May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved!
The Lord brought out his people with joy,
his chosen ones with shouts of rejoicing, alleluia. Ps 104:43
Mary Ellen Murray, known as Nell, was born in Emmaville NSW on 13th May, 1923. She had
an older brother George and a younger brother John, both of whom have pre-deceased her. Her childhood was happy within a loving family and members of the extended family.
Due to the Depression the family had to leave Emmaville and move to Sydney, settling in Mortlake where she attended St Patrick’s Primary school and then onto St Mary’s Concord until the Intermediate class. Her final two years of schooling were at Bethlehem College, Ashfield, where she gained the Leaving Certificate.
Nell’s father, William, died in 1939, aged 56, in her final year of schooling. A week before he died, he was baptised a Catholic. Nell’s father always supported the desire of her mother, Margaret, that the children be baptised and educated in Catholic schools. The family moved to Randwick and Nell, using the secretarial skills she had learnt in school, did office work at MLC Insurance from 1940 to 1947 – this however, she found very boring!
Sometime after her mother’s death, Nell began to think of religious life. An MSC priest suggested she contact the Daughters so she talked to Mother Concepta at Kensington Convent. As she said “This interview went well and I was accepted “to try it out” and the rest is history”
Nell, aged 24, commenced her formation at Hartzer Park, Burradoo, in November 1947, taking the name Sr Mary St Joseph. She made her first vows on 2nd July 1947 and two years later made her perpetual profession. In later years she changed her religious name to Sr Mary Joseph and was affectionately called Jo.
Before going to Papua New Guinea in January, 1953, Jo completed her teacher training and taught in primary schools at Bentleigh, Victoria and Moonah in Tasmania. She arrived in Papua New Guinea in pre-independence time when the Australian Government played a prominent role in the country. Jo taught at St Joseph’s International Primary School for nine years, mainly in the infants’ section, in downtown Port Moresby. She was renowned for her artistic ability and when the mothers came to pick up their children after school they would call into Sister’s classroom to see the beautiful blackboards with the illustrations of the stories and subjects taught that day. To supplement community funds, the Sisters used to teach after school and Jo’s speciality was shorthand while others taught music and business principles.
Jo spent 1962 in Daio, Milne Bay which was a small mission station tucked into the southern arm of Milne Bay. One day Jo asked her Grade 5 class if they had seen a big ship and with no hesitation they said that they had seen the largest mission boat the “Morning Star” which was a four bunk, one cabin cargo mission boat! So Jo contacted the Australian Navy headquarters in Port Moresby and asked for a visit of a navy ship to Daio – especially considering the part Milne Bay had played in World War 2. Sr Helen Warman was there and she vividly remembers the day with all the children on the beach at 4 am and their amazement when HMAS Voyager, a huge naval ship lit up like a city, turned the Cape of the north eastern point into the Bay. What followed is still talked about at Daio as the children had “the works” including a trip up the Bay when the usual four hour trip was covered in half an hour.
In 1963 Jo moved to New Britain where she taught in Rabaul and Vunapope. She spent twenty-six years in this area. She is still fondly remembered by her Chinese students living in Australia whom she taught at Sacred Heart School, Rabaul. One of our sisters who was a lay missionary teaching at Vunapope High School with Jo, remembers when she used to bring her ice cream from the convent when Elizabeth was supervising the students at the weekend. This was much appreciated.
In 1988 Jo was appointed to Boroko Convent in Port Moresby assisting with the general needs of the community, including driving. She stayed there until 1993 when she moved to Milne Bay and lived at Sideia and Alotau. When in Alotau she designed the glass windows for the new Cathedral as well as decorating the walls and this was much appreciated by Bishop Moore and the parishioners.
During her forty-six years in PNG, Sr Mary Joseph was well-known for her kindness to the poor and needy. It has been said that needy people melted her heart. They were a priority for her as she lived the spirituality of the heart of our charism. She went out of her way to assist those far less fortunate and these would include people in the squatter settlements both in Rabaul and Port Moresby and the street-kids in Moresby. When she was driving sisters to various places around the city she would always have some water and biscuits for the paper-boys selling the daily Post Courier at the traffic lights. She also visited hospitals and brought great joy to the patients.
Jo was a member of the Rabaul community in 1994 when the volcano erupted and she was one of the drivers tasked with moving the sisters from Rabaul to Vunapope. The journey took them hours because the ash was so thick and heavy and the wind screen wipers could not cope with the density and quantity of the ash.
She is remembered as a most generous member of community as well as being joyful wherever she was.
Jo returned to the Australian Province in 1999. This was quite a painful transition for her as she found the way of life here so different because of the comforts that are so easily available to us. She lived at Mascot for two years and spent one year at Queenstown in Tasmania. During these years she visited the sick and aged and taught catechetics when needed. In 2011 Jo moved to Kensington and then onto St Joseph’s Aged Care Facility in June 2013 where her loving God called her last Wednesday evening, 8th May.
We rejoice with Nell, our Sr Mary Joseph, as she now knows the fullness of God’s unconditional love which she strove to emulate in a life which was given to others in community and to those in need and less fortunate. Jo, do hope it was a great 96th birthday celebration in heaven yesterday.
Thank you, dear Jo. You are remembered fondly and were a great model for us all, especially the sisters in the Papua New Guinea Province and the people you touched. May you rest in the loving Heart of Jesus.
Therese McNamara fdnsc