Sr Mary Batchelor RIP …Seven decades of generous service to God and God’s people as a Daughter of our Lady of the Sacred Heart
And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand.
The Eagle, a symbol of strength, courage, determination, beauty and grace, a symbol so loved by Mary, speaks of her deep faith and firm belief and trust in God. On June 6th our dear Sister, Mary Batchelor, gently and peacefully breathed her last breath as she was raised up on the wings of her God who she had served lovingly and faithfully as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, for over seven decades.
To Mary’s sister Margaret, and her many nieces, nephews and their partners and her grand nieces and nephews, who loved her so much and are deeply saddened by her death, we offer our deep sympathy and love. We also offer sympathy to those who join us from around the world, especially from South Africa and South Sudan.
Today we also remember Mary’s deceased brothers and sisters who she loved so dearly. She was so immensely proud of their contribution to her family and our Catholic faith - Fr Jack, Fr Bill, Fr Vin, Rod, Bernie, Joan and Sr Jessie.
Mary Leonie Batchelor was born on 15th November 1928 to John and Johanna Batchelor, the youngest of ten children. Mary grew up in Cohuna, a small country town in Victoria during the depression and war years. Anyone who lived with Mary knows exactly where Cohuna is! Mary’s family meant everything to her, she had a personal relationship with each of her siblings. In community she would recall story after story of family and life in her beloved Cohuna, stories of love, outreach, sharing, laughter and unity. Mary was a great story teller and loved to tell stories that made others laugh.
Her parents were generous, ‘salt of the earth’ people. Mary’s father John was a grocer, who during the depression when his own family had little, he would not charge the poor for their groceries. Her mother Joahanna, was often cooking meals for the returned soldiers and providing for the needs of the poor of their close-knit community. Mary came from a loving family as noted by Fr Egan Mary’s Parish Priest who wrote Mary a reference in 1946: ‘The Batchelor family are held in the highest respect by all the sectors of the community, and I would go as far as to say that I have yet to meet a more exemplary family’.
All of Mary’s education was in Victoria. She attended St Mary’s primary school, Cohuna. Her secondary education was at St Mary’s Bendigo. Mary was a discerning woman, she made decisions decisively and when she made a decision, she followed through from her heart. In March 1946, just after she completed secondary school, she wrote to the provincial leader of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart requesting to enter the Congregation. In her letter she said; ‘I intend going to Bowral in July, to visit my sister, and would like to enter at the same time…I would like you to write and let me know what you think’.
Obviously, the Provincial thought that was a good idea as Mary entered the Novitiate at Bowral and was professed in July 1948 at Hartzer Park. In 1949 she completed a Diploma of Teaching. Thus, began Mary’s lifelong ministry and her epic journey as a passionate, enthusiastic educator. For 64 years Mary ministered as a teacher and school Principal in Schools in NSW, St Michael’s Daceyville, Our Lady of the Rosary, Kensington, St Bernard’s Botany, St Thomas Aquinas, Bowral; in Victoria, St Agnes’ Highett, St Paul’s Bentleigh, St Peter’s, East Bentleigh, St Catherine’s, Moorabbin; in South Australia, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Junior High, Enfield, St Gabriel’s, Clearview; in the Northern Territory, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Alice Springs, St Paul’s, Nightcliff as well as St Brendan’s Dwars River, South Africa and Comboni Primary and Secondary Schools, Mapuordit, South Sudan. Her meticulous administration and teaching skills, a smile that lit up a room, a listening ear, her support and interest in students, families and staff members helped changed the lives of young people around our world.
As a young Sister, Mary said she did not feel called to be a missionary, however, after spending forty years in Schools in Australia, she attended a conference in Sydney where the Provincial mentioned the Bishop of Tzaneen in South Africa was asking for more Sisters. Deep within her Mary knew her missionary vocation was being born. In 1989 she went to South Africa, it was during apartheid and the subsequent election of Nelson Mandela as the first black President. Mary delighted that she voted in the first free elections in South Africa. She loved her seven years at St Brendan’s, Dwars River. In 1995 the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart began a mission in South Sudan and at age 67 Mary set off for her journey of the heart to war torn South Sudan. It was here Mary lovingly called home for 19 years.
When Mary arrived in South Sudan the sisters lived in simple tukuls (huts) made from bamboo. It was a very poor, physically uncomfortable mission with no running water, sanitation or refrigeration. In August 1996, Mary, together with Sisters Moira Lynch and Maureen Carey and three Comboni Missionaries were held captives for 11 days, by the Sudan People Liberation Army. When they were released, they returned to Australia to recuperate. All the while Mary was keen to return to the Diocese of Rumbek to the people who called her ‘mother’.
Mary worked tirelessly to lay the foundations of education in the tradition of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart wherever she was sent on mission and especially in South Sudan. Mary is remembered as having ‘a burning spirit within her, a spirit that urged her to work, day and night in a community where education was greatly needed’. She is remembered by many as a courageous missionary, compassionate women of heart with excellent teaching and administrative skills who had an indomitable spirit, a jovial, pleasant character which endeared her to everyone.
Since Mary’s death, the outpouring of grief and gratitude, from people around our Globe, has been tangible. Mary was so beautifully human, welcoming, and hospitable. Her life’s mission was love. She loved purposely, passionately, inclusively. Mary received energy from the lives of others. Those of us who lived, worked, and shared community with her were amazed, by her endurance, her warmth, generosity and keen interest in everyone she met. Mary drew her strength from her deep desire to love as Jesus loved, excluding no one, especially the poor and marginalised who held a special place in her heart.
Mary loved life, she loved the children she taught and those she lived and worked with. She enjoyed a cup of coffee at the end of the day with a crossword, a good book and lively conversations with those with whom she lived. A prolific writer, Mary was a great advocate for the people of Africa and for all those who suffered in any way. Her many letters distributed to the generous donors of OLSH Overseas Aid, touched the hearts of others who joined her in her life’s mission to bring the best quality education and health to the poorest of the poor in our world.
Mary’s final years were spent as a member of the community at Bentleigh. These were very happy years living in a relaxed, loving, community sharing faith, fun and friendship. She enjoyed her daily walks on the path around the garden, sitting in the sun in her ‘prayer room’, listening to her audio books, sharing a laugh with her Sisters, gatherings with family and friends and so much more. I am deeply grateful to Sr Elizabeth Taylor for her loving care of Mary during these past years and to her Sisters in community whom she loved, respected and cared for equally.
We will be ever grateful to John, Johanna and the Batchelor family for the gift of Mary to our Congregation!
And how good of God to leave her with us all these years, and what a gift God gave us in her! Go in peace dear Mary united with your beloved who loved you into life and ‘made you to shine like the sun’.
Thank you for your peaceful, prayerful presence, kindness, graciousness, good humour; and for your beautiful smile that lit up our hearts.
We will miss you dearly Mary.
Philippa Murphy fdnsc
Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart