A Tribute to Sister Veronica McCarthy SSJG
At the Celebration of her Funeral in Broome,
31 May 2018
“We gather with a sense sadness and loss – mixed with the joy of remembering our dear Sister, friend and companion, Sr Veronica. She was born at Tumut, NSW on Christmas Day 1927 – joy to the family then and joy to the Kimberly world for many long years thereafter. Baptised Ellen Constance, she was Nell to her family – to us she was Sister Veronica. She was the middle child in a family of five born to Carrie and Joseph McCarthy. We are honoured to welcome six members of Veronica’s family to our celebration today, her sisters Joan and Hilda, John, her brother; her 2 nephews, Peter and Anthony, niece Mary and we welcome special family friend, Dominic. Thank you for making the long journey from Sydney to be with us in our farewell to Veronica. Bert, her other brother is unable to be with us. She is the first in her family to complete the earthly journey.
Mary, her niece, recalled that Nell seemed always to want to be a nun and so it was that she and several other young women chose the Sisters of St John of God in Broome to work as missionaries. An archival quote tells of the section of their journey on Sunday 29 May 1949 when they travelled from Perth to Broome in the old DCS plane ,on what was called ‘ the Milk Run’: a journey taking 10 hours, stopping off at evey little airstrip along the way. On the 8 December 1949 she received the religious habit and the name of Sr Veronica.
Veronica’s first years in religious life were spent in the Broome Convent where she endeared herself to the young women who lived in the Working Girls Hostel, located in the Convent grounds. These young women (girls) worked in the School, the Parish and the Convent, School and Parish House while some went down the road to Holy Child and others went out to work in the broader community. These “girls” as Veronica always called them, were joined by girls from Broome families eager to receive training from the Sisters. The girls took turns in the kitchen providing them with life skills and the mothering’ of Sr Veronica.
With a laugh Veronica recalled the first fridge in the Broome Convent: it gave off black smoke and you had to remove the kerosene tank and clean it. Using that fridge was the one time I nearly swore!! Veronica’s gentleness, respect for each person and great hospitality resulted in her working in many Kimberley places, not once but returning to places many times as she generously responded to needs. She worked at the Leprosarium and never forgot the sadness of those sick people. She also spent time in both Lombadina and Derby.
In 1956 she was amongst the first Sisters to go to Old Balgo Mission, a journey of over a 1000 kms on a gravel /dirt road back then, where she cooked for 20 people on a wooden stove without the comfort of fridge, fans, air-conditioners or any electric appliances Over the following years she returned to work in New Balgo Mission and then again in 1983 she spent a number of years teaching at the Adult Education Centre. She was one of the last Sister of St John of God (SSJG), to leave Balgo in December 1988. but she always held a special place in her heart for the Balgo people.
When asked to join the staff of Nulungu College in 1977 Veronica again responded generously and for the next seven years she worked in the Home Economics section, teaching hundreds of boys and girls nutritional cooking and craft skills. Veronica knew the mothers of so many of these young people who not only came from Broome but from throughout the Kimberley. When she left in December 1983 she was the last SSJG to teach at the College.
In 1989 Veronica was invited to go to Bidyadanga, initially to help start and Art and Craft Centre with the community. Again she responded with enthusiasm and this venture enabled her to reconnect with the former boys and girls she had taught at Nulungu She spent nine years with the Bidyadanga people and in the years after she would try and visit the community each year on the Feast of John the Baptist, (24th June).
Her last years were spent in Broome where she was one of the initial and strong supporters for the establishment of the Heritage Centre. She was an official volunteer from 2007 until she departed Broome in late 2012.No story of Veronica’s 65 years of Kimberley ministry would be complete without mention of the ? – no we do not have a number – for the cakes she made for raffles, jubilees, weddings, anniversaries. Baptisms, First Communions and so on and on. These were a labour of love, a gift of herself, of her hospitality towards people. She always tried to respond. There are numerous stories of hours, and hours she would spend decorating a cake so that each was a labour of love, a true gift.
In December 2012 Veronica made the decision to relocate to the Sisters Convent at Subiaco as she did not wish to be a burden on the few Sisters left in the Kimberley. She soon became much loved by the Sisters and Staff and continued to receive visitors until recently. She was always grateful for the care given her in Subiaco. We extend a big thank you to the Sisters there and to the Staff for their loving care and service. Veronica requested that she be returned to rest with her beloved Kimberley people. Today her wish has been granted.
Veronica brought with her a gentle nature, the gift of hospitality and friendship combined with a willingness to respond to any need. She is quoted as saying: No regrets – things were hard, but on the whole, it’s been a good life. May you rest in peace, Veronica. You will always hold a place in our memory and in our hearts.”
Eulogy prepared by Sr Pat Rhatigan.
Gracie Green, shares a message of love and appreciation for Sr Veronica, from the people of Balgo.
“She was a sweet and lovely friend to us, and a mum to us all, as well as
all the other nuns. They were as we call them as our mummies.
When our St John of God Sisters, when they had left Balgo Hills, we all the
dormitory girls, we were very sad for them.
The mission did not look the same. With them the Balgo Community was a lot
good when they were around.
I used to work in the kitchen with Sister Veronica. She used to make lovely
meals for the staff and Lay Missionaries and that is how I learn to cook by
looking at her cooking.
Well Sister Philomena, she used to show us how to use the sewing machine
and how to keep our homes clean.
We will never forget all of them, and they be in our minds and thoughts.
That’s all. May you rest in peace and until we meet someday.”
From Gracie Green
Incensing the coffin
Seven members of Veronica’s family travelled from Sydney / Brisbane for her funeral. Here they meet Veronica’s friends as they gather around her grave. (Standing behind the cross) Her two sisters, Joan and Hilda with brother, John, in the centre. Her brother, Bert, was unable to travel for the funeral.