As Sisters and staff gathered round Elizabeth’s bedside, in silence, on Thursday evening, 29th July 2021, Elizabeth slipped away peacefully in a calm and gentle breath. She died as she lived with an unfading inner beauty and a quiet gentle presence. It was with thanksgiving and a tinge of sadness that we gathered to remember and honour our beloved Sr Elizabeth Murphy on the eve of her funeral. The opening hymn for the Vigil Ceremony, “There is a Place” was both familiar and poignant:
“There’s a time for remembering; a time to recall,
The trials and the triumphs, the fears and the falls
There’s a time to be grateful for moments so blessed
The jewels of our memory where love is our guest”. (By Liam Lawton)
Elizabeth had been ill for a number of years before her death and in many ways the ‘jewels’ of her memory lay hidden deep within the mystery of her life. But those few years did not define her life. Last year, 2020, Sr Ann Cullinane, accompanied Elizabeth in documenting her story, in word and picture, from her time at home with her family in Co Wexford, Ireland and then as a Member of the Sisters of Saint John of God in Australia, for almost 60 years. Her family were most grateful for such a gift, as were the Sisters and Staff at Subiaco Convent where Elizabeth spent the last years of her life in retirement. Thank you Ann for that generous gift. You will find some further threads of that story here.
To her family, Elizabeth was known as Lilly, to her community and friends she was Liz and in her various ministries she was Sr Elizabeth Murphy! Liz met them all with a smile and a listening heart where they felt at ease in her non-judgemental company.
Elizabeth Murphy was born on the 28th November 1944 at Raheenagee, Camolin, Co Wexford. She was the fifth child in a family of ten children born to Bridget Murphy (nee White) & John Murphy: six brothers and four sisters; Matt (deceased), Phil (deceased), John, Morgan, Lilly, Nuala, Jim, Joan, Bridget and Paddy. In 1956, when Elizabeth was just twelve years old her father died rather suddenly. He was 51 years, and his youngest son, Paddy, was just one year old. Elizabeth’s father was the local Forester which was very much an ecological job in those days, working for the Government in caring for trees. His sudden death left mother to care for a house-full of children… While the family gradually moved away to earn a wage and help mother or to link in with education & training opportunities, Lilly followed her vocation to join the Sisters of St John of God. “I had met a Sister of St. John of God who was a great friend of my Mum, by the name of Sr. Dolorosa Kelly from Co. Wexford. I was inspired to find out more about the Sisters and their way of life.” It wasn’t long before Lilly was on her way to the St John of God Novitiate in Ballinamore, Co. Mayo in 1961. Sr Edith Hayes & Mary Minogue were her companions.
On the 6th December 1961 Liz and her companions left Ballinamore and boarded a flight in London bound for Perth, Western Australia, with the final destination being St John of God Convent, Subiaco. Elizabeth did not know then that it would be 13 years before she returned to visit her family in Ireland. But she kept in touch with them all, in spite of Australia being at such a long distance away. In Perth Elizabeth continued her Religious Life Formation and made her Final Profession as a Sister of St John of God on the 29th July 1969.
It was her great delight when her brother, Morgan, his wife Cynthia and children came to live in Perth. Over the years Morgan and his family were regular visitors to see Lilly and vice versa; she was very happy to visit the family on special occasions. In the last weeks of Elizabeth’s life Morgan was daily by her bedside.
In her ministry life, Elizabeth had an easy rapport with people, kind, compassionate, caring and empathetic. The well-known philosopher and spiritual writer, John O’Donohue, sums up something of her qualities:
“A compassionate heart need never carry the burden of judgement.
A forgiving heart knows the art of liberation.
A loving heart awakens the spirit to possibilities and engagement with others.”
That was Elizabeth’s commitment to ministry in the many fields of specialized service that she was engaged in, and touched the lives of so many people.
