Mary Josephine Ronayne was born in Kingaroy on June 29, 1927 to Martin and Norah (née Cullins) Ronayne. Mary was the second child and only girl in a family of three. Growing up in an Irish Catholic family, she learnt early in life the value of her faith and she experienced the openness and generosity of her parents shown to the neighbours in the district.
Mary was educated by the Good Samaritan Sisters at St Mary’s School, Kingaroy and later completed her secondary education as a boarder at Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane gaining her Senior Certificate at the end of 1944.
After leaving school, Mary applied for admission to the Good Samaritan Novitiate at Pennant Hills and on July 2, 1945 she began a new phase in her life and was given the name Sister Mary de Lourdes, but later reverted to her baptismal name, Mary.
On January 6, 1948 Mary made her profession of vows and moved to St Scholastica’s Training College gaining her Certificate of Teaching at the end of that year. This enabled her to begin a ministry of secondary teaching in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.
In 1963 Mary was elected as a Councillor to the Superior-General and moved to Glebe Point, Sydney. As well as undertaking the role of Councillor she was also appointed Principal of St Scholastica’s College where she continued until elected Superior General of the Congregation in September 1969. Mary was re-elected in 1975 and carried out this office for a further six years.
Mary lived at Rozelle and South Hurstville for the next six years while continuing as Executive Secretary for the New South Wales Conference of Women Major Superiors. She then accepted a position in the Catholic Education Office in Perth where she remained until May 1997. North Balwyn became Mary’s home for the next 16 years before she retired to Marian House in 2013.
The citation for conferring on Sister Mary Ronayne the degree of Doctor of the (Australian Catholic) University, Honoris Causa, detailed her various achievements and responsibilities, referring to her “long and influential life… as a leader with unwavering conviction and foresight”.
As noted in that citation, one of Mary’s significant contributions has been to women’s religious orders, not just to her own Good Samaritan congregation. The citation goes on to say that:
“In the nineteen seventies, Mary began her leadership of women religious in this country and overseas. She has been the national secretary and later the national president of the Conference of Women Major Superiors. At the same time, she was a Councillor for the Oceania conference of the International Union of Major Superiors. She has represented Australian women religious at international meetings of religious – in Manila, Bombay and Rome.”
Mary envisaged a way forward for our Good Samaritan Colleges through a well planned process of incorporation as companies limited by guarantee. She did this through consultation and respect for the readiness of each college to embark on this journey. In the work of the Education Council, Mary was always able to hold the balance between having a vision and plan for the future and attending to the detail of current business. She set a clear direction which has resulted in Good Samaritan Education.
Good Samaritan Sisters and religious of Australia owe a tremendous debt to the dedication and leadership of Mary over many years. It would indeed be difficult to gauge the extent of Mary’s influence in the lives and work of the many who were among her contacts during the 89 years of her long life.
Apart from her immediate family, these contacts have included students, teaching and administrative colleagues, members of the Church hierarchy, members of various boards, leaders of religious congregations. No less significant for being less obvious, were those who, for whatever reason, sought the wisdom, support and kindness of one who could recognize and respond to the need in another.
Mary died peacefully on March 22, 2016. She is remembered with love and gratitude by all her Good Samaritan Sisters.