Meet a matriarch – and remember your prayers

Constance by name, constance by nature…it’s possibly not an original thought in terms of Waratah’s Constance (Connie) Jennings, but it is true.

I don’t know too many 91 year-olds whose enthusiasm for life, deep faith and abiding hope remain, as Connie’s have, despite the loss of her husband, Darrell, five years ago, after 64 happy years of marriage.

Much of Connie’s vitality is due to her revered role as matriarch of a large and loving family spanning five generations. As the photograph shows, Connie can trace a direct line through her daughter Anne, grand-daughter Bernadette, great-grand-daughter Maddison and great-great-grand-daughter Sarah, aged 3. Sarah has been an especially welcome presence since she entered the world after just 27 weeks gestation and weighing 900 grams. However, she bears no ill effects from her early arrival and now, as Connie says, “She comes racing in here like the wind!” 

Connie was born at the Mater, Waratah, and lived almost all her life in Hamilton. Her parish of St Laurence O’Toole, Broadmeadow, is pivotal to her story. Connie married Darrell there, in a gown she made herself, having left school to study dressmaking. Their five children are Geoffrey, Anne, Rosemary, Carmel and Ruth and the girls were all married there. Sadly, Carmel died in 2007 and her funeral, and that of her father, was celebrated at St Laurence’s. 

As young parents, Connie recalls that life was understandably busy and because her mother and her mother-in-law had died, “We had no one to depend upon, only our two selves.” 

This central role of the parish church – and more importantly, community – would be echoed in many families belonging to the generations that didn’t move about too much. Connie and Darrell involved themselves in the school canteen, St Vincent de Paul Society, caring for senior parishioners, fetes and other fundraising events, a sewing class in the school and so on. 

Connie recalls clearly the time when parishioners were invited to participate in liturgical ministries such as proclaiming the Word and minister of Communion. Telling this story, Connie becomes quite emotional, and it’s salutary to be reminded that what is taken for granted in these days of declining congregations was quite a turning point in the lives of an older generation. “I didn’t think I was good enough,” recalls Connie. She came to realise that not only was assistance needed, but that everyone – lay and ordained – has gifts to offer.

At this stage of her life, living happily at Maroba Aged Care Facility, Waratah, Connie is grateful when parishioners or local clergy bring her Communion. When asked what she looks forward to, she replies unhesitatingly, “Visitors.” During his time as the diocesan Missionary of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall visited, anointed her and made the Year of Mercy real for her. 

While age imposes limitations, Connie’s ability to highlight the best of the past and her wisdom figure status among her descendants ensure that she is part of all family events. In fact, late last year when Connie suggested to one of her grandsons that she might not be up to attending the family Christmas, he said, ‘Well, we just won’t have Christmas if you’re not going to be there!”   

Daughter Anne recalls clearly that the family rosary was prayed every night before (a fairly early, pre-television) bedtime. “There was great wisdom in that custom, because it was a meditation that calmed us all down as well as reminding us of what was important.” As children, Geoffrey and Anne would run across Richardson Park to morning Mass during the week. For months Anne saved her pennies to buy a missal, and “when I finally got it, I thought I’d arrived!” 

When there is any kind of concern, Connie’s advice to her family members, always, is “Remember your prayers.” 

“I’ve had a good and long and happy life,” she says. When the time comes to join Darrell and Carmel, Connie will be ready, but meanwhile, she has a lot of living to do and a lifetime’s wisdom to impart.

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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