Sister Marie McMahon embodied what it is to be Good Samaritan. She spent her life ‘being neighbour’ to the stranger and the sisters who she shared community with throughout her 66 years of Religious Life.
By The Good Oil
“I feel privileged to be able to do what the first Good Samaritan did and not pass anyone by” These were the words of Good Samaritan Sister Marie McMahon in the 2015 feature , ‘A Consecrated Life’ – a 15 minute film which captures the contemporary life and mission of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
Marie is described by many as a ‘most generous woman’ and, even in her final days, embodied what it is to be Good Samaritan.
Marie died on July 9, 2019, at Bethany, St Catherine’s Aged Care, Eastwood. She was 93.
Born in Enoggera, Queensland, Marie’s family were pillars in the community; contributing much of their time to the St John the Baptist Parish. One of five children – three girls and two boys – Marie’s love for her family was ‘deep and lifelong’.
Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Ann Kelly was also born in Enoggera and, although a small child at the time, she remembers hearing often of the ‘McMahon family’ and recalls their generous commitment to the community.
“Marie always spoke so warmly of her family,” says Margaret Ann. “This love which she had received from them, and which she so readily shared with others, surely shaped her life.”
Marie was educated by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan throughout her school years and at the age of 24, made the decision to enter the Good Samaritan Novitiate. There, Marie immersed herself in the Good Samaritan and Benedictine ethos and deepened her values of simplicity, compassion and hospitality.
“Everything that Marie did, she did with a deep respect for others,” said Good Samaritan Sister Pat Dillon, who entered at the same time as Marie.
Pat, who was younger than Marie when they entered the Novitiate, describes Marie as loving and mature. “I would say that everyone in our set knew her, liked her and admired her.”
Marie made her first profession on January 6, 1954, and went on to join the Good Samaritan commitment to Catholic education – teaching infants and primary school students in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. One of these students is Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill.
Catherine remembers Marie as being fair and never raising her voice. “She was always gentle and even. I liked school and I liked her.”
Catherine laughs out loud when asked if Marie remembered teaching her as a child “When I was in grade one the teachers decided to put on [the play] The Wizard of Oz. I was the scarecrow, and the night before – this is the first moral dilemma I ever remember in my life – I went to have a bath and I could see spots.” Catherine had the measles. “I thought maybe I don’t need to tell anyone, I could cover it up.”
Strong morals prevailed and Catherine did not take the stage with her peers.
Twelve months ago, Catherine asked Marie about her memory of this event and to her delight Marie responded with a laugh, “yes I always remember, you were going to be so good and then you weren’t there!”
Many people share similar memories and sentiments of Marie. Marie was a devoted teacher, often visiting and helping the families of her students. However, with the call of Vatican II to ‘read the sign of the times’ Marie’s ministry changed and she began ministering with the Pastoral Care Team at St Vincent’s Hospital before joining the St Augustine’s Community Centre in Balmain.
Three years later Good Samaritan Sister Mary Constable joined the Balmain community and they formed a one-of-a-kind partnership. Marie was naturally introverted and Mary quite the opposite.
“Marie would have been happy doing a bit of cooking, offering hospitality, quiet one on one conversations,” says Margaret Ann. “Being with Mary, she found new ways to enjoy herself that wouldn’t have come naturally – so that was good.”
Marie and Mary became a well known duo, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to speak about Marie and Mary separately. Good Samaritan Sister Veronica Quinn, who assisted Marie and Mary in recent times, says the two sisters were inseparable. “They were always together,” says Veronica with a smile. “They would always be sitting in their living room together.”
For over nearly 30 years, Marie and Mary lived in a small public housing unit in Balmain. Here they ministered in ‘being neighbour’ to struggling families, the needy, the sick and the disadvantaged. They had an open door policy where visitors were welcome to visit day or night. They assisted struggling families with budgeting and managing their living needs, organised excursions for elderly neighbours and simply sat down for a cup of tea and listened to who ever came to their table.
“At the beginning their garage was ‘chocka’s’ filled with clothes and household necessities they had collected and then they would give it out to all of the people in the street,” says Veronica.
Word spread of their local charitable efforts and social support and soon locals started to offer their assistance. Marie and Mary would have tea with doctors, lawyers, businesses – people from all walks of life who were able and willing to help.
Veronica recalls the efforts of one local business that delivered apples regularly to the pair. “People would drop off things like the apples so Marie and Mary would stand out the front of their house and yell out ‘Apples! Apples!” she laughs. “Anyone who needed apples would come and collect some.”
Marie was known far and wide for her wonderful cooking skills and she regularly cooked meals for anyone that was hungry. Slices and cakes were laid out for those who came for tea and soon word spread. So much so that in 2006 both Marie and Mary were recognised for their baking efforts in a Sydney Morning Herald article titled ‘Brides of Slice’ – the article making particular mention to Marie’s coconut ice and lemon shortbread.
Marie’s baking efforts were shared with the Good Samaritan communities as she baked biscuits for congregational meetings and the much loved fruit cake for each Jubilee celebration.
Beyond the praise of cooking, Marie was also acknowledged and honoured for her commitment to others by the broader community. She received the 2004 Seniors Achievement Award from the New South Wales Department of Housing; a ‘Pride of Australia Medal’ in 2014; and was added to the International Women’s Day Honour Roll by Leichardt Council in 2016. Marie’s most recent
accolade came after her death on July 28, where she and Mary received the Archdiocesan Dempsey Award for service to the community.
Marie gave a lifetime of service to others and even in her final days she sought to comfort those around her. Margaret Ann recalls visiting her when she had moved to Bethany Hostel at Eastwood, and as Margaret Ann was preparing to leave, Marie called out “I am happy!”
“Typically, this was so Marie,” says Margaret Ann. “What she was saying was her way of reassuring us – Marie’s ‘don’t worry, I’m ok’.”