THE CLOSING OF A DOOR
5 December 2017
As Pope Francis formally closed the Mercy Door of St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday 20 November, bringing to an end the Jubilee Year of Mercy, another Mercy Door closed here in Bathurst, when Pat Linnane rsm passed away at St Catherine’s Hostel. If ever a woman was a Doorway to Mercy, it was Sister Pat.
Sister Pat (seen on the right of the photo) joined the Sisters of Mercy Bathurst in 1952. The seed of mercy had already been planted in her heart by family, and the Sisters of Mercy who taught her at St Mary’s College Bathurst. This year she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee as a Sister of Mercy: sixty years of deepening her understanding and appreciation of Mercy and giving practical expression to it in her life and ministry. She set herself a high standard in her profession motto: “All things to all people.” But the rider “through Jesus and Mary” gives us some insight into where she got her extraordinary energy, passion and commitment to bringing Mercy to the dark and wounded places in our community.
Sister Pat was a woman of faith. She steeped herself in the spirituality of the Catholic Church, even while she was not blind to its failings. And she loved Catherine McAuley, foundress and inspiration for the Sisters of Mercy. Faith has its doubts, otherwise it would not be faith, but rather certainty. And Sister Pat had good cause to doubt at times in her life. But anyone who had the privilege of passing through the Door of Mercy Sister Pat opened to them encountered a woman in love with God. It was from that faith relationship she drew her strength. And it was into the healing embrace of that relationship she welcomed others who were lost or hurt, disillusioned or despairing. Her union with God was summed up very simply for me by one such friend who said: “God led me to Sister Pat, and Sister Pat led me to the rest of my life.”
Pat’s mercy extended to people of all faiths and none. She actively encouraged ecumenism among the different religious traditions here in Bathurst. She attended the Mozart Recital at the Anglican Cathedral the day before she died. She didn’t just have an appreciation for music, she embodied music: not only a single note or an individual composition or a particular instrument. She was the whole orchestra, including the composer and conductor. To those of us averse to risk-taking, working with Pat could be terrifying. To those of us with a rational rather than intuitive bent, working with her could be frustrating. To those of us with talents that could be co-opted for a cause, working with her could be exhausting. But for all of us committed to ensuring that mercy and justice are not written off in our society, working with Sister Pat was a most fulfilling and fruitful experience.
Sister Pat knew that the ability to offer Mercy to others was heightened by having experienced the need for Mercy in her own life. There were times when she longed for Mercy herself – in the suffering of misunderstanding, in the sadness of loss, in the endless nights of pain and illness, in the disappointment of failure, in the sting of rejection. She took these experiences into her relationship with God and allowed them to be transformed into sensitivity rather than bitterness. And her capacity to open the Door of Mercy to others in need was enhanced accordingly.
Sister Pat understood that Mercy is not a soft option. The Mercy she exercised was accompanied by a strong sense of justice and fair play, as well as a tough love which was not afraid to call a spade a shovel when the situation warranted it. Pat was convinced that unless people are afforded what they have a right to in justice, then mercy can only ever be a band aid on a festering sore. And Sister Pat was not into administering band aids. She read the signs of the times; she analysed the ways societies organise themselves – who was at the hub of the wheel and who was at the rim; who were the winners and how they got to be that way and who were the losers and why they were at the bottom of the barrel. And she was fearless in going after the structural causes of poverty and injustice, whether they were personal or political.
Sister Pat was a Bathurstian to the core. She was born in Bathurst on 19 September 1935. She was the third of four daughters born to Lala Considine and Frank Linnane. Her parents and her older sisters, Francis and Joan predeceased her. She is survived by her younger sister Kate and her nieces Simone, Renee and her husband Saber, and Sassicca and her nephew Dr Josh Bowyer and his fiancée Debbie, as well as grandnieces Leyla, Asylle and Afnan, and grandnephews Ilias and Rayyen. To them we offer our sympathy and the support of our prayers. Pat loved her family dearly, and was deeply saddened by the untimely death of her brother-in-law, Dr Ian Bowyer, Kate’s husband, in 2014.
