In Memory

Theophane Russell

Died on: 7 January, 2009
Religious Name: Theophane
Date of Birth: 29 August, 1910
Date of Profession: 4 December, 1933
Resting Place: Karrakatta Cemetery, WA

Eulogy for Sr Theophane Russell

Emphasis on her life as a Sister of St John of God

Delivered by Sr Pauline O’Connor, Province Leader

12 January 2009

Good afternoon and welcome to this celebration and expression of gratitude for the wonderfully long and blessed life of Sr Theophane.

On behalf of our St John of God Sisters I welcome:

  • Fr Russell Hardiman as our chief Celebrant
  • Fr Brian O’Loughlin representing the Archbishop of Perth
  • Fr Brian Ahern
  • Fr Pat Turner
  • Fr Kevin Crock (Redemptorist)
  • Priests Resident in the Villa including Bishop McKeon

I would like to reserve a special welcome to Sr Theophane’s extended family (that is the Russell and Hardiman branches of the family) present with us today and also to acknowledge the understandable absence of Br Peter Hardiman (a Christian Brother involved in ministry in the Philippines).

It is our tradition on occasions such as these to share some reflections on the life of the Sister who has journeyed with us, and to express fitting appreciation for the contribution that the Sister has made and the gifts through which she has expressed her commitment.

On this occasion I will confine my reflections on Theophane’s life to that of her as a consecrated religious expressed through our John of God spirit, traditions and way of life.  There will be other contributions from family later.

Mary Russell was born into a community where the concepts, the symbols and even the fragrance of the Christian tradition were most familiar to her through participation in the sacraments, Benediction and the Eucharist.  It was from this background that she decided to give fuller expression to her baptismal commitment as a consecrated religious woman in the Church.

Theophane has said, and I quote  “I always wanted to be a nun – never thought initially on what Order perhaps, but then so clearly on a very specific occasion it was made known to me that I was to enter St John of God, – which has been my life – in joy”.

In her reflections on life Theophane talked about the call to a consecrated way of life being a distinct call and wondered in her later years whether people felt that same definite call as she did.  The way in which she said this implies she had no doubt about her own call thereby evoking in her an urgency to respond and a depth of gratitude for that call.

She spoke with pride of the fact that Kalgoorlie was blessed with a great number of vocations to the priesthood, and religious life – she seemed to attribute this in part at least to the wonderful schooling and the good grounding in faith which students received – taught as she was by the St John of God Sisters.

In referring to her early years in the St John of God Novitiate – Theophane talked in terms of strict and solid religious training.

During these years she would have learned:

  • That consecrated persons have the task of bearing witness to the transforming presence of God in the world.
  • That she was called to commit herself to Christ and to the Christian Community.
  • That she was to give expression to God’s call through the vows, of poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • That she would live in a community patterned on the life and teaching of the founders of the Order.
  • That she would share possessions in common.

Following Novitiate Theophane experienced that her ministry would depend on the particular community to which she belonged and was ultimately dependant upon the needs of the Church and its people.

In particular terms this meant she initially had:

  • Some exposure in nursing in the hospital here in Subiaco as part of her Novitiate experience.
  • After which she returned to her beloved Kalgoorlie where she taught music until the Sisters closed the school in 1936.
  • She then returned to Subiaco to undertake nursing training, which was followed by stints in Bunbury, Geraldton, and Goulburn where she spent a considerable amount of time.
  • In 1979 she returned to Kalgoorlie for a couple of years until as she said “sadly we finished our mission there and the hospital ceased functioning”.
  • After this she was transferred to Geraldton for a further 6 years eventually coming here to the Villa.

During all of these years Theophane brought many gifts to her commitment and to her ministering to other people but one in particular stands out – her music, which she had trained in before entering.

  • As we know it was always important to have somebody in the community who could play the Organ for the various Church Ceremonies and Rituals.
  • Theophane made a significant contribution in this regard wherever she went.  The most effective preaching of the gospel is when it is accompanied by beautiful, appropriate music.
  • Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage and move us to right action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.
  • Such was the nature of this particular gift Theophane brought to each community she lived in.

It is of interest to note that Theophane spent approximately the first half of her life as a religious in a Church that was Pre-Vatican II and the other half in a Church that changed rapidly and, one might say, for good and for bad – a Church as filled with saints as with sinners, a Church as given to truth as it is prone to error.  But, Theophane was clear and constant in her belief that it was in the God of that Church that she placed her hope and her faith.

So, what can we say of Theophane’s life:

  • We can say with assurance that: she relied on God as her centre of faith.
  • She lived gospel values expressed in whole-hearted joy and through a cheerful disposition of service.
  • She took care to listen to people with great respect.
  • She participated in and contributed genuinely and generously to the sacramental and liturgical life of the Order and the Church as a means of deepening her own and others relationships with God.
  • She lived a simple lifestyle.
  • She was open to generously serving God’s people whenever and wherever she was asked – through her music, as a nurse, as an administrator or as a community leader.
  • She was consistent in her commitment to growing personally and spiritually.
  • And she reflected on life and her lived experience which contributed to her often wise observations and insights.
  • Theophane was constant in her commitment to Church.
  • She reflected a John of God spirit in her way of engaging with people.
  • She was simply and in every sense a true follower of Christ and We John of Gods have been blessed through her, and privileged to call her one of our own.

Thank you Theophane – Yes, we will miss you.

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