Margaret Josephine McKay
Who, other than Margaret McKay, would bring together such a diverse group of people as are gathered in this Chapel today? We are here to remember and honour her, to give thanks for who she was for each one. It will be a day for storytelling.
Marg had a deep love of the country, the western districts of New South Wales in particular. She left home aged 13 in 1940 to come to school at Rose Bay as a boarder. Her primary education was by correspondence at home, guided by a governess. The class she joined was very small, but life so different, strictly regulated from the time of getting up to lights out at night. Little did she or her family know that she would make a lifelong commitment as a Religious of the Sacred Heart in this Chapel which became central to her life. She loved her school days, strengthened bonds with her cousins including Philippa Wittering with whom she grew up and she made lifelong friends.
Marg’s class was evacuated for one term in her second year when the threat of war was heightened. On their return to Rose Bay, a new era started with rationing of food and clothing and brothers enlisting in the armed forces, including Marg’s brothers. In her last year, she and another girl were responsible to put black screens on the ground floor windows every afternoon to block out light after dark. Marg left school in December 1944 before completing her leaving certificate as she was needed at home. In personal notes, she admitted to having an active social life including balls, weddings, polocrosse and picnic races. In 1953 she moved to Sydney to begin nursing training at St Vincent’s Hospital Darlinghurst. One year later, she surprised her family and friends by entering the noviceship at Rose Bay.
Marg made her first vows as a Religious of the Sacred Heart in May 1957. This was an era when young religious were not involved in decision making about their future. She had a desire to teach, but for the next thirteen years she served as bursar and household manager for Sacred Heart schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and Sancta Sophia College in Sydney.
In 1962 she travelled to Rome for a five month preparation for final profession which she made in February 1963. She was in Rome for the first session of Vatican II Council, saw the opening session on TV and attended the closing Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
Marg’s desire to train as a teacher was finally granted when she enrolled at Macquarie University for an Arts degree in 1972, majoring in English and History, followed by a Diploma in Education. She graduated with a B.A, Dip. Ed. in 1975. She relished the opportunities for learning in her chosen fields. However, these years were marked by sorrow with the death of her father in October 1974 and her mother in October 1975.
In 1976, Marg was sent to teach at Christ the King School, Braybrook in Melbourne’s western suburbs, a totally new environment for her. A colleague and friend from that time, wrote that she arrived there as a ‘beginning teacher’, recently graduated from Macquarie University. She was assigned junior classes teaching Religious Education, English, History and Geography. Her students were all girls. Marg fitted well into the parish of Braybrook and made strong and lasting friendships. She corresponded with several people after her departure from Braybrook as well as a couple of her students of whom she was proud.
In 1977, after painstaking research, she singlehandedly compiled and published a book, The Phoenix Parish, a twenty-five year history of Christ the King Parish, Braybrook. This was a mighty effort about a unique parish in the working class western suburbs of Melbourne. The text, narrative, photographs, footnotes and the manner through which Margaret captured the struggles, spirit and history of Braybrook are simply outstanding.
Moving from Braybrook to Sydney in 1982 was the beginning of 27 year involvement with Kincoppal-Rose Bay. A chronological account of these years would go beyond a eulogy. So let us glimpse who she was through what has been said of her.
- She had the heart of an educator and this imbued her teaching and all her dealings with students and colleagues.
- One alumna wrote she was the embodiment of the spirit of Cor Unum, passionate about continuing to weave us all into the rich tapestry that is the Sacred Heart family.
- Another said we admired her total devotion to her life as a religious and an educator.
- Marg was asked to take over the role of RSCJ Liaison with the Alumnae, keeping communication open between alumnae and RSCJ, attending Alumnae Association Committee Meetings and Country Group luncheons, helping to organise Liturgies. Her commitment to alumnae was a priority for her.
- She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Sacred Heart family spanning almost nine decades. She could trace people from all over the world and contribute details about the different journeys that alumnae had followed. What was important was that everyone mattered. It didn’t depend on achievements, but on the importance she placed on connecting everyone and on ensuring that they were an integral part of the School Community.
- An RSCJ remembers Marg as a down-to-earth person who was open to everyone especially those who might be on the margins.
- Marg’s potential to be an archivist was recognised and she was appointed School Archivist in 1984. She accepted this role, facing a mountain of material that had accumulated during the Centenary year, 1982. Undaunted by confined working space and limited resources, she embarked on this new venture with the commitment that was characteristic of her. She brought her own organizational skills and methods. Ten years later, she enrolled in a two year Post Graduate Diploma in Archives Administration at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 1995.
She gathered around her an enthusiastic group of students to form an Archives Committee. Her final achievement was to transfer and establish the school archives in a new purpose designed facility in the building known as The Villa. Her role as School Archivist spanned 25 years.
- Being a boarder from country New South Wales, Marg had a special love for the boarders. Her annual “Westies’ Lunch” was a much anticipated event, enjoyed by her and the boarders from Dubbo, Warren and surrounding areas.
- Marg was respected, both personally and professionally by her colleagues. When she retired in 2009 they paid tribute to her: “After nearly 30 years on staff, we are saying ‘farewell’ to one of the ‘icons’ of KRB – our school archivist Sister Margaret McKay rscj. She is one of the most respected and loved members of the community.
- Other highlights of her time at Kincoppal-Rose Bay include
- The Archives Exhibition held in 2007 to celebrate 125 years of Kincoppal, Rose Bay and Kincoppal-Rose Bay. She organized this with Sister Marie Kennedy. It was a mammoth project which was appreciated by students, parents and alumnae.
- Her attendance at meetings of alumnae and parents in regional New South Wales, as well as year group reunions, all opportunities for networking in which she excelled.
- Alongside her role in the school, she was the RSCJ Community Leader of the resident community at Rose Bay for a number of years. One member of the community writes: She fostered each one’s gifts and our capacity to live well together.
- For years, Marg was responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the Community Cemetery where she will be laid to rest to-day as well as the Board outside the Chapel with the names of deceased RSCJ. She was known and respected by a range of people: funeral directors, grave diggers, home owners in the house adjacent to the cemetery, sign writers, plaque makers.
In 1997 Marg moved from living at Rose Bay to the community at Roma Avenue Kensington. She continued as School Archivist until 2009 and liaison with RSCJ and Alumnae. She engaged with parish life and became well known in the neighbourhood where she walked, often with a small dog on a lead, making new friends she met along the way.
In 2017, Marg was admitted into Mount St Joseph’s, an aged care facility in Randwick. She was quite mobile and able to use her computer and phone adequately. She was in constant contact with family and friends and loved visits from them and alumnae. She continued her role with alumnae until 2018. During her years at Mount St Joseph’s, she was beautifully cared for by the Little Sisters and nursing staff. For this, RSCJ, her family and friends are deeply grateful.
Over this last year she gradually declined physically, unable to walk or use her phone, not always able to engage in conversation. She became very peaceful. We are left to wonder about her final hours and the moment when “life is changed, not taken away”. A great RSCJ, Janet Stuart, offers a glimpse into what this might be when she wrote the following over a hundred years ago:
Of stepping on the shore and finding it heaven:
Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’s hand:
Of breathing new air and finding it celestial air:
Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality:
Of passing from storm and tempest to an unknown calm:
Of waking and finding it Home!