Tribute to Marnie

If you read the obituary notice in the newspaper you probably realised that it gave a portrait of Marnie and an outline of her life. Today we celebrate and give thanks for her life.

Marnie was loved by family, students, friends, by those she guided … by all who came into her life.

She in turn cared deeply about people and made each feel special and one writes:

… ever since we left Redfern I have had a picture of Marnie on my bedside table and her brother Ted on our fridge, constantly reminding me of the worthiness of me.

The nurses and those who attended her in these recent weeks in hospital were known by name and introduced to her visitors. One person wrote:

… few of us have the capacity for such selfless commitment or the gift of love given so ungrudgingly.

Another said:

I want to say that Marnie’s greatest gift to us all (was that) she loved unconditionally.

She was an educator, spiritual director, guide, leader and team player, a wisdom figure, elder, passionate for social justice, and a lover of beauty. Marnie had a gift for making beautiful arrangements of flowers. Strangely enough, flowers that were totally unexpected have bloomed in my garden these last few days.

She was gifted intellectually and a very deep thinker. Marnie was articulate, and well read and could quote from scripture, literature, current affairs and other writings,

Her wisdom and graciousness combined with her resolute fight for justice made her a significant and precious person to us all

writes a friend.

She was very hospitable and welcoming to all who crossed her path. If you went anywhere with her you were sure to meet someone she knew!

Of her school days one writes:

Marnie was just a year ahead of me at Rose Bay, but we knew each other well. I remember that when we were at school, Celie was born, and how Marnie loved that little sister! I never ceased to be amazed in later years, when her path had obviously diverged significantly from the norm, how she always remembered her fellow students and somehow seemed to remember where each one was and what they were doing. She was very bright but there were two other people in the class who were equally bright and the three of them were great friends and were known as ‘The Three Musketeers’.

Marnie joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1948 and a fellow-novice thought at the time that she was a perfect novice; this image was a little shattered when some time later she and a couple of other young sisters got the giggles during the praying of the office, the official prayer of the church.

I was one of several generations of new arrivals in the novitiate at Rose Bay for whom Marnie was a guide, introducing us to the customs of convent life as they were at the time. In reality that ½ hour with her each evening was a time of recreation and unwinding. By the early ‘60s she realized that things had to change and so she found it hard to be introducing us to ways that were no longer relevant to our times.

Soon after Vatican II but before the impact had really been felt Marnie and another sister organized for Roger Pryke to give to the community at Rose Bay a talk on obedience, with permission, of course! It was the type of initiative that was not the norm at that time and the lecture led us to a fresh and challenging understanding of religious obedience.

Some years later when the mother of one of the sisters was ill, and this mother lived alone, Marnie arranged for the mother to be brought to Rose Bay to be looked after there – another unusual initiative at such a time.

Marnie was a devoted teacher and one year group has met every year since their school days, and Marnie joined them. She was much loved and appreciated by her students. One writes:

Marnie was Class Mistress for our class from 1963-64 our last 2years at Rose Bay. She saw us through the Leaving Certificate with love and devotion and she was very dear to us all. She attended all out reunions over the 45+ yrs since we left school. Latterly we learnt about her social justice work and were in complete admiration of her.

Another said

The world has lost a genuinely good woman with the passing of Marnie.

Marnie was also very close to her family and just as they were so closely involved with caring for her during the past 14-15 months she herself was very involved with Celie and Ted during their illnesses.

Marnie never drove a car but she had a wonderful sense of direction and could have been a taxi driver par excellence in terms of how to get to places. This sense of direction could be an image for what was to follow.

In 1970 Marnie attended as a delegate an international gathering of sisters. This was a very significant moment in terms of the renewal of the Society of the Sacred Heart and directed us more strongly in the ways of social justice even though it has been a part of our tradition but not often articulated. This experience and an experience in the Philippines were very significant. Marnie embarked on training in spiritual direction and became involved with retreat teams, adult faith formation, renewal groups, Christian life groups. Of all the involvements Marnie had the street retreat movement seemed one of the most fulfilling and humbling for her. Through these works she enabled many to come to know God as loving and compassionate rather than demanding and judgmental. She helped to free people from theologies that were fundamentalist or destructive.

