Three Religious influencers for Sr Karan VarkerPrint
In 1963, as a very young religious, I taught at St Thomas More’s, Brighton le Sands, and lived at St Mary’s Convent, Hurstville. There I met some older Sisters who left lasting impressions on my life.
One was a great Superior, Sr Mary Columba (Joyce Mary), who sent us as young sisters on our first holiday – to Shellharbour.
Another was Sr Mary Clotilde, an elderly woman who had taught music. She would sit on the back verandah and, when I came home from school, always asked me how my teaching day had been. She was particularly interested in what creative activities were given to the children.
One afternoon as she met me she said, “Sister, I am giving away my belongings and I have something for you!” She then opened her hand in which she held some gold safety pins and gave them to me. Gold safety pins were treasured then. But what she taught me, and which has always remained with me, is a meaning of our Vow of Poverty. I often laughingly say to people now, “I hope when I am about to meet my God, all I have left to give away are a few safety pins!”
A third was Sr Mary Gertrude, who struck me a being quite eccentric. She always had dark rings under her eyes and I never knew why. Although she was quite friendly with the parish priest, who also seemed somewhat eccentric, she did not hesitate during Mass to loudly tell him to stop rambling on in his homily.
One day, when she and I were alone in the Convent Chapel, she called me over and handing me a book said, “Sister, I want you to read this!”
Its title was French – Le Milieu Divin. I was somewhat confused, but when I opened it I saw it recently had been translated into English. I had never heard of the author, maybe because junior Sisters were still reading Rodriguez daily, or maybe, as I was to learn later, Church authorities had silenced the author because of his philosophy and writings.
He was, of course, the amazing Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, who died on Easter Sunday, 1956, sadly not living long enough to see his thinking give impetus to the wonderful document of Vatican II (1962-1965), The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.
Since then many have acclaimed, affirmed, and drawn nourishment from, his writings, as did Pope Francis in his powerful encyclical, Laudato Si’.
To this day, I remain grateful to Sr Gertrude, obviously a woman before her time, who that day, so long ago, opened for me a spiritual pathway, on-going and enriched through the writings of this extraordinary, humble Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
- Karan Varker rsc