Good Samaritan Sister, Mary Thecla Slattery, who was to celebrate her 108th birthday on December 28, 2011, died peacefully in her sleep in the early hours of December 15. The following article was written by Kairos Catholic Journal’s Fiona Basile, in the lead up to Sister Thecla’s momentous birthday.
BY Fiona Basile
As I enter the door of Villa Maria Aged Care Facility at Bundoora, I am greeted by the warm smile and hug of Sister Myra Gleeson SGS. Sister Myra is showing me to the room of Sister Mary Thecla Slattery SGS who celebrates her 108th birthday on December 28. In reaching this milestone, she’ll have been a professed Sister of the Good Samaritans for 82 years!
On the way, Sister Myra tells me: “Sister Thecla is doing really well today; she’s very alert. In fact, this morning I told Sister Thecla that she turns 108 soon and that she’s probably the oldest religious in Victoria. Sister Thecla replied ‘who?’ and I said ‘you!’ and then Sister Thecla said ‘Well what am I doing sitting here then?’”
“Isn’t that remarkable?” said Sister Myra. “Yes it is,” I responded.
Veronica Hanora Slattery, usually known as ‘Verna’, was born on December 28, 1903. She is the third of seven children to John and Ellen Slattery, all born in the family home in North Carlton. The family had two subsequent moves, to Clifton Hill and later to Thornbury.
Verna completed her secondary education at Santa Maria College in South Yarra. After taking up employment for some time as a telephonist, she sought permission to join the Good Samaritan Sisters Novitiate in Balmain, which she did on March 19, 1926 aged 23. She was given the name in religion of Sister Mary Thecla and made her first profession vows on January 8, 1929 aged 26.
Her sister Loretta – Sister Mary Clare – had made her profession as a Good Samaritan Sister four years earlier, and a second sister Ursula – Sister Mary Ursula – would follow Clare and Thecla some 14 years later. Sisters Clare and Ursula have now pre-deceased Thecla, as have her sisters Eileen, Claire and Kathleen and her brother John.
Sister Myra tells me that “Thecla’s teaching ministry is legendary”. She taught in primary and secondary schools in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia for almost 50 years.
In 1974, having completed her years in the classroom, Sister Thecla became the librarian at St Gabriel’s School in Reservoir for five years.
In 1991, Sister Thecla retired to a quieter pace at Marian House where she celebrated her 100th birthday and remained until being transferred to the South Morang Mews in 2004.
Sister Myra tells me, “There, Thecla charmed all with her energy and cheerful approach to life. A writer in one of the local papers wrote, ‘she has one of the sharpest minds at the centre, constantly amazing other residents and staff alike with her world of knowledge’, a gift that Thecla attributes to her love of reading.”
Sister Thecla Slattery is now a resident at Villa Maria Aged Care Facility in Bundoora. There are 16 Sisters of the Good Samaritan who are cared for at Villa Maria, including Sister Thecla’s first cousin Sister Catherine Slattery who is 103 years-old.
Unable to walk now, Sister Thecla sits in her wheelchair and has a favourite place in the Villa where she can look out into the garden observing the beauty of the changing seasons and commenting when birds come to drink or bathe in the bird bath.
“Up until three weeks ago, Sister Thecla was also reading books,” said Sister Myra. “After praising God using her Book of Psalms, she’d reach for her poetry book and relished the words of Wordsworth and Keats.
“She has a deep appreciation of classical music and at times has delighted the staff with her renditions of songs of by-gone days. She’s just a darling.”
As I prepare to leave, I take Sister Thecla’s hand and get in very close so that she can hear me. “I have to go now Sister Thecla; happy birthday for the 28th and thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”
“Nice to meet you,” she says.
“It was really nice to meet you too,” I replied.
Sister Thecla’s funeral Mass was celebrated on Wednesday, December 21 at Santa Maria Chapel, Northcote.
This article was first published on the website of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.