Riches greater than a baron’s estimation

Sydney Morning Herald, January 7, 2006

MAUREEN FLOOD died 40 minutes after Kerry Packer. The timing of their deaths was the only thing they had in common, apart from their dyslexia and the fact that people they left behind are still talking about them, and will do so for a long time.

Packer died with an estimated fortune of $7 billion. A Christian friend in this secular Australia raised with me Jesus’s words, reported by St Matthew: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

William Randolph Hearst, another astonishingly wealthy man who made his fortune from media, was once asked what he thought about the biblical passage. Hearst said something like: “I’ve always loved a challenge.” Packer loved a challenge, but never believed he would face the needle dilemma. He said he had been to “the other side” after his heart stopped in 1990, adding: “Let me tell you, son, there’s nothing there.”

Maureen Flood was a nun who died a pauper. She was convinced something was there. And she might have argued, in regard to the eye of the needle, that Christ had also said: “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Her funeral service was held at St Vincent’s, Redfern, on Tuesday and friends and relatives were still gathering to talk about her yesterday. She had suffered with dementia but, on her 70th birthday four days before her death, had led celebrants in singing Paddy McGinty’s Goat.

She had overcome dyslexia to write several books, prepare programs for Vatican Radio and the ABC, and earn a Sydney University master’s degree for a thesis on spirituality in Judith Wright’s poetry.

She was a sister of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative order now left with only 10 members in Australia and about 330 around the world. Many will not be surprised by the order’s decline. Her great friend and colleague, Sister Vianney Hatton, said the nuns had been required to do “pretty silly and inhumane things”, such as leaving the sick or getting out of bed every eight hours to adore the sacrament. Their leaders taught that dancing was a mortal sin.

Sister Maureen ultimately let go of rigid belief systems to pursue her faith through poetry and, especially, the poor of Sydney.

In her last essay, published last year, she wrote: “My life is coming to an end. The path ahead is not so long. I walk in darkness yet the darkness is luminous.”

Tony Stephens

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