Death of our Oldest Sister
Sr Anne Cavanagh (formerly Sr M Fintan) who celebrated her 100th birthday last July died peacefully in her sleep on Sunday 9th April 2017. Her Funeral Mass was celebrated in St Joseph’s Chapel Lochinvar on 14th April.
Words of Remembrance
It is not often we gather to farewell a Sister who has lived for 100 years - more than 80 of them as a Sister of St Joseph - but many of us here well remember gathering at Calvary St Joseph’s last year to celebrate that achievement with our dear Sr Anne.
It was on 12th July 1916, as World War I was raging, that Anne Imelda Cavanagh was born at Wauchope, to the pioneering couple Patrick Cavanagh and Margaret O’Brien. Anne was the third of their twelve children and when she was four the family moved from the security of Cavanagh territory on Rawdon Island to the largely untouched, forested beauty of the Comboyne Plateau.
There, despite inevitable hardships, the Cavanagh children spent what Anne described in her family history as a ‘carefree and wondrous’ childhood, until the family moved down the mountain to Byabarra, mainly to further the children’s education.
In this staunchly Catholic family - able to attend Mass only three times a year - Anne imbibed a deep and unshakable faith, strength of character, and the freedom of spirit and self-reliance that characterised her long life.
After boarding with our Sisters at Port Macquarie for her secondary schooling, Anne came here to Lochinvar and entered the novitiate on 28th December 1933 - at a time when society was beginning to recover from the Great Depression. She was received as a novice in this chapel (built just ten years earlier) and was professed here on 1st July 1936 as Sr Mary Fintan of the Child Jesus.
For the next 40 years or so she taught in our schools from one end of the diocese to the other – Infants, Primary and Secondary classes – and for nearly 20 of those years she served as a Primary School Principal. While her pupils recall that she could be very strict, they also remember with gratitude the creative and interesting education she gave them - without the resources available nowadays in our schools.
In 1972 Anne was awarded a Certificate of Competency as a Librarian and was elected to Membership of the Library Association of Australia. In 1978 she had a year of formation and study in Melbourne at the Yarra Theological College. Anne had a great love of learning, and in another era she may well have become a very successful academic. She would have loved to continue her studies in Theology and Scripture, but came home to Lochinvar, as our centenary year was approaching, to take up the much-needed role of Congregational Archivist.
We Sisters owe Anne a great debt of gratitude for the way she collected and organised our extensive historical records and, through her research and writings, helped us all to gain a deeper understanding of our Josephite charism and heritage.
She also took a keen interest in diocesan history and for years would travel with me one day a week to Hamilton to work as a volunteer in the diocesan archives.
As many of us know, Anne held very strong views on many subjects, not least politics and the changes in the Church. During our weekly trips to Newcastle, I learnt early what subjects to avoid if I didn’t want an argument. Mind you, Anne did love to have an argument - which would sometimes end with ‘Pity about you’ (I suspect that was her way of conceding defeat!)
Those of us who lived with Anne could not fail to know of her great love for her family. She visited her siblings whenever she could and would often tell us about the achievements of her nieces and nephews - in sports, in their studies, in their careers - and about their growing families. Three of her siblings had died young, Clare and Patrick in infancy and her beloved childhood companion, Barney, in a tragic sports accident. She grieved deeply over the years at the loss of her siblings Mary, Tess, Patty and Jimmy, and in more recent times, Joan and Eileen.
When Anne was no longer able to travel, she was very happy when we invited her sisters Eileen and Joan to come from Queensland and stay a few days with her to celebrate her 90th birthday. Until then, Anne had never let us celebrate her birthday - because it was on 12th July and her Irish mother would never celebrate on Orangeman’s Day.
Anne loved your regular visits, Cathy, whenever you came down from Taree, and especially the time in 2009 when you and Maureen came to celebrate the centenary of your mother’s arrival in Australia.
Anne was self-effacing, even self-deprecating in many ways, never wanting a fuss, happy to be in the background, hard-working whenever and wherever help was needed, thoughtful and kind especially to the sick and needy, and generous in sharing her many gifts. She was an excellent seamstress, and we were all recipients of her hand-made gifts.
Anne was passionate about being a Sister of St Joseph of Lochinvar. She loved this place and was very sad when the Nursing Home had to close and her long-held dream of dying here in the care of our Sisters came to an end. Still, when finally she had to leave here and move into care at Calvary St Joseph’s, she did so with the peaceful resignation that characterised her acceptance of so many other difficult things in her life.
Whenever we visited St Joseph’s, we always found her contented and at peace. If she was lying down when we arrived, and we asked how she was, her quick-witted reply would be, ‘I’m flat-out’; and her first question was always "What's the news?" She took a keen interest in whatever we could tell her - especially about the Sisters. We are grateful to the staff of Calvary St Joseph’s, some of whom are here today, for the great care they gave Anne during her final years.
Anne died peacefully in her sleep last Sunday night: a wonderful way to go when you've lived for 100 years, and the way Anne herself would have wanted it – without any fuss.
May she now enjoy the fullness of joy with our God whom she loved and served so well.
Patricia Egan rsj