Family, friends, former colleagues and students gathered with Good Samaritan Sisters in Sydney recently to celebrate the life of Sister Mary Christopher (Eunice) Burrows, remembering with gratitude her deep commitment to education and “single-hearted passion for Christ”.
Sister Christopher died on January 26 and her funeral Mass was celebrated at St Scholastica’s Chapel, Glebe, on January 31.
In her words of remembrance at the vigil on January 30, Good Samaritan Sister Sonia Wagner noted how fitting it was that Christopher died on Australia Day.
“Chris, the great Australian woman, [was] so proud of this South Land of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
“The celebrations of Australia Day would bring her great delight. Then, too, I can hear her fiercely debating the associated issues – the Republic, the flag, the relevance of January 26 as our national day!”
Sonia described Christopher as “a larger than life character; a woman of the big picture, a woman of vision; vibrant and colourful, yet always at home with the simple, the homespun, the grassroots and the routine.
“She was devoted to family, friends and the congregation, and those unflinching loyalties caused her at times to weep tears of joy and at other times tears of sorrow.”
Well informed and well read, Christopher was intensely interested in politics and history and keenly attuned to matters of social justice. But a commitment to the ministry of education was a long and significant enterprise for her.
“Chris was acknowledged as an educator par excellence by the policy makers but most importantly by her students and her colleagues,” said Sonia.
Following her primary and secondary school education with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, first at St Francis School, Albion Street, Sydney, and then at St Brigid’s College, Marrickville, Sister Mary Christopher matriculated to Sydney University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1944.
While completing her university studies she also found time to teach Latin and mathematics at St Brigid’s College. She moved to Canberra in 1945 where again she taught Latin and mathematics and was an active implementer of the school sports curriculum.
In 1948 at the age of 26, Eunice (Sister Mary Christopher) sought admission to the Good Samaritan Novitiate at Pennant Hills and began a time of preparation leading up to her first profession of vows in 1952.
She gained her Diploma of Education from the University of New England, Armidale, in 1958, and Master of Education in 1960. In 1962, Christopher was appointed to the NSW Secondary Schools Board, and in 1966 was admitted to membership of The Australian College of Education. In that same year she became the founding Principal of Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills, in Sydney, where she is still fondly remembered by former students, teachers and parents.
In her 50-plus years of education ministry Christopher joined staffs in colleges in the Sydney and Campbelltown areas as teacher or principal. In addition to classroom teaching, she maintained an interest in and association with schools in such areas of administration as student advisory, budget counselling and adult literacy for as long as she was able.
In 2005 failing health necessitated Christopher’s move to Bethany Hostel, Eastwood, and later to Holy Spirit Nursing Home, Croydon, where she died peacefully.