I would very much have liked to bid my farewell at the Celebration of Mon’s Life in the Chapel of her Convent in Parramatta earlier this month, but unfortunately I was overseas.
Now, here in London, I have a chance to send a Condolences Message and my love to Monica’s brother, my uncle John and Betty Musgrave, and to Sister Sophie McGrath rsm, and the nuns of her Community of the Parramatta Sisters of Mercy for more than sixty years.
The musical piece is from the ‘Gloria’ in a Palestrina Mass sung at the Latin High Mass in the Oratory of S Philip Neri in London (Brompton Oratory) that I attended last Sunday, and said a special prayer for Monica.
“Missa La stella” D Scarlatti. Dum complerentur Palestrina
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Eulogy for Sister Monica Musgrave rsm, 3 May 2013
We are all rejoicing that Monica died peacefully – it was a great grace. As we know Mon was a strong extrovert and natural leader, she was an “in charge” person – to be dependent went against the grain and, although she was genuinely grateful for the unending attention and kindness of the staff and Clare and the other Sisters at Stella Maris, she found it a most uncongenial situation.
There is a strong, Catholic tradition of praying for a “happy death” and it is being rediscovered in the wider secular world. Last week on the radio programme, Life Matters, a woman, who has written a book on this very subject, was interviewed. She explained that death had never been a problem for her – as a child she had grown up among adults and had early come to the conclusion that the world was made up of two classes of people: those that had died and were talked about and those who were not yet dead and talked to one another and about the dead, who in some mysterious way were still alive. We have traditionally called this the Communion of Saints understanding “saint” to mean those that were striving in their own limited way to live a loving life!
I think we would all agree that Mon will definitely be talked about well into the future by people in a variety of fields! She herself talked often about those who had gone before her to God. Marea Monica Musgrave was born in on the Feast Day of Our Lady Help of Christians, the 24th May, 1926. This was also Empire Day popularly simply called Cracker Night. So Mon appropriately came into the world with a “bang”! She was the first girl after five boys and was to be succeeded by a sister and finally little brother John, who, with his wife Betty, has most lovingly stood by her, especially during her time at Stella Maris.
No one celebrated the Communion of Saints more than Mon. She talked often over the years about her parents and siblings. She had the utmost admiration for her mother and father and her brothers and sister. She always used the same words when she re-told stories about them. They emerged clearly with their virtues and limitations as thoroughly good people, that she loved deeply. She and her only sister, Eileen known as Bobbie, were very different personalities. Mon always highlighted this by describing the agony that she personally went through when taking, the increasingly frail, Bobbie shopping. Mon wanted to get the whole unpleasant chore over as soon as possible, while Bobbie enjoyed lingering with feminine attention to detail over the merchandise being purchased. Their sisterly tie was deep and as Bobbie’s health declined (she was a bad diabetic) Mon could not rest until she answered the pre-arranged daily phone call. If this did not occur, Mon with considerable drama rushed out to the car and we were all put on high alert as she drove off to check on Bobbie.
It was Mon’s father, Les, who played an especially important role in the development of her strong Faith which informed her life. When her father worked night shifts he would go to early morning Mass in the parish church on his way home. Mon often said how she joined him and valued their conversations as they walked home.
Mon was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Holy Cross primary School and subsequently Holy Cross College, Woollahra where she exercised leadership, did a moderate amount of home-work and spectacularly captained the basketball team before finally attaining her Leaving Certificate. Mon said that during her time at school she was impressed by the loving community relationships of the sisters and felt a call to religious life. This she put on hold when she left school and took up a clerical position rather than a Teacher’s College scholarship.
Mon went on to hold leadership positions in the Catholic Youth Organisation (CYO) and the Holy Cross Ex-Students’ Committee. She played a great deal of tennis and hockey and danced well into the night and remembered tip-toing past her parents’ bedroom. Finally she felt that she could no longer ignore her call to religious life and entered the Parramatta Sisters of Mercy on 2 February 1948 and, after a period as a postulant, was received into the two year Novitiate programme, admitted to Temporary Profession in 1950 and to Final Profession in 1953.
Thereafter she served as a secondary school teacher at Bondi Beach, Stanmore (2), Blacktown, Caringbah, OLMC Epping , OLMC Parramatta and again at Epping in 1974 where she was principal from 1977 to 1982. After which she was involved in the financial administration of St Michael’s Children’s Centre at Baulkham Hills. Mon was always the bursar in the local community – she was good with figures!
Being strongly extroverted Mon got on well with people generally and in particular with secondary school girls. She had no problems with discipline and was a good, interesting teacher. As a school principal her staff found her an able administrator, as well as friendly, fair and understanding.
From the 1960s, after a period of illness, running parallel with her congregational responsibilities, Mon was much involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. As an unexpected result of a response to ordinary medication during an illness she experienced the trauma of addiction. She often said that at this time the Congregational superiors, Mother M. Andrew Lynch and Mother M Thecla Kerwick and, especially her fellow community friend, Sister Patricia Donovan, were a towers of strength to her. These were the ones who encouraged and enabled her to seek help and undertake the necessary recovery programme with Alcoholics Anonymous. She in turn was to become very active in the ministry of AA and helped many religious men and women as well as lay men and women, who faced this challenge. She had a great range of AA men and women friends across all classes, professions and sexes and especially the marginalised.
Julie, passed on to me an email from Mon’s nephew Michael who is presently in New York. In it he said that at a recent party of the residents in his bock of units in Sydney a man, who recognised Michael from Mon’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations, came up and said: “One day I would like to sit you down and tell you how Mon saved my life”. He told Michael that there were dozens of men and women that Mon had loved back to sobriety over a period spanning fifty years.
Unfortunately, there is much that has not been highlighted in this necessarily brief tribute to Mon but before I hand over to Julie, who is representing Mon’s much loved, numerous wider family – we always knew when there was a new baby on the way – we will give the last word to Mon herself. The following is from a note she enclosed with her requests concerning the liturgy for her funeral Eucharist. She said:
During the past few years, I have been privileged to share and work with people suffering from the disease of alcoholism and drug dependency. So many of these people have allowed me, by entering into their lives, to realise the importance of Mercy in my life and in theirs.
Through deepening of faith, trust in God and in prayer, I see the love of one person for another, change defeat, humiliation, shame and degradation into joy, compassion and self-acceptance.
As I move through my daily life, I am reminded of the words of a dear friend, a long since recovered alcoholic. His daily prayer is “Dear Lord help me to smile today, but not to forget what I wept about yesterday.”
Finally she concluded:
My Congregation, my Community, and the suffering ones who enter my life, motivate me more and more to say “Yes” to my commitment as a Sister of Mercy.
Over now to Julie.
Sophie McGrath rsm