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Friday, 14 January 2022 22:34

Eulogy: Sr Margaret Sullivan fdnsc (5.4.1932 - 9.1.2022)

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‘This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased’

We heard these words from the Gospel of Luke on the Feast of John the Baptist, Sunday 9th January, the day our much-loved Sister, Margaret, beloved of God came face to face with the one she had so lovingly and faithfully served as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for over seven decades.  ‘This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased’.

To Margaret’s sister Denise, her relatives, Sr Kateia and the Sisters of the Kiribati Province  and  all Margaret’s friends,  who loved her so much and are deeply saddened by her death, we offer our deep sympathy and love. You know well her deep love for you, her pride and joy in you, and her gratitude to you.  We also offer sympathy to those who join us via live streaming from around Australia and the world, especially our Sisters.

Margaret Mary Sullivan, or Marg as she was known by many, was born in Denilquin, NSW, on 5th April 1929, to Denis and Mary Sullivan, the eldest daughter of five children. Denis was a Solicitor and Mary a teacher. Margaret came from a loving family, and enjoyed living in a close knit farming community, especially during celebrations of birthdays and any event that warranted a party. She liked school, sport, the company of family and friends and  reading. We can well image Margaret enjoying all the social aspects of living in the small country town.

Margaret’s parents had a deep faith with love of the Mass and rosary. Her mother’s deep devotion to the Sacred Heart and frequent communion overflowed onto Margaret. At an early age she began reading the magazine the Far East and in her own words she says; ‘The Far East awoke in me a deep desire to go to the missions.’

Margaret attended Primary and Secondary school at St Michael’s, Deniliquin. In 1944 the family moved to Melbourne because of severe drought. Margaret attended St Marys College, Bendigo for Intermediate and Leaving, it was here that she formed close friendships with Mary and Jessie Batchelor, who also  joined our Congregation and were great missionaries. I can imagine the three of them huddled around a Far East Magazine sharing dreams of being a Religious Sister and going to far flung destinations.

Margaret was a decisive woman and on leaving school she was convinced that Jesus was calling her to follow him in religious life as a missionary Sister; However, her parents did not allow her to enter straight after school. Margaret completed a certificate of teaching and in 1947, she entered the novitiate at Hartzer Park and made her first vows in January, 1949. She was given the name,aptly Sr Francis Xavier.

Thus, began Margaret’s  lifelong ministry and her epic journey as a passionate, enthusiastic educator and missionary. After spending five years teaching in Australia at Kensington, Darwin and on Bathurst Island, Marg began a journey of the heart, a journey that took her to the shores of Kiribati, the place she called home for 65 years with the people she loved. In 1954 aged 25, Margaret set off by boat with her good friend Sr Eileen Kennedy and after 19 days they arrived in Kiribati. Despite the challenges of extreme heat, lack of resources, living in huts in a difficult  isolated, Mission Marg felt a sense of deep peace as she realised her heart’s desire to be a Missionary as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. 

During her years in Kiribati, Margaret’s ministry was in education at many levels: teaching, teacher educator, formator, lecturer at Xavier Catechetical Institute Director of Religious Education and Director of the Catholic Education; in places such as Abiang, Abemama, Tawara, and Teaoreaereke. Margaret also shared her diverse skills in the role of Provincial Archivist and Provincial Councilor. In all her ministries she brought her typical enthusiasm and dedication.

Margaret was very proud of her ex-students, three of whom became President of Kiribati. She was a dedicated teacher and the local teachers had great respect for her and she for them. She made many friends among the volunteers who came from the UK and Australia and kept in contact with them right until recently. They remember her as a kind and welcoming woman. Margaret was an avid reader, and  built-up an extensive library of educational material – books, teaching material, aids for the use of teachers in the Diocesan Religious Education Office. As a Lecturer at Xavier Catechetical Institute, she trained local religious and clergy to teach Religious Education in Government Schools.

To say that Margaret was a passionate educator is an understatement, Margaret worked tirelessly to advance education in Kiribati and for this she received the highest award of honour in the Republic of Kiribati, the Order of Kiribati. In 2011 she received the Medal of the Order of Australia the highest recognition for outstanding achievement and service to the Kiribati people.

In 1996, Margaret became the Provincial Archivist and trained a local Sister to take over this work. Margaret’s work on preserving the archival history of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Kiribati is exceptional, and includes amazing photographs, artifacts and original letters in French from the first sisters in Kiribati. Margaret worked with others to have these letters translated. What a gift Margaret’s archival work has been for our Congregation! Also over the years Margaret worked tirelessly to build-up what many regard as the best Archives in the world regarding the Japanese invasion during World War II in this part of the Pacific.

Marg was a people’s person, she loved being with and talking to people on any level.
She loved life, she saw beauty in people, nature and in her work.
She was totally committed to everything, her prayer life, her apostolate. She was always ready to assist others in whatever way she could. Marg could sit over a cup of coffee and chat about any topic that was of interest to the other person or herself.

In 2018 Marg was diagnosed with a rapid progressive brain disease that robbed her of speech and mobility.  What a time of suffering for our dear Margaret. She had to leave her beloved Kiribati and she was no longer able to communicate easily with others. Margaret accepted her suffering with her typical resignation and utter dependence on Jesus, the one she had loved since she was a child. In 2020 Margaret moved to St Joseph’s Residential Aged Care where she was beautifully cared for until her death.

The seed of Margaret’s missionary vocation sown whilst attending weekly Mass with her mother certainly grew into a vocation of love. In all that Margaret achieved in her long life, she was most proud of the growth of local OLSH vocations in Kiribati, with 90 local sisters working at home in Kiribati and in five Sisters working as Missionaries overseas. It was her missionary zeal and total trust in God that was an inspiration to the young women of Kiribati. As one Kiribati Sister commented; ‘she was simple, she was a devoted religious and true Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart which I was able to witness and hold in my heart…she inspired me to be a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’.

We will be ever grateful to Denis, Mary and the Sullivan family for the gift of Margret to our Congregation!

What a gift God gave to the people of Kiribati in Margaret! And what a gift the people of Kiribati gave to Margaret as she wrote, speaking about her long live in Kiribati, not long before her death “I just fell in love with the happiness of the people.”

Go in peace dear Margaret united with the one who says ‘This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased’ 

Thank you for your faith filled witness, generosity, and kindness.

May your courageous soul rest in peace.