Good Samaritan Sister Dolores Carroll believes the key to a long, fulfilling life is study, travel and learning a new language.
BY Emilie Ng
The well-travelled nun of 83 years celebrated her one-hundredth birthday on November 4.
On her birthday, Bishop Brian Finnigan celebrated a thanksgiving Mass at Marycrest Hostel, Kangaroo Point, in Brisbane, where Sister Dolores lives.
Bishop Finnigan was joined by Bishop Ray Benjamin and 11 priests – Fathers Tom Elich, Frank Lourigan, John Chalmers, Ian Wren, James O’Donoghue, Des Holm, John Adili, and Lawrence Ayoub.
Sister Dolores was born in Ballina, NSW, the sixth child of Elizabeth Mae MacDonald, a Scottish, Presbyterian-to-Catholic convert, and John Joseph Carroll, a “strict Irishman” and a strong Catholic. When she was 12, her mother died of cancer.
“My aunt brought my mother down to Sydney to look after her and I wouldn’t go home – I stayed too,” she says. “My mother was a very good Presbyterian before she became a Catholic, and I remember she made us say our night prayers. She was wonderful.”
The death of her mother was also when her family “disintegrated”.
“From that time on our family, as it were, fell apart,” she says. “My father, he was a good father, but wasn’t a capable one.”
Sister Dolores lived with her aunt to be closer to school, but would visit her father on weekends. Her aunt’s family, all Presbyterians, never discouraged the young schoolgirl from being Catholic, something she said helped strengthen her faith.
“I used to hop up every morning, go up to Mass, and I’ve often thought since, how wonderful they were not to question me,” she says.
“The neighbours would know this family was Presbyterian, but here was this Catholic kid going up to Mass every morning.”
A spontaneous visit to her father’s aunt, a teacher and Good Samaritan Sister at St Scholastica’s College in Glebe, opened Sister Dolores’ first door in the life of a religious. Her aunt, too busy to speak with her, sent two young nuns on her behalf instead.
“They asked me what I was going to do, and I said I was interested in getting a degree in economics and going to Africa,” she says.
“And these nuns said, ‘Well, look, there are five nuns coming over going to enter the Good Samaritans’. I said, ‘What about my university?’ And they said, ‘You can do that when you enter’.
“And they talked on and on, and I thought, ‘Well, this is a good alternative’. I didn’t know much about the order as such – nothing; I only knew that my aunt was a Good Samaritan. But I took it all in faith.”
On June 3, 1932, Sister Dolores entered the Good Samaritan novitiate in Pennant Hills. She studied to be a teacher at St Scholastica’s Training College and obtained a degree in science at the University of Sydney.
Sister Dolores taught or was principal at 11 different schools. After teaching in Sydney for 10 years, she was asked to begin a high school in Ayr, North Queensland, with several other Good Samaritan Sisters.
“It was 1945, we were on an army train, and there were just the army boys in all the carriages, except this carriage of nuns,” she says.
“We got to Townsville and we got food poisoning, so we were very sick that night and the next day. The next day I woke up hearing some of the nuns in the dormitory saying, ‘She doesn’t look as though she’s going to be much for North Queensland’. They didn’t know I’d woken up, and so I began crying. I had my moments.”
In the early 1950s, Sister Dolores was principal of St Mary’s College, Kingaroy. While at Kingaroy, she and four students under her care escaped a near-fatal car accident in Fernvale.
“I don’t know what was happening but I went over the bridge and into the river,” she says.
“Everybody was picnicking round, and they got us out of the water, and they gave us hot drinks. Then a lady took us to her place, and the Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, rang every hospital in Brisbane and couldn’t find us.”
Miraculously, nobody was injured, and the team went on to win three consecutive debating nights in a row. They lost in the finals to Somerville House.
“I thought I’d never drive again, but the priest at Kingaroy said we had to, otherwise he said I’d never do anything,” she says.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, but there were many beautiful stories and the papers were good to us, and we made the headlines in Sydney. It was a lot of excitement.”
In October this year, St Mary’s College, Kingaroy, dedicated the Sister Dolores Carroll Trade Training Centre in her honour. The building was named after Sister Dolores for her persistence in providing young boys with industrial work training.
In 1979 Sister Dolores joined the small community of Good Samaritan Sisters in Japan where she taught English and religion in Tokyo and Nagasaki. She spent seven years there, learning the language and customs of the Japanese people.
“I thought I knew enough to get by, but they were too quick and I was dumb for about three months and I had to knuckle down and learn,” she says. “I had to study – I just had to.”
As well as teaching children through to university students, adults and businessmen, Sister Dolores visited shrines and temples to extend her knowledge of Japanese culture.
“Later I was sent to Sasebo, an American base where I taught a Japanese priest how to say Mass in English for the Americans at the house, singing with them ‘America the beautiful’ until I myself almost became an American,” she says.
“I came back to Australia a changed person in heart and mind and soul.”
After Japan, Sister Dolores spent 20 years at Grovely before being diagnosed with Meniere’s disease – a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance. She has now lived at Marycrest for five years.
The 100-year-old has enjoyed her adventurous, long life. “I don’t feel I’m 100 – I just don’t,” she says.
“I didn’t expect to reach 100. I was the weakest of our family, and they’ve all died. I was the weakest of the 11 in the little group who went in the novitiate with me, and they’ve all died. I was the weakest of us, and here I am, and my brain is still alert, but my body is weak.
“I do think travel has made me stronger in faith and in life in general. I enjoyed every place I’ve been. The Holy Spirit has guided me wherever I’ve been sent.”
Even though her body is weak, Sister Dolores’ servant spirit is still strong, with her taking up a new ministry at Marycrest.
“So many people don’t know where they’re going, they don’t know what day it is or so on,” she says.
“I can help them in so many ways, and I can listen, and I’m happy about that.”
This is an edited version of an article written by Emilie Ng and first published in The Catholic Leader on November 24, 2013.