Keeping on

The sun peaked through the clouds to shine on an assembly of Dominican nuns gathered at the Calvary Mt Carmel Retirement home in Maitland recently, to celebrate Mary Clare Innes’s 100th birthday.

The intermittent rain of the day was similar to the inclement weather a century ago, when on Sunday 20 February 1921, Dr Hollywood and Nurse Hanks delivered Mary just a few kilometres away, in West Maitland.
Just days after Mary was born, her proud parents, Brice and Florence (nee Myall), took their first-born home to Capp Street, Telarah. Reverend Michael Fitzgerald baptised her at West Maitland Cathedral on 24 February and her Christian journey began.

Mary was confirmed in St John’s Church in 1935 and took the name Bernadette. The little Maitlander was soon joined by siblings Roslyn, Marjorie, James, Brian, Clare, John, Bernard and Mervyn. She and her sister Clare are the remaining matriarchs of their family.

Mary was one of Australia’s 5.5 million population recorded in the 1921 census. Billy Hughes was prime minister and Benedict XV reigned as pope in Rome, while George V was on the throne in England. This was the year Sister Olive won the Melbourne Cup, Australia reclaimed the Ashes, and Chanel No. 5 was introduced. Eddie Cantor, Irving Berlin and Al Jolson were the showbiz stars, and the talkies were just beginning to make their mark. Hitler had joined the newly formed Nazi Party and became its leader. The Communist Party was formed in China.
One person’s century brings many changes and developments.

Mary went to school at St John’s and then worked at the Maitland Convent and Boarding School. The housekeeper and homemaker sisters she worked alongside encouraged and inspired her. Dr Hollywood declared her “free of any constitutional disease likely to interfere with her religious life” on 23 January 1940, and on 15 February 1940 she joined the Maitland community, was professed as a Dominican sister on 10 August 1942 and was given the name Sister M Germaine.

During the past 80 years, Sr Germaine has remained strong and resolute in her calling. Fifty-three of those years have been spent in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

Sr Germaine looked after sisters and boarders in Maitland, Newcastle, Mayfield and Waratah. She also made a home for sisters and boarders at times in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Tamworth. Her joy, gentleness and thoroughness have been spread widely.

After the changes brought by Vatican II, Sr Germaine soon found herself in leadership positions in the various communities and she enjoyed the new freedoms. Sr Germaine also managed to fit in what was for her personally a wonderful year, working in Rome and making the most of free time that could be spent discovering Europe.
“Rome was so nice,” she said, when friends at the birthday celebrations asked about her time there. “There was so much to take in.”

Sr Germaine has lived through enormous change – in society, in the Church, in history and politics and in religious life itself.

When asked to draw on her years of experience to give advice to others, she said, “keep on keeping on”.
“It’s a big thing to face, getting older,” she said. “Things are so different now. You just must gather it all up and put it together. Change has to come; you just have to go along with it.”

Always a hard worker, even in her retirement she is renowned for raking up the leaves, feeding the birds, and her general interest in the garden. When she sits down she has crocheting in her hand, making rugs for those who might need one.

The centenarian moved to St Joseph’s, Sandgate, earlier this year, where she can receive the care she needs. Sr Germaine is so much more than the eldest member of the Dominican congregation – she is a woman who continues to care for all of us in her own way.

She continues to be much loved and admired by her former students, sisters and all those with whom this beautiful woman comes into contact. She is often found in the chapel, praying for us all.

As Sr Germaine stood in the dining room adorned with pink and purple balloons and surrounded by our Dominican sisters, she said she was in “awe” of achieving such a milestone.

“I never thought I would ever get near 100,” she said with a spritely smile on her face, acknowledging that she thought her faith might have something to do with her longevity.

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