Centenarian Sr Evangelist Barrett PBVM savours double celebration

22 Jul 2021

By Matthew Lau

The Presentation Sisters’ Community Leader holds a large, framed document showing a picture of the Pope Sr Evangelist . She is about to give it to Sr Barrett who is seated in a wheel chair in front of the Altar.
Presentation Sisters’ Community Leader Sr Lucy Van Kessel PBVM hands Sr Evangelist Barrett PBVM her Apostolic Blessing for the occasion of the 80th anniversary of her Religious Profession. Photo: Supplied.

Presentation Sister Evangelist Barrett, endearingly known by her carers at Nazareth House as “Sr Mary”, has recently celebrated two remarkable feats.

The beloved religious sister achieved her Oak Jubilee (80 years) of Religious Profession on 19 December 2020, followed by her 100th birthday two months later on 8 February 2021.

The Presentation Sisters combined both incredible occasions into one on her birthday, beginning with Mass at Nazareth House, Bluff Point.

The Eucharist, celebrated by Geraldton Bishop Michael Morrissey and Father Bernard Balaraj, and morning tea to follow were “joyful with a strong sense of community on both occasions”.

Two special joys on the day for Sr Evangelist involved receiving a Papal Blessing from Pope Francis and wearing a cardigan sent by her niece from Ireland.

Sr Evangelist’s initial wish was to have a quiet anniversary in December with little fuss. Unfortunately, her centennial birthday did not go ahead without disruptions with COVID-19 related restrictions in place, preventing religious sisters coming from Perth and Bunbury for the occasion until a couple of weeks later.

Her nieces and nephews in Ireland and England were especially remembered and “were with us in spirit as we were with them on this significant family occasion”. Although they were unable to get together to celebrate their aunt’s milestone, they “raised a glass to her with fond pride and joy”.

Reflecting on the two occasions and their impact on Sr Evangelist, Sr Flora Ricupero told The Record that the hospitality of the Sisters of Nazareth and staff “ensured the gatherings were beautiful”.

“Being in the Chapel where she takes part in daily Mass was a highlight for Sr Mary, decked out as it was with flowers from her relatives in England and past pupils now living interstate, as well as local schools where she is well-remembered,” Sr Flora told The Record.

Mary Bridget Barrett was born in County Cork, Ireland, on 8 February 1921 as the youngest of seven children to farmers James and Catherine.

After attending school at Kilcoleman, Enniskeane, the 16-year-old Mary relocated to Geraldton by sea along with nine companions to enter the Presentation Congregation as Sister Evangelist in November 1937 in response to the attraction of a call to serve God and the Australian Church. In his 8 February homily, Bishop Morrissey reflected on the significance of this group of 11 women in the Diocese.

She was fully professed in December 1940 and began a long teaching career throughout WA’s northern diocese, beginning in Geraldton and moving to Mount Magnet, Tardun, Greenough, Wiluna, Northampton, Carnarvon, Big Bell, Bluff Point, Wonthella and Port Hedland, often returning to the same town for a second and third stint.

For nearly 80 years, she was known throughout the Diocese of Geraldton as head of sport and athletics, as a book-keeping teacher, and typewriting teacher. Today, Sr Evangelist shares vivid memories of her years of teaching and thoroughly enjoys visits from former students who are thrilled to be clearly remembered.

Aside from teacher training, Sr Evangelist completed courses in spirituality at Hawkstone Hall, England, and Castle Hill, Sydney.

After a teaching career spanning 54 years, Sr Evangelist assisted with Centrecare, St Vincent de Paul Society, Hospice, and RCIA programmes in Geraldton before “retiring” with Sr Dolores by moving to Nazareth House in 2018, aged 97.