I shall let Marnie speak for herself about coming to Redfern and the street retreats:

My first memory of St Vincent’s, Redfern, is etched indelibly on my mind and goes back to 1971. It coincided with my release from enclosure as a Religious of the Sacred Heart in the wake of the reforms of Vatican II. I made an early visit to Redfern where Aboriginal people had already received hospitality in the Presbytery and Convent. What a royal welcome I received as I moved among the Aboriginal people being introduced as “Father Ted’s sister”! My first conversation with one of the men is still with me. He told me of his sad life of poverty and separation from family, and ended with the words: “Sis, when you’re most lost, then you’re found”.

This was the beginning for me of a growing friendship with the Aboriginal people and of my first awareness of the tragedy of the “Stolen Children”. The Presbytery attracted hundreds of Aboriginal people from all over Australia as a centre of communication and, for many of them, the emotional discovery of lost relatives. It was not until decades later that this sad episode in Australian history came into the consciousness of the nation.

(Some of us were inspired) to initiate what has become known as the “Street Retreats”. We felt the need to move into the less sheltered environment of the inner city and to allow the socio¬economic and political realities to sharpen our understanding of the kind of apostolic spirituality needed for today.

Retreatants are billeted in houses to which the powerless and disadvantaged have ready access as friends. The Gospel imperatives began to speak through the daily encounters in the households and on the streets with life at the edges. There we found the graced revelation of the God of Liberation and unconditional love working where least expected. It was the initial experience at St Vincent’s Redfern that urged us to share with hundreds of others around Australia these “Street Retreats”, which have been offered in Redfern and other inner city contexts since 1984.

The heritage that Ted leaves us at St Vincent’s is a crucial one. Christian spirituality has a new and urgent role to play in the heart of the political and socio-economic area. Education and legislation are important to combat the deep racist attitudes that exist among old and new settlers, but it is at an even deeper religious level that transformation really takes place. Acceptance of others who are different means entering into solidarity with them and reaching out in love towards them. As Ted so often says, “The love in question is a genuine love for concrete human beings whom we know by name”.

With thanks to

Within the Society of the Sacred Heart Marnie challenged our mindsets, stretched our thinking, expanded our vision, and it certainly was not comfortable! She had vision that we struggled to embrace or see, but she did not let go of it. One of us describes her as being like a dog with a bone where issues of social justice were concerned. One writes:

Marnie seemed to me to be our prophet whose voice was often lost in the wilderness. Some of her ideas were not practical but they were always rooted in justice for the poor. I made a couple of retreats under her direction and found the depth of her own faith-life inspiring.

Marnie had many literary ‘friends’ that were sources of inspiration and she shared their wisdoms very generously; Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, John O’Donohue, Sebastian Moore; and reflections by Edwina Gateley were a source of nourishment in those last weeks of her life. During her life we often heard her quote Julian of Norwich: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well”. These words must have helped her to be courageous, persevering, hope-filled, enabling of others in spite of the big disappointments of recent years.

One last story and a highlight for Marnie was the trip to Uluru; those who went now take up this story:-

Marnie had long dreamt of travelling to Uluru and was so happy when the 7 Redfernites finally set out on 1 August 2009. She was a most wonderful travelling companion, laughed often and her wonderful sense of humour was almost always on display. She was almost delirious with happiness and joy the night we arrived at Uluru and sat watching the sun set with Uluru in one direction and Kata Tjuta the other.

Len was pushing Marnie in the wheelchair (at one point because of rough terrain). A young Japanese student was walking in the opposite direction. On seeing Marnie and Len, she stopped, looked at them and in the most sincere way and with obviously genuine admiration said ‘What a sweet couple. I hope that one day I will have a husband who will push me in my wheelchair like that’! Marnie laughed and laughed and dined out for some time about the reference to the ‘sweet couple’.

A couple of days after the ‘sweet couple’ incident, we were sitting under a tree having lunch when Rhonda began talking about the next trip on which the Redfern travellers could embark. We were all saddened when Marnie said what we knew would be true. She said: ‘I won’t be coming on the next trip but I’ll be looking down at you from heaven’.

On our return to Sydney, Marnie found it highly amusing (I have the photos to prove it) when we sat her down and found that we had inadvertently placed her against a sign that said ‘Baggage must not be left unattended’.

If we ever make that next trip, Marnie will be there with us in spirit and in our hearts.

I hope these words of John O’Donohue will speak to you of Marnie at this moment

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure in colour.

And may she continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no separation,
Where tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

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