Sister Mary Ronayne, Superior General of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan from 1969 to 1981, died in Melbourne this week, age 89.
Known to many throughout Australia and internationally, Mary made a significant contribution to the life of the Catholic Church and beyond, particularly in the areas of education, social welfare and the ongoing development of Catholic women religious.
“Mary was the Leader of our Congregation when I joined in 1969,” said Sister Clare Condon, current Congregational Leader of the Good Samaritan Sisters.
“She was fully attuned to the teachings of Vatican II as she was prophetic in setting directions for the future of religious life.”
In a 2011 interview for The Good Oil, Good Samaritan Sister Sonia Wagner, a former Congregational Leader (1993-2005), described Mary as “grounded, humble, down-to-earth”, “an astute reader of the signs of the times in nation, Church and congregation” and “a wise and visionary leader who forged new pathways and systems in the congregation, in religious life and especially in Catholic education”.
The second of three children and only daughter of Irish immigrants, Mary was born in 1927 in Kingaroy, north-west of Brisbane, Queensland.
Mary attended St Mary’s Primary School, Kingaroy, initially staffed by the Sisters of Charity and later the Good Samaritan Sisters, and then went on to board at Lourdes Hill College, Brisbane (also run by the Good Samaritan Sisters) for her secondary education.
In July 1945, 18-year-old Mary entered the Good Samaritan Sisters and commenced her novitiate and teacher training in Sydney. She was given the name Sister Mary de Lourdes, but later reverted to her baptismal name.
Mary’s early teaching years included short placements in New South Wales at St Brigid’s, Marrickville and St Mary’s, Wollongong, followed by two years in South Australia at St Joseph’s High School, Gawler.
In 1954, Mary was transferred to her alma mater, Lourdes Hill College, where she remained for eight years. It was during her time at Lourdes Hill that she began a Bachelor of Arts degree, studying by correspondence through the University of Queensland.
With Mary’s appointment as the inaugural principal of St Margaret Mary’s College, Townsville in 1963, a number of other leadership roles followed in quick succession. In September of that same year, Mary was elected to her congregation’s council, and in 1964, she was appointed principal of St Scholastica’s College, Glebe in Sydney.
Five years later, in September 1969, age 42, Mary was elected Superior General of her congregation and went on to serve as leader for two terms until 1981. During that period and beyond, Mary made significant contributions to the life of other religious in Australia and on the international stage. She was the national secretary, and later national president, of the Conference of Women Major Superiors and the newly combined Conference of Women and Men Major Superiors, now known as Catholic Religious Australia.
In the mid-1970s Mary was chosen as one of two Australian delegates to attend the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) meeting in Rome. This was her first time overseas.
Mary continued as a UISG delegate for a number of years, representing Australia, and later Oceania. This responsibility took her back to Rome on a number of occasions but also to Manila (when the Philippines was operating under martial law), and to Bombay (now Mumbai), exposing her to the realities of life in developing countries.
Following her years in congregational leadership, Mary continued her ministry in education, mostly in the governance of Catholic schools and the formation of lay teachers. In particular, she led a taskforce which reviewed Catholic education in Western Australia, and served as Executive Officer of the Good Samaritan Education Council, working closely with her congregation’s ten colleges. Her work with the Council paved the way for the establishment of Good Samaritan Education, the ecclesial community established in 2011 to oversee the ethos, mission and stewardship of the ten incorporated Good Samaritan Colleges in Australia.
Mary resigned from her role with the Good Samaritan Education Council in 2004 for health reasons, but remained interested in, and connected with, the life of the colleges.
In 2008, Mary received the Australian Catholic University’s highest honour, Doctor of the University (honoris causa), “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to Catholic education in Australia”.
Mary died peacefully at Keon Park, Melbourne in the early hours of March 22, 2016.
A Vigil Service will be held at Santa Maria Chapel, Northcote, Melbourne on Monday March 28, 2016 at 6:00pm.
A Funeral Mass for the late Sister Mary Ronayne will be celebrated at St Scholastica’s Chapel, 2 Avenue Road, Glebe Point, Sydney on Thursday March 31, 2016 commencing at 10:30am. The funeral will leave the Chapel after Mass for the Macquarie Park Cemetery, Delhi Road, Macquarie Park.