In the footsteps of Saint Mary MacKillop

Sr Monica Cavanagh

In March, Sr Monica Cavanagh will take up the post of congregational leader of St Mary MacKillop's Josephite Sisters. Like the good Saint Mary herself, Sr Monica found her vocation in the Australian bush.

- By Robin Williams, The Catholic Leader.

Born in Allora on Queensland's Darling Downs, Sr Monica has a deep love of the Australian bush and says it will be one of the things she will miss most during her time at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney.

She said the community she grew up in had always been a significant part of her life. 'I'm shaped by my rural context. I always say I've got a rural heart,' she said.

'I've always had a heart for rural communities and life has been good, not without its struggles, but it has shaped me into what I have become and I imagine I will be shaped even more by the end of this next six years [as leader of the Josephites].'

Sr Monica was the third of 10 children, six girls and four boys, born to a dairy farmer father and a teacher mother.

'My father's side of the family was Irish so we inherited all the Irish realities and in 2013 we celebrated 150 years since our Irish grandfathers John Cavanagh and John O'Dea arrived in Australia,' she said.

Sr Monica said she learned her love of education and her tolerances from her mother. 'She would have grown up in an ecumenical context as her mother was a Catholic and her father was Lutheran,' she said.

Her mother also gets the credit for developing her social justice conscience.

Sr Monica was educated by the Josephites at St Patrick's primary school, Allora, and then Mary MacKillop College (formerly Corpus Christi College), Nundah, and she first began to consider a vocation around her mid-teens.

Her first ministry was primary school teaching. She started teaching at Our Lady of the Rosary, Acacia Ridge, but always wanted to be like Mary MacKillop and go to the bush.

'I got to Dirranbandi and then started doing summer schools for the motor mission, that was religious education for kids in state schools, and I used to help out with them,' she said.

In 1979, Sr Monica wrote to the provincial offering her assistance if ever needed for the motor mission.

'It was probably only a month later I got a phone call to see if I would go to Caloundra, so I began on the motor mission and that led me into training catechists, then I spent time in Cairns and with faith education services in Brisbane and haven't been back to the classroom full-time ever since,' she said.

Over the years Sr Monica has served the Josephites at the leadership level both locally and nationally, but she said she was an educator at heart.

On March 1, 2014 the outgoing leadership team, headed by Sr Anne Derwin, finish their term of office. 

Read Full Article: Following St Mary's way (The Catholic Leader)

Related coverage:

Reflections from Sr Monica and from the outgoing Josephite leadership team (Sisters of St Joseph)

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From St Mary’s, North Sydney. The first Mass of the day on YouTube

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