Kate was my friend for over 50 years. It was in this church that we met in early 1968. It was the time when the Vietnam War protests were in full swing.
“May angels guard you.” For Kate that was her farewell blessing for someone whose company she had been in. It was the mantra of her life, the way she viewed life ,the way she lived it and in the way she communicated that to the world. The image of the guardian angel alongside of the two young children hovering, unbeknown to them, dangerously at the edge of an escarpment the depth of the Grand Canyon with a gale force wind accompanying them on their walk. That scene was on the front cover of the catechism we had to learn by rote when in primary school. Our guardian angel we were instructed was to became our protector.
Kate made the mantra her own. It was the way she lived her life. It was about her being the protector of anyone in need and this was what she saw as her role.
Kate born in Kempsey, spent her early years in Clovelly with loving and caring parents and her treasured sister Marie. She was a product of the depression where survival for so many became a way of life. She never dusted off those years of the depression time and it made an impact on the way she viewed life and the way she viewed the needs of the less fortunate in the community. She attended primary school at St.Anthony’s school Clovelly under the strict regime of Irish nuns.
Kate was ahead of her times. She was not a demure lady of conformity. She was a woman of passion and conviction and that passion and conviction fanned her whole life. It burnt her and it burnt or warmed all those who she loved. If she had been born into today’s world she would have been a CEO in some company that valued ethical principles. She would have been in some ways the Gloria Steinem of this generation of strong women.
Kate made herself the great protector, leading people and the community she made as her own onto safer ground. She wanted to have control in the way she perceived as what was best for them. For Kate had the rare gift of feeling and love for nature and people.
Becoming the consoler was that aspect of the compassion she had to being in solidarity with the basic needs of others in the community, even if this was to call for the deepening of the pain to a level where real sharing is possible. In a sense she saw charity as providing crumbs from the table but it was social justice that for her offered a place at the table for one and all.
She taught that when we take the great human risk of compassion, of suffering together, and when we dare to face with others our loneliness then a new life makes itself manifest. For as long as we try to avoid pain we avoid life. We are not just self sufficient but rather we are interdependent for we need others as much as they need us.
That was where a paradox ran through Kate’s life. It was in the comfort she gave to others she discovered the inner beauty of people and their world. In all of her causes from the anti-apartheid movement, the travesty of the Vietnam War, to the genocide in Biafra and Rwanda and other African nations, to the refugees and asylum seekers and ultimately to the questioning of the untethered truth of so many of our mediocre and often talentless, craven and cowardly politicians.
Kate was a brave and courageous woman who was out of step with those who justified racial discrimination, racism, chauvinist and misogyny. She had so much respect for the indigenous, the real owners on the land we stand on. She marched with the young against war, against any form of racism and against any government Federal, State or local government she saw as acting against the basic rights of an individual or a community. She took councils to court and won. The parish priest of Mary Immaculate in Waverley in the early 1980’s wanted to demolish that beautiful church and rebuild with something cool and smart and high tech. Kate stood up to him and his handpicked council and took the matter to the land court and won.
That beautiful icon standing there in Charing Cross is a monument to Kate. In her tenure as President of the Randwick Historical Society it was the high point of the society’s membership and growing influence.
Kate was the protector of the vulnerable in our society. She took on a difficult vocation. It challenged her on the manifest need of solidarity by crying out with those who suffer, to console by facing with them the dreadful abyss of their existence. She became a ray of sunshine revealing that nurturing ray of hope that we all need to not merely survive but to live in a truly human way.
Kate adored her family. Her 66 years of marriage to John was the gift from heaven. They were meant for one another and that they both knew. A rare and beautiful couple. As a mother her four children can testify that she gave tenderness yet a balanced discipline to them for like a guardian angel she wanted them out of harm’s way. She would fret, be bossy, and tell them what they should do. But we need to recall It was the time of the 1970’s, the counter culture, the new ways, new pedagogies, new parenting rules, more freedom, the age of Aquarius etc.. So there would be differences but Jack, Joanne, Mark and Marita in time had come to realise that their mum was the jewel in the crown of motherhood for them. Jack’s death impacted heavily on Kate and when John died a couple of years later something became lost in her life. She loved deeply and she felt deeply. That irrepressible spirit was starting to ebb. Age had finally caught up. In these last years Kate knew the support practically and emotionally was what she needed to face the onset of growing old. Her three children gave wholeheartedly that support acknowledging just what she had been and done for her as their mother.
Somehow I sense that Kate in those last years of her life where instead of being that dynamic lady of service to others deep down felt that her cause to make social justice prevail over power, greed and possessions was not a lost one but rather that she had made her contribution because she realised that one does not expect total success out of life. For as we ourselves so well know that what one has already learned cannot just be given to another but rather we start to see more and more clearly that life is like a sowing field and the harvest is yet to come to fruition.
But it was Kate’s enriching life that gave it a kick start. So that one day when Palestinians will reclaim their homeland , the time when the disastrous Trump era will collapse, when Syria will breathe again and that in our country we will have aborigines recognised in the constitution, when mercy and basic decency will be given to asylum seekers, refugees and the dispossessed, where Manus and Nauru become a nightmare of the past then and only then will the flower of our country come to full bloom.
It will be then that the dream Kate fought for throughout her life of nearly 96 years that hers and our country will become a fully human reality. She has been the sower of seeds on soil which she helped cultivate. It will be the true image of our country where as our anthem states
“For those who’ve come across the seas. We’ve boundless plains to share.”
Kate stood out because she lived according to her deep convictions. She was criticised for that. Most of us want comfort and certainty and so often avoid uncharted waters. But the real paradox in life is that we can only truly find the depth of our humanity when we move into deeper water for it is there that truth awakens us. She learnt by heart the one command that Jesus taught, and which in fact cost him his life, which was to love your neighbour as you experience him and her in a real life situation. It is only then that you can love a god who you cannot see but one who you want to truly believe in. A saying of the artist Vincent Van Gogh has stayed with me for years and somehow I relate it to the lady we honour this hour. ‘Friends because it is the nature of a scorpion to bite why should I give up my nature to save.
Our Kate was not a saint for I wouldn’t want to dismiss her as easily as that. She like all of us had her dark side. She wanted to be in control more than may have been helpful on occasions. She at times believed that she knew what should be done. At times her passion for a cause made her forget that others too had something to say. She fretted, she worried. At times she wanted ready answers. But that was just part of the human condition.
And as we know Kate was very human. She had an impeccable honesty and her integrity was an example for all to observe and follow. Yes, at times she could be black and white but that had more to do with the passion and enthusiasm she put into a cause that she stood for. But she had become a seminal influence on so many of us here in church today, a church incidentally she loved and wanted to be buried from.
Kate was someone who took the Lord’s words seriously and followed them until they hurt. In her doing this she has left us with a sense that being of service for others in a non patronizing way is more than possible, that we live in a world where love is everywhere and where there is a basic decency in the human condition and that we are here on earth to give love, hope, honour and respite to a world in desperate need of these qualities. These qualities are innate in all of us they just need to be brought to the surface. Kate has been a mentor for us, not as a saint but as one who has shared our human condition.
Her legacy is clear and categorical that in our fragile world love is real, attainable and that it flowers best in relationships.
For me, and hopefully for us all, she was telling us we are guests at a table which we did not spread. Sun, earth, love, family, friends and even more for our own breath is there as well for we are all part of this great banquet of life that we feast into eternity.