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Wednesday, 23 February 2022 18:07

Eulogy: Sr Margaret Jennings fdnsc (12.11.1934 - 5.2.2022)

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"The love of the Heart of Jesus will be our light, our strength, our guide and our support." - Fr Jules Chevalier 1892

These words from our Founder, Jules Chevalier capture well the driving force behind our Sister, Margaret’s life: to trust totally in the love of Jesus and follow him with enthusiasm and generosity. On Saturday, 5th February Marg gently slipped into the loving embrace of the one who had been her light, her strength, her guide, throughout her 87 years. She was in her 67th year of her religious profession.  

To Marg’s siblings, Kathy, Paul, John, Loretto and Peter and their families and all her relatives and friends, who loved her so much and are deeply saddened by her death, we offer our our deepest sympathy and the support of our prayers. 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 via live streaming us from around Australia and the world.

Marg, as we affectionately knew her, was born in Mudgee, NSW, on 13th November 1934, the second of eight children of James and Gertrude Jennings. Marg’s family meant everything to her, and she was very close to her parents and seven siblings. She had a special bond with her grandmother, whose example of faith in action had a deep impression on her.  At the age of nine the family moved from Cudgegong to Home Rule, close to Mudgee.  Here her mother had a country Post Office and her father worked on one of the mines until he had an accident and lost the sight of one eye.  After that, he did farm work.  After school each day, Marg cared for the Post Office so her mother could attend to her home duties.  She soon learnt to do office work:  to answer the phones, receive and send telegrams, attend to the mail, sell stamps and do banking etc. Although just a young woman Marg completed all her tasks with her usual enthusiasm and generosity.

Marg completed her secondary education as a border at St Joseph’s College, Perthville. While at Perthville, Marg felt a call to be a missionary sister.  In her Leaving Certificate year, she went to Sydney having found out about the Marist Sisters and the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.  Her cousin took her first to Kensington because she knew how to get to the races at Randwick!  Margaret was met by Mother Gerardine, Mother Concepta and Mother Brendan and she told them she was looking for sisters who had three qualities:  devotion to the Sacred Heart, devotion to Mary and she wanted to go to the missions.  She was assured of the first two but was told very clearly that the latter might not happen.  Our ever-decisive Marg, with her absolute confidence in the one she loved replied: “I will. That’s what God wants!’’

Her parents, especially her father, objected to her entering the following year and so she went to work at the district hospital in Gulgong.  Here she learnt many things including taking temperatures and even giving injections and this experience stood her in good stead when she went to PNG.  Eventually her father allowed her to enter and so, on 31st May, 1953, he drove her to the Novitiate at Hartzer Park.  Marg often told the story, that when it was suggested by Mother Columcille that she take the name Sr Leonard, Marg was not happy with this.  When they went outside her father said, “Young lady, this is the first thing you are asked to do and you say “No”.  Go back inside and tell her you will”.

Marg was professed on 6th January 1955 and that year she commenced her primary teacher training at Kensington.  On completion she taught at St Paul’s, Bentleigh and in 1958 her dream of becoming a Missionary was realised and Marg began a journey of the heart which took her to Milne Bay (or Eastern Papua as it was then known as) in Papua New Guinea.  Here she taught in primary schools on various island outstations.  This also meant supervising the PNG teachers. In 1963, she was appointed to teach in the primary school at Sideia.  Then it was decided that the Milne Bay children should be offered the opportunity of attending high school, so Marg, and some MSC priests, commenced a high school at Sideia which lasted there until 1969.  In 1970 Marg was a founding member with some MSCs of the newly erected Hagita High School.  This co-educational boarding school had to be built up from scratch.  The students came from the many islands of the Milne Bay Province and because it was difficult for them to return to their island homes and come back in time for school, most of the students boarded at the school from February to December. 

It was constant work, which Marg loved. Many remember Marg as, a woman of God and a loving person who did a lot for Papua New Guinea, especially in the Milne Bay Province.  As a former student aptly puts it: ‘When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure … We will always remember this person …  Sister Margaret Jennings OLSH. Kaiyoni’.

In 1985 Marg was appointed Headmistress at Papitalai High School at Manus Island and here she worked with Rotary groups who came from Australia to construct the school buildings.  Marg was friendly and interested in people and so she formed many close friendships with these Rotarians.

From 1980 to 1997 Marg took on leadership roles in the Province, being Area Superior of Milne Bay Area, Rabaul Area and Port Moresby.  This involved lots of travel to visit sisters on the outstations as well as the closure of the Convent in Rabaul after the volcanic eruption.  During this time, she was on the Provincial Council.

In 1999, after 41 years in PNG, Marg returned to the Australian Province and in the next eleven years she was involved in a variety of apostolates.  She became the Social Justice co-ordinator for the Australian Province , she was also involved in migration and refugee work with IARC in Surry Hills. Marg studied part-time as a Spiritual Director and this gave her great joy.  When moving to Blacktown in 2008, Marg became involved in weekly visits to the Women’s Dillwynia Correctional Centre. Marg had a great respect for the women she accompanied and some of the women continued visiting Marg after they had left prison and to some, she gave Spiritual Direction for some years.  She was also involved in prison visitation at Villawood Correctional Centre. Her gentle way with people, her humour, her wisdom were appreciated by many.

In 2016 Marg moved from Blacktown to Maristella community at Kensington.  As her health failed, in May 2020, she went to St Joseph’s Aged Care Facility where she was lovingly cared for.

Marg was always very interested in people and as well as being a school teacher, Marg was always a teacher, always explaining things, and we loved her for it!

Marg was a courageous missionary, compassionate woman of heart who 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.

We thank God for the many gifts given to Sr Margaret. We will be ever grateful to James, Gertude and the Jennings family for the gift of Marg to our Congregation!

We thank you Marg for your welcoming heart, your deep spirituality, beautiful presence and warm smile. May your courageous soul rest in peace.