Beginning with Nurse Training, followed by training in Obstetrics and Infants Care, and then Maternity….,. The next thirty years were interspersed with ministry work and on-going study in the fields of Nurse Manager, Master of Arts in Pastoral Leadership and as a Pastoral Educator, as well as nursing duty in Kalgoorlie, Ballarat & Subiaco.
Elizabeth’s first nursing assignment was to St John of God Hospital in Kalgoorlie, a journey of 600 kilometres north east of Perth. Despite the extreme summer heat and the ‘biting mosquitoes’ Elizabeth enjoyed her time there in a small community with experienced and friendly staff of Sisters and lay nurses. Here the local people knew & loved the Sisters for their long-time commitment in caring for the people in the Gold Fields, beginning with their care for the victims of the Typhoid epidemic in Coolgardie in 1896 and later moving to Kalgoorlie.
In 1978, Elizabeth, with Sr Pierre Lynch and Sr Jacinta Noonan, were sent to Roebourn to assist in establishing a much needed Child Care Centre. Roebourne, some 1,500 kms north of Perth and in the 1970s was very much a mixed cultural population with a significant number of Aboriginal families. Some of the young children came from homes where the parent/s were experiencing great hardship and were unable to care for their young children. Here the Sister stepped in with a welcome respite care centre and much love for the children, regardless of race, colour or creed. Elizabeth loved working with the children & their families. In fact she would say that it was her favourite ministry.
Elizabeth was invited to join the Sisters in Pakistan in 1982, as a new mission was opened in Lahore in 1980. Now two years later the Sisters were asked to take on Fatima Hospital in Sargodha. This was a great challenge but Elizabeth did her best to attend to the needs of the patients, especially the ‘new mothers’ in the Maternity section. She combined her professional skills with her kind and gentle personality, attending to all without distinction. Compared with Australia, this was an area of extreme poverty for most families.
When Elizabeth returned to Subiaco she continued her work and study as an assistant in the Midwifery School at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco. Then in 1994 /1995 Elizabeth had an opportunity to study at the All Hallows Institute for Mission and Ministry in Dublin, Ireland, where she gained a Master of Arts in Pastoral Leadership. Studying in Dublin was a double blessing for Elizabeth as she enjoyed the study, and had an opportunity to spend time with her family. Returning to Australia she completed her qualification as a Clinical Pastoral Educator at the Austin Repatriation Hospital in Melbourne and then returned to Perth where she reopened the School of Clinical Pastoral Education at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco which she managed for the last ten years of her ministry life.
A faith-filled woman, with a listening heart, Elizabeth delighted in the celebration of liturgical prayer, the Eucharist, the Prayer of the Church and always the Rosary. In thanksgiving and remembrance, we celebrate Elizabeth’s love of life & love of family, her gentle spirit, her quirky sense of humour and above all the example of her God-centered life through her loving care and respect for those she accompanied on life’s journey.
In place of Elizabeth, we the Sisters of St John of God make special mention and thanks to the Nursing / Caring Staff at Subiaco Convent for the professional care they so compassionately and respectively shared with Elizabeth. Thank you for being so attentive to her every need through her long illness. Thank you for your night and day devoted care. All your words and gestures of kindness are gratefully appreciated by the Sisters & by Elizabeth’s family.
As we bid farewell to Lilly, we extend our prayer of sympathy to her extended family here in Australia and those in Ireland, England, her nephew, Kevin & family in Norway, and those in other parts of the world. Elizabeth is greatly missed by them all. She is also greatly missed by her St John of God Community, especially the Sisters at Subiaco Convent, as well as her friends and companions. As some of the Sisters said, “in the years of accompanying Elizabeth in her illness, it called deeply on our compassion and understanding to walk kindly with those on the unknown journey towards eternity” – where the mystery of life and death embrace. Rest in peace Elizabeth!
Elizabeth was laid to rest on 5th August 2021 in Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia.
Sr. Mary Kiely