Life Lived to the Full
Sister Mary Bell, or Martina as she was best known, was a woman on a mission who went about life with a purpose. Whatever the task, she would carry it out in an orderly and business-like fashion. This probably stems from the fact that she learnt to be self-sufficient and responsible from her childhood.
Mary was one of 13 children born to Michael Bell and Mary Ellen Wax on 23rd August 1932 in Taree. Sadly, both their parents died while the children were still young. Maureen Metz, a good friend recalled that Mary was only 10 years of age when her mother died. Sometime after the death of her husband, Mrs Bell had collapsed and died in a diabetic coma. Maureen also recalled how gifted Mary was. By the time she left school Mary was efficient in lots of practical skills.
On January 1st, 1949, both Mary and Maureen entered the Novitiate at Lochinvar. Mary was given the name, Sister Mary Martina and Maureen became Sister Mary Lucy. The next two years were spent in spiritual formation and teacher training.
On July 4th 1951, Sr Martina and Sr Lucy were professed as Sisters of St Joseph. Mary began her teaching ministry as an infants’ teacher and taught in a number of schools which included The Junction, Aberdeen, Lochinvar, Wauchope and St Paul’s Gateshead. She loved the children and took a keen interest in their progress. It was not long before she was recognised as a capable infants’ teacher.
In the 1970s the Australian New Zealand Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph had set up two missionary outreaches in Papua New Guinea. Mary felt the call to volunteer as a missionary in the diocese of Vanimo where she worked with a community of Sisters from Goulburn and the Passionist missionaries. In no time she got to visit the villages riding on a Honda 90 motor bike which had been donated by the people of Gateshead parish.
Using basic nursing skills and her own practical knowledge, she worked in the clinic where mothers would bring their babies, the sick would come along to have their ulcers dressed and receive malaria tablets.
In addition, she worked to improve the lives of the local people by running groups for women, educating them in nutrition, sewing and sacramental preparation. She loved the people and was keen for them to be educated so that they could take control of their own lives.
On her return from Papua New Guinea, Mary immersed herself in a wide range of pastoral ministries mainly in the East Lakes parishes. She loved to visit the sick and elderly, encouraged lay participation in the Liturgy and the running of prayer groups, served the needy as a member of St Vincent de Paul and participated in the local “bread run.”
Sadly, her active life came to an abrupt end when she became unwell and was admitted to Calvary St Joseph’s Home Sandgate where she spent eight years until God called ho her eternal home on December 30th 2022.
It was fitting that her funeral Mass was celebrated at the parish church in Charlestown, the last parish in which she ministered. Following the Mass, the cortege moved to Lochinvar where Sr Mary Bell was laid to rest in the Sisters' section of the parish cemetery.
On her Mass book was a quote from St Paul’s letter to Timothy that fittingly summed up her life:
I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.
Sr Brigid Linehan rsj