An encounter with a cat in her crib shortly after she was born left Pat temporarily blinded. Whenever things went awry for Pat, she’d exclaim “It’s that cat!” Her devout Catholic parents placed her under the protection of St Lucy, patron saint of eyesight and she was baptised Lucy Anne. She was given the name, Mary Patrick rsm when she entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1953. To us, she is familiarly known as Sister Pat. To her family she is Aunty Lucy or Luce. But on some documents she appears as Mary Linnane rsm. In 1975 she was offered an overseas Study Grant awarded by the Australian Government’s Schools Commission to do research into Primary Education in the United States. However, when it came time to produce plane tickets, cheques and passport, there was some drama about her true identity. Eventually, with a little help from her friends, she was able to convince authorities that all these aliases were innocent and the trip was able to proceed.
For more than twenty years, Pat was a very successful and imaginative primary school teacher and a gifted, hard-working principal. She had outstanding success in revitalizing small Catholic schools in Central Western NSW through innovative planning and community involvement. During these years she was a Door of Mercy to thousands of little children, their parents and her colleagues and staff. She was an active member of the Committee responsible for the in-service education of teachers in the Western Area of NSW and a member of the Board of Directors of the Orana Education Association, representing Infants Schools.
After the Second Vatican Council, Sister Pat’s ministry took her closer to the margins of society, and from 1979 to 1986 she opened the Door of Mercy to children who were orphaned, neglected or had been removed from their homes by the Courts. She was appointed Director of Croagh Patrick Child Care Centre in Orange under a community based Board of Management. Here, with Sister Jo Cook, she was responsible for overseeing and implementing the policy changes of the Richmond Report with regard to institutional childcare. Her programme gained such status and credibility that it was given Government funding as one of three pilot projects for family care within the State of NSW. Likewise, in her role as administrator of a multi-faceted Mercy welfare agency in Western Australia, with services ranging from nursery to aged care, she carried out necessary restructuring very successfully, in spite of forces of resistance. In 1989 Pat was appointed Guardian ad litem with the Attorney General’s Department for the NSW Association of Children’s Agencies, which was an advocacy role within metropolitan Children’s Courts. She pioneered this role in a voluntary capacity, also providing training for other Guardians ad litem and identifying sources of funding for the role.
The 1990’s saw Sister Pat open the Door of Mercy to homeless adults on the streets of Kings Cross and to inmates of Corrective Services facilities in the Bathurst area. As manager of an Inner-city welfare agency which provided free food services for up to four hundred destitute people on a daily basis, Pat negotiated some much needed change in the structure and function of the agency, under the most adverse circumstances. She received commendation for the services provided, the pleasant environment in which those services were delivered and the compassion and firmness which characterised the delivery of services.
In her work as a Parole Officer with the NSW Department of Corrective Services, she initiated and supported the changes in the newly devised Parole Division and was considered to be a very proficient officer, whose commitment and integrity ensured a proper balance between the legitimate demands of the community and the rights and needs of inmates.
In 1997, all the experience, good will, reputation and advocacy Sister Pat had built up over many years in a variety of community involvements, culminated in her being appointed as the Coordinator of the Mercy & Justice Centre at St Joseph’s Mount in Bathurst. This now gave her work for marginalised and disenfranchised people a clear direction and a stable base. Quite literally, she was able to throw open the Door of Mercy to a wide range of people in the local community. And she did.
Pat had a great gift for networking and she used this to advantage in her work at the Mercy & Justice Centre. She collaborated with Mid-Western Area Public Health Unit and Mid-Western Area Mental Health to establish a number of support initiatives in relation to suicide prevention and domestic violence. She established and facilitated the DUCKS group in response to an identified need for support for people suffering from chronic depression and on-going mental illness. She worked to attract prominent experts, including the then Governor of NSW Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, who became the Patron of the Mercy & Justice Centre, Professor Pierre Beaume from the World Health Organisation and Margaret Appelby Executive Director of the Rose Foundation for Suicide Prevention to assist with educational initiatives and the promotion of community programmes.
She cooperated with the Department of Corrective Services in their ThruCare program, providing supervised work and training at the Mercy & Justice Centre, for inmates nearing release. In 2001 she was awarded the NSW Probation and Parole Service Award for her supervision of and support for people serving periodic detention and under community service orders. She sought to raise public awareness of the need for more accommodation in the region for the relatives of inmates serving custodial sentences, many of whom travel long distances with small children for visitation, often giving them hospitality in her own home. In 2002 she received the inaugural Rural & Regional Law & Justice Award for improving access to justice in NSW, particularly for socially and economically disadvantaged people.
Sister Pat was committed to opening the Door of Mercy to Reconciliation with Aboriginal Australians and worked closely with the Bathurst Aboriginal community, particularly through Towri Aboriginal Centre and the Aboriginal Land Council. She played an active part in approaching Bathurst Regional Council about Aboriginal identity, resulting in the erection of billboards at the City’s limits recognizing the local area as Wiradjuri Country. She was a member of Australians for Reconciliation and Aboriginal Native Title and Reconciliation and played a key part in encouraging all of community participation in such transforming events as the Sea of Hands Canberra in 1997, the Sorry Book, the Walk over the Harbour Bridge and Corroboree in 2000, the National Treaty Conference in Canberra in 2002, the visit of the Maronirra Healing Quilt to Bathurst and the Inaugural Windradyne lectures. Through her role in the Sisters of Mercy National Network for Indigenous Concerns and Aboriginal Partnerships, she hosted a number of seminars and workshops in Bathurst, attended by former Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and Human Rights Commissioners Dr Bill Jonas, Dr Zeb Ozdowski and Professor Chris Sidoti aimed at raising consciousness about Aboriginal reconciliation. She was always proud to count among her friends people from all sectors of the Aboriginal community in the Bathurst region and, along with Michelle Farrugia rsm, to offer hospitality to Aboriginal visitors from outside Bathurst. In 2001 she received the Aboriginal Heritage Trust Award for her efforts to promote and support Reconciliation.
Sister Pat was adamant about the much vexed question of the way in which refugees and asylum seekers should and should not be treated. She was unequivocal about opening the Door of Mercy to them. She was a founding member of the Bathurst Refugee Support Group and played a significant part in bringing members of the Refugee Council of Australia to Bathurst. This resulted in Bathurst Regional Council’s requesting that Bathurst be included in the Refugee Welcome City Zone. She also initiated the visit to Bathurst of Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission. She literally hounded the authorities of the Sisters of Mercy until they agreed to renovate and make available the gate-keeper’s cottage at St Joseph’s Mount, now known as the Kath Knowles House of Welcome, for refugee resettlement. She also fostered a partnership with STARRTS – a Sydney based group specifically set up to assist victims of war, rape and trauma. She had an International Peace Pole erected in the grounds of the Mercy & Justice Centre and in 2000 she was recognised by Rotary for her work in launching Bathurst as a Rotary City of Peace.
Sister Pat was also a founding member of Rahamim Ecological Learning Community at St Joseph’s Mount – a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy – which widened the Door of Mercy at the Mercy & Justice Centre to embrace the whole Earth Community. In 2007 she attended the Mercy Global Concern Program at the United Nations in New York and delivered an address on the Millennium Development Goals: Local Change; Global Transformation.
Not only did Sister Pat open the Door of Mercy to people herself, she encouraged others to do likewise. She was instrumental in founding the Bathurst Mercy Associates and also the Young Mercies at Mackillop College. Believing education to be the key to social change, she contributed to the spiritual formation of these young people, and along with the late Vincentian Father Doug Akehurst and students from St Stanislaus College, encouraged their involvement, in practical works of mercy like the creation of the National Siev X Memorial in Canberra commemorating refugees drowned at sea.
In 2014 Charles Sturt University recognised her outstanding contribution to social justice by awarding her an Honorary Doctorate. Last year, as part of Bathurst’s Bi-centenary celebrations, she was named one of Bathurst’s 200 Living Legends.
Pat was colourful character, a free spirit and good company in every sense of the word. She had an infectious sense of humour and fun and was a clever mimic and story-teller. She was generous to a fault. You hesitated to give her a gift because she passed it on to someone else almost as soon as she received it. She was deeply appreciative of the care she was given in her last illness by her doctors and the staff at St Catherine’s and Bathurst Health Services, by Karan Baillie, our Mercy Community Nurse and for the visits from so many Sisters of Mercy and friends. The on-going presence and loving support of her own sister, Kate Bowyer from Perth Western Australia was an inspiration to all of us. Thank you Kate.
The time was 10.10 when Sister Pat died – the signal for outdoor Council workers in inclement weather to down tools and head for shelter. Pat, may you find shelter now through the Door of Mercy that leads to everlasting life.
Messages to: Patricia Powell rsm