Jacqueline Kontista was born in Blato on the island of Korcula in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia), on December 7, 1919. Born one of twins she alone survived, her sister Mara dying only months after birth.
Some few years later her father came to Australia, settling in North Queensland, to seek work, a house and property before bringing Jacqueline, her mother and brother Cosma (Con) to join him in 1931. In 1937 the birth of Patricia completed the family.
Jacqueline attended the State school at Feluga, near Innisfail, but when only 14 years of age, left school to help her sick mother. With the help of Mother Mary Colman McGuire, she later returned to continue her schooling as a boarder with the Good Samaritan Sisters in Innisfail.
On January 6, 1941 a long-held dream was fulfilled when Jacqueline was accepted into the Novitiate of the Good Samaritan Sisters, Pennant Hills, and began a new phase of her life as Sister Mary Paul. She made her first profession of vows on January 6, 1944.
There followed a long career in education. It actually began as a teacher’s aide before she entered the Congregation, but upon gaining full teaching qualifications at St Scholastica’s Teachers College in 1944, Sister Paul embarked on a ministry that spanned 46 years in classrooms across New South Wales and Victoria.
Sister Paul’s last appointment was to return to her ministries at St Bernadette’s School and Parish, Dundas, for a further 14 years where she endeared herself to the whole parish community.
It was with great reluctance that Sister Paul finally resigned after 60 years of ministry in school and parish. Her years of service, to her then local community, were acknowledged in 1998 when the Parramatta City Council presented her with a Community Service Award for her work in the Dundas Valley area.
In 2005 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia “for service to the community as a school teacher, and through Church and welfare roles”. At the celebration of her eightieth birthday in 1999, one tribute to her noted: “one [quality] that has remained constant and unchanging: her desire to serve God and to devote her life to helping others. She has touched the lives of over thousands of children and families throughout Australia”.
In her latter years, as throughout her life, Sister Paul continued to be remarkable for her devotion to her family and religious community, for her unflagging interest in and care for “her” garden and garden helpers, for her domestic skills – especially in the kitchen. She will also be remembered for her gentleness and the broad smile, even in times of great pain from arthritis.
Sister Paul is survived by her brother, Con, his wife Gladys, many nieces and nephews and a much loved extended family. Sister Paul is remembered with love and gratitude by her Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
Sister Paul died on June 19 at Bethany Nursing Home Eastwood.