Sister Anita Conroy loved people and people loved her.
That is how Merri Rumble described the former St Clare's staff member in a tribute following Sr Anita's Memorial Mass in the St Clare's Josephite Centre on June 28. Sr Anita was a member of staff from 1991 to 2006 serving the school community in the area of wellbeing and pastoral care.
Past and present members of the Josephite Order attended to "celebrate the wonderful contribution Sr Anita made to the life of the school and to the surrounding communities of the Manning," said principal Peter Nicholls.
The memorial mass was celebrated by Father Tony Potts and included music performed by students of St Clare's and St Joseph's Taree, and St Clare's hospitality students prepared and served the morning tea.
"An Angel of Mercy" is how Merri Rumble titled the following tribute to Sr Anita.
"A daughter, a sister, a Josephite Sister, an aunt, a teacher, a counsellor, provider for the needy, a supporter, a spiritual, wise and compassionate confidante, a scientist and mathematician, a smiler, and a lover-of-life... these are just a few of the attributes which contributed to the persona of Sister Anita Conroy.
Anita came to Taree in 1991 at a time when St Clare's was shrouded in sadness, and both the staff and students needed pastoral support. Anita came to serve and be like Christ to them. In her 16 years at St Clare's, Anita served families and individuals in crisis; she supported families whose children were terminally ill; she was always there for children who had ill (or had lost) family members; children who didn't always 'fit the mould' sought and needed Anita's wisdom and counsel.
Sr Anita was the 'face of Christ' to both young and old alike, regardless of their religious or cultural persuasions. Anita channeled her love into the down at heel, the down in heart, the lost, the lonely and often forgotten. The high-flyers didn't much absorb her attention, she ministered to disadvantaged families who often lived in isolated rural areas; she supported families who were experiencing abuse; and she often engaged the support of other welfare agencies to come to the aid of the disadvantaged as well.
On occasions, in the dead of night, Anita received phone calls from families in crisis seeking her support - off she'd go in her trusty vehicle to minister to the needy on an isolated rural property, uphill, down dale she drove. However, on one occasion, she lost her way! She phoned, (of course she had a mobile phone, her security blanket for such occasions) the school principal who hastened, like a knight in shining armour, from Taree to the distant and darkened hills of Krambach, to her rescue!
Sr Anita loved people, and people loved her.
Not only did Anita share her love with those to whom she ministered at school, but she assumed pastoral roles in the parish as well; she developed firm friendships within the community; she loved the family group 'Happy Hour' or should I say, 'Happy HourS' on Friday nights in friends' homes, and sometimes at the club, and those friendships continued throughout the remainder of her life.
Anita's own family was so very important to her. She had numerous nieces and nephews, as well as grandies, and shared a keen interest in them, showering them all with her special affection. She took every opportunity to gather and celebrate with her family, helping to keep the family flame flickering.
Anita's 'Josephite Family' was very much a love-filled relationship...her 'sisters' had a special place in her life. She was a professed sister of St Joseph for 72 years, she lived in large communities with many of her sisters; she lived in smaller communities with others; she worked in schools with many of them, so of course firm friendships developed - she loved to be with them to celebrate on special occasions.
Many ex-students remember Anita fondly as a Lochinvar College Principal to emulate; a champion of social justice, a great teacher, particularly interested in mathematics and science, encouraging her girls to follow her interests in this scientific area when it wasn't 'cool' for young women to do so!
After her 16 years in Taree it was time for Anita to take down her shingle, to gather some time for herself. From the Manning she picked up stumps and hammered them in again in Newcastle, where she was closer to her sisters. As her health deteriorated it became evident that Anita needed and deserved more special care, so the decision was made for her to live in the Southern Cross Aged Care Facility at Caves Beach. And, even while there she assumed the role of carer, settling in the 'new chums' and visiting the bed-ridden and chair-bound residents, always a people person - we can just imagine Anita's kindness to them all, she just couldn't help it! Again, Anita was 'the Face of God' and the breath of the Holy Spirit to all to whom she ministered in a gentle way, and even if some of her special people couldn't actually acknowledge her presence, they would have known that the Holy Spirit, through Anita, was offering them solace in times of discomfort.
Whilst at Caves Beach her sisters Aileen, Angela and Clare devoted much time to their beautiful and infirm sister, as did her Josephite family - they visited her often and showered her with family love.
On May 7, God (whom she has served faithfully and generously all her life) took Anita into his arms and welcomed her home as only He could. Her GODness and GOODness to us as a community was immeasurable.
One must pay tribute to the staff and students of St Clare's who were the spokes and the rim of the wheel bringing the celebration of thanksgiving to fruition - the Memorial Mass for Anita."
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