Archived News Item

Adelaide’s Sister Mary Marra celebrates 100 years

Sisters of Mercy, friends and relatives gathered at Tappeiner Court Nursing Home in Kensington, South Australia on April 13, 2007 to celebrate Sister Mary Marra’s one hundredth birthday. Sister Mary (Eileen Doris) is the first sister from the Adelaide Congregation to reach 100 years. Mass was celebrated by Monsignor Aitken, who in his own inimitable way, reminded all gathered of the many world happenings that occurred in the year 1907 when Mary was born. Sister Christine Keain RSM and Mr Maurie Harper (Mary’s nephew) made speeches at the party. Mr Harper’s speech follows.


Today it is an honour and gives me great pleasure, as a member of Mary’s extended family, to welcome you here on this wonderful occasion. And welcome those who have travelled distances to be here to celebrate Sister Mary’s 100th birthday.


Firstly I would like to say a special thank you to Sisters Christine McArthur, Anne Gilbert and Mary Harvey for the effort in organising this celebration – also Carmel Christie for the cake and Jenny Hamra for the afternoon tea – and all those concerned for their hard work and time in organising today and making it so special.


We all know Mary as a gentle, kind, compassionate and caring person that has devoted her life to God and being their to help others  in their  hours of need.


But what do we really know about this remarkable lady?


Sister Mary was born Eileen Doris Marra to Thomas and Ellen Marra on April 13, 1907 at the Strathalbyn Hospital and is the eldest of three children. Her father Thomas, one of ten children, worked around the area on farms and did a lot of shearing. He, along with his brothers Herbie and Bill, would travel north on the train and then cycle to Cordillo Downs Station where they commenced the season and worked their way south finishing back home in the South East.


On the many lonely nights while her father was away shearing, Mary recalls sitting around a big open fire as a child – with her mother telling them stories or singing when she was not teaching them the rosary or the catechism by candlelight or kerosene lamps. This is where Mary would have developed her interest in religion and love of music through her mother, who was quite musical and was the Organist at St Marks Church in Port Pirie for a number of years and played the piano at many of the local dances. Even today still loves to sing and can often be heard singing in her room here in the hospital.


Mary grew up in Strathalbyn and completed her education there making many friends along the way she developed into a fun loving teenager with beautiful long dark curly hair. When this beautiful young lady with a zest for life left school she studied dressmaking.


Weekends were spent playing hockey with the Strathalbyn team and riding horses. Saturday night she could be found at the dances in Strathalbyn, and in her own words, dancing until the band stopped playing. (Even today if asked about Strath, she will give you a wicked little grin and start singing “I could have Danced all Night” from My Fair Lady).


During this period, Mary spent a good deal of her time visiting her beloved Aunt Tass and indulged in another passion – horses. It was one endless circle of fun and good times enjoying life and living it to the fullest. On one of these occasions Aunt Tass, showing concern, said to her Eileen, “what are you going to do with your life?” to which she replied, I am going to become a nun.


Sister Mary answered her calling and joined the Sisters of Mercy Angus Street Adelaide on December 21, 1928. She was professed and made a vow and promise to God of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience and service of the Poor, on December 13, 1930.


Sister Mary’s family – sister and brother, nieces and nephews – know how much she has given in help guidance and reassurance when the going got tough. We have used her wisdom for overcoming some very trying times as well as the day to day problems that we all come up against. For that Mary I humbly say thank you on the behalf of all the family.


One of Mary’s greatest pride and joy would have had to have been as member of the mighty Tigers. She, along with Sister Monica, would don their slacks and heavy jumpers and head off every Saturday to cheer on “their boys”. After the game it was straight to the Cathedral for Mass and then back to the Convent to watch the replay to make sure the umpire didn’t get it wrong.


This leads me to another important time in her life – Mary was reluctant to give up her habit as she felt that it distinguished her as a person of God.


Her story as told to me:


One night after football, leaving the Cathedral and racing to catch a bus back to the convent (in her football gear), she saw a man at the bus stop a little the worse for wear trying to make conversation, slurring his words. She felt irritated and was about to jump on the bus when he fell down unable to help himself up. Mary looked at the man and then at the bus. Knowing she would miss the replay, she waved the bus on and attended to the man. When she had done all she could for him and got him together, he looked at her and said “God bless you, you are a woman of God”. She said from that moment on she knew that she no longer needed to be in a “habit” to be recognised as a person of God.


In 1980, Sister Mary had a dream come true when the Sisters of Mercy asked her to accompany a group on a pilgrimage to Ireland, Europe and Rome. In Ireland at the tender age of 73 she bent back and kissed the Blarney Stone before going on to visit the sacred sites of Europe and onto Vatican City.


In later life when asked, did she have you any regrets? She simply replied: “No I could not have hoped for a better life; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it”.


Speech delivered by Mr Maurie Harper on April 13, 2007.


From: Sister Bernadette Marks RSM (Local Communications Facilitator, Adelaide)