On 10th September 2021, Sister Barbara Crombie celebrated her Centenary with her Community at Baradene in Auckland. Sister Crombie taught at Rose Bay Junior School (1950-53), Kincoppal Junior School (1954-58) and Kerever Park (1958-63).
Sister Crombie entered the enclosed teaching Order of the Society of the Sacred Heart in the early 1940s, and could have expected a semi-contemplative life focussed on teaching in the Society’s major schools of Rose Bay and Kincoppal in Sydney, Sacre Coeur in Melbourne; Stuartholme (Brisbane), Baradene (Auckland) or Erskine in Wellington NZ.
Then came Vatican II with its sweeping changes throughout the Catholic Church. The Society opened two parish schools: Braybrook in Melbourne and Sadleir in Sydney. The Society also restructured, and all the Religious became Sisters as against the two tiers of Mother (Choir Nuns) and Sister (Co-adjutrix Sisters). Sister Crombie taught at Braybrook from 1965-70, followed by four years at Sacre Coeur in Melbourne (1971-73). She then spent ten “precious” years back in Aotearoa (New Zealand) where she was able to reconnect with her family after nearly forty years in Australia.
The Vatican Council also dramatically changed from the Latin Mass to local vernacular and allowed more cultural expression. Whereas style of prayer and praying had been very Eurocentric, major refocus allowed other types of prayer and meditation. This had huge effect on non-European countries.
RSCJ Religious Sister Vandana and Sister Ishpriya visited Australia and gave several retreats on Indian spirituality, particularly Eastern meditation. They developed quite a following. In the early 1980s Sister Barbara was given a sabbatical which she chose to spend in India at the Ashtanga yoga Ashram “Jeeven Dhara”, 7,500 ft up in the Himalayas as a disciple of Vandana Mataji. She became part of the Ashram which she helped run for the next twenty years. She finally returned to Baradene, Auckland in 2004.
“Mother Crombie” taught me at Barat Burn from 1950 when I was seven, and was a familiar face when I moved to Kincoppal in the Senior School in 1955. We stayed in touch over the years and I was always both surprised and delighted to receive a letter on my birthday. And often wondered how she always remembered my birthday. This was elucidated when she asked me in the 1980s to collect her Indian visa from Indian Consulate in Sydney … you can imagine my amazement on opening her passport to see we shared the same birthday!
Once I retired and had plenty of free time, I took the opportunity in 2011 to travel to Auckland to celebrate Sister Barbara’s 90th birthday with her. It was a wonderful reunion and until stopped by Covid travel restrictions, I went over each subsequent year and took her away for a short holiday somewhere on the North Island. We so enjoyed each other’s company and shared so many ideas, questions, hopes and dreams and our different life experiences. She is in amazing good health and spirits, has never been to hospital, has the most amazing memory, hearing, sight, etc. I put a lot of this down to her life of meditation and interior spirituality.
Trish Burns AM
[RB 1949-54; K 1955-59]