits with a calm serenity. And although the people she assists are often unable to repay her financially, she is rewarded by the appreciation and love they give her in return. She is held in deep respect among the Indigenous community.
Sr Louise is the “senior partner” of the pair, turning 90 last year. She was born the fifth of ten children who were raised on a farm in Central Lansdowne. Louise entered the convent in 1943 and was professed in 1945. Most of her working life was spent as a teacher until moving into parish ministry at Muswellbrook. Louise came to Forster Tuncurry in March 2000 to join Kathryn and to retire. In that “retirement” she finds time to visit the sick and elderly and takes an active role in many parish functions. She has formed strong friendships with the parishioners here and is “family” to many.
During their teaching careers the Sisters had been sent to small rural towns to work in schools and so were accustomed to living in community with a small group of Sisters, unlike the large religious community that once existed at Lochinvar.
The pair complements each other and although they have different personalities they also “have a lot in common”, not the least of which is that “Neither of us is afraid to work.” If you pay them a visit Kathryn will welcome you and entertain you while Louise is busy in the kitchen. Louise is the organiser, the time keeper, the accountant, the gardener. Kathryn is the conversationalist, the memory, the story teller. Both share the cooking and the cleaning. They have learnt to appreciate the gifts and talents of each other and although they have had their misunderstandings, they are always able to talk openly about it and resolve the issue.
The pair has obviously seen many changes to their vocation. The most obvious outward sign was the removal of the habit but along with this were the internal changes to a more adult way of life and added personal responsibility. They’d always thought they’d be “teaching to the death” but the introduction of lay teachers into Catholic schools freed the Sisters to be involved in parish ministry, enabled them to mix with the wider Catholic community and gave them an appreciation of the vocation of all people.
Like many of our Religious Sisters the move from teaching children to pastoral care of parishioners was a great change in their role in the Church. We must never underestimate the initiative, the inventiveness and the courage of these women, many in their more mature years, who were asked to undertake additional training and formation to be able to carry out these ministries effectively. They were no doubt inspired to do so by Mary MacKillop’s motto, “Never see a need without doing something about it.”
When asked to reflect on life Sr Kathryn commented that she had so much to be thankful for. Sr Louise has no regrets. She has always worked hard and formed lifelong friendships in the communities where she has lived. They both commented “compared to other people’s lives we are very lucky”.
Both Sisters agreed their experience in Forster Tuncurry Parish has been different from other postings in regard to the length of time they have lived here. There is “real joy to live in a community with so many wonderful people and not have to break with them so soon”.
When asked, “How do you find joy?” Kathryn replied, “Knowing the love of God and wanting others to experience that joy. If one is giving love one is giving and receiving joy.”