Family and friends from St Joseph's Parish joined with the Sisters of Mercy on June 12 to farewell Sr Margaret Gleeson RSM, who had served the community for more than 70 years.
The Mass was con-celebrated by Monsignor Ted Wilkes, Vicar-General of the Armidale Diocese, Fr Vince Amaro from St Joseph's and six other priests from around the diocese.
Margaret Gleeson was the third of seven children born at Gunnedah in 1929 to Thomas and Bridget Gleeson of Tambar Springs. She was baptised in St Joseph's Church nine days later.
Margaret's early schooling was through correspondence under her mother's supervision and she completed her education as a boarder at St Mary's College - also attended by her mother and her four sisters.
After leaving school, Margaret remained at home to assist her mother in the home and help care for stock on the farm under the guidance of her father. In 1948 she felt the call to enter religious life and joined the Gunnedah Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.
Margaret Gleeson took the name Sr Benigus at her profession in February 1951, and began teaching in primary schools around the Armidale Diocese before helping to look after children under the care of the Sisters of Mercy at St Patrick's Orphanage in Armidale.
She was her own person but had a great love for her family.Sr Gabrielle Foley
Looking back over Sr Margaret's life, Sr Gabrielle Foley spoke of Sr Margaret's motto, "Through Him, With Him, In Him", which she said would have guided her through the ups-and-downs of her life and ministry in many towns of the North West of NSW and in Malabar, Sydney.
"When thinking of Margaret, a quote from Catherine McAuley seemed apt for her- 'If we take joy from the Lord, must we not also accept sorrow?'," Sr Gabrielