‘Such a Joy!’ – Mary’s Grenfell Ministry

Sister Mary Corkeron with some of the members of the Men’s Shed. 


After arriving six years ago in Grenfell, New South Wales, Sister Mary Corkeron has been embraced by the community as she undertakes her ministry with the philosophy of ‘just be’.


When asked to describe why she chose to live in Grenfell, 370 kilometres west of Sydney, Sister Mary Corkeron says emphatically, ‘It chose me!’. After living in Canberra for twenty years, Mary had a yearning to live in a country community. Following a drive around Western New South Wales in 2018 with Sister Deirdre Gardiner, they came across Grenfell which is a town of approximately 3000 people and one where the Sisters of Mercy had been part of the community from 1887-1977. “A lot of locals say this, that there is something about Grenfell that draws you in. Arriving here gave me an immediate sense of inner peace and just felt right.”


After settling in the town and not knowing anyone else, Mary decided to ‘wander with intent’ going to local cafes and shops to meet people and chat. “While I did introduce myself as Sister Mary, not having any formal parish ministry title or anything like that meant I had a freedom that comes from not being confined to a particular group or role and I could be there for people from all walks of life. In my previous ministry roles, I had largely just been connected with the Catholic world whereas here I am part of a much broader community.”



As part of her explorations, Mary came across a sign which read ‘Grenfell Men’s Shed – Visitors Welcome’. As a visitor, Mary made herself known to the men and since has become a friend and companion to many and is fondly referred to as Sister Mary. Grenfell was among the first of the rural sheds opened in 2003. It is one of more than 2500 in 12 countries throughout the world. In Australia It was started in 1993 in Goolwa, South Australia. The Men’s Sheds were created to provide a space to address men’s mental health and wellbeing. “Their important philosophy being that the men do things together. Men often find it hard to express how they are feeling, particularly when they are just sitting down talking with other men, yet when they are doing a task together these types of conversations more easily flow.”


Mary said she was initially drawn to the Men’s Shed because of the opportunity it provided to be there for people who were vulnerable. “I felt the vulnerable were here and this is where Mercy needs to be. I thought I could come here and be present with them. Life is not just about doing, Mercy is also in the being. A gift we are able to appreciate and embrace as we age.”


Clemence Matchett, Julie Gilmore and Sister Mary.


While they had been involved in the Men’s Shed over the years, recently it was decided that women can become members and a ‘Hen’s Shed’ has been established. Mary has been a driving force behind a women’s singing group which will be based out of the shed. Her musical talents in Grenfell have also been harnessed through her membership of the Grenfell Ukestra, a local ukulele group. “I have played the guitar for more than 50 years, but never the ukulele. We practice every Thursday night and perform at local clubs, nursing homes and other events. It was started by a local woman who was visiting her daughter in the United Kingdom where she came across a ukulele group and thought, ‘I wonder if we could start one in Grenfell’.”


If the already growing list of ministries and activities weren’t enough, Mary is also a member of the local Probus Club and is a passionate volunteer with an organisation called the Country Education Foundation of Australia. “Country Education is an amazing organisation where we raise $50,000 + each year in our local community. I am on the team that interviews young people and based on our determination each student is given a grant towards their university education or training. I love being involved because you can immediately see the positive difference it makes in the lives of our local youth.”


In more recent years, Mary has also enjoyed visiting the Grenfell Catholic Primary School, St Joseph’s, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy for 90 years until 1977. “When I arrived home from the Mercy Pilgrimage to the House of Mercy in Dublin last year, I decided to make my project that of introducing Catherine McAuley to students and staff. This is ongoing as the story needs to become the school’s story.”


Mary Corkeron (third from the left, front row) with recipients of the Weddin Shire Australia Day Awards.


In her six years in Grenfell, Mary’s attempt to ‘just be’ within the community has been recently undermined, albeit in the best of ways, with the announcement on Australia Day of Mary and another local, Peter Butcher, as the Weddin Shire’s Senior Citizens of the Year. The award was bestowed on Mary in recognition of her involvement in the community, which is quite an achievement for someone who only arrived six years ago.


“It was a total shock. We were given the certificates for being nominated and then my name was called out as one of the winners. I was nominated by a woman, Clemence Mattchett (Gorham), who was a student of Sister Jennifer Crowe’s at St Joseph’s Boorowa in 1970, the year I started teaching. Not long after I arrived in Grenfell, I went on an environmental bus trip and Clemence was one of the organisers. We hadn’t seen each other for 50 years but the bond was immediate and we have enriched each other’s journey ever since.”


In speaking with Mary for this interview it is obvious that the award is just another magical moment from her six years in a place and community that she loves and where they have obviously taken to her. “I love the physical open spaces, the cycles of sowing and reaping as well as the openness in which I am part of this community. It is a spiritual experience in many ways. Being present to people in the parish, school community and beyond, in the Spirit of Catherine, is a privilege. Immeasurable but fruitful in God’s time. It is such a joy to be in a community like this and as Ilia Delio wrote ‘We are where we love and love is energy’.”


Interview conducted by John Rochester

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