Mary Lee Barker was born on July 18, 1923 at Bairnsdale, Victoria. Mary was the eldest child of John and Mary (née Lee) Barker.
In her early years, due to the exigencies of the Depression era, the family moved several times as Mary’s father sought employment. This caused him to have frequent absences from the family. During this period Mary’s family lived, at various times, with her mother’s parents at Richmond. Hence, Mary’s early education began with the Sisters of Charity at St John’s School, East Melbourne.
With the assistance of her aunt, Sister Mary David, a Good Samaritan Sister, Mary was accepted as a student at Santa Maria College, Northcote, where she obtained the Leaving Certificate.
She began employment in an office where she learnt how to operate a ledger-keeping machine, a skill which she put to good advantage when employed in the Electricity Supply Department of the Melbourne City Council. During these years, Mary also continued her studies in music gaining the Diploma of A.Mus.A, which would stand her in good stead in the years ahead.
Mary answered the call to religious life in 1947, supported, she would acknowledge, by her former teacher Sister Mary Laserian Crowe. Upon joining the Good Samaritan novitiate on July 2, 1947 Mary was given the religious name of Sister Mary Gemma. She made her first profession of vows on January 6, 1950, and moved to St Scholastica’s Convent, Glebe Point.
Plans for classroom teacher training were altered when circumstances at the time required her service as a music teacher – a ministry she followed for the next 13 years in schools in New South Wales and in northern and western Queensland. She would later complete her teacher training through an in-service program.
In 1964 she began her career in the classroom – a ministry which would span 23 years in schools in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. In the latter years of this period, Mary’s ministry was as an assistant librarian and remedial teacher.
For the next 12 years, Mary carried out the ministry of visiting the sick and housebound in North Fitzroy and Collingwood North, before retiring to the quieter pace of life at Marian House, Northcote. However, Mary continued her much appreciated ministry of playing the organ for the parishioners at St Brigid’s North Fitzroy.
It was necessary in 2004 for Mary, along with many other elderly sisters, to move to South Morang Mews due to changes in government regulations. Then in 2010, an opportunity arose at Villa Maria, Bundoora, for all the sisters at South Morang Mews to join other Good Samaritan Sisters in community. There Mary spent the rest of her life.
She died peacefully on April 15, 2013. Her engaging smile and sense of humour endeared her to the staff, residents and chaplain, who miss her presence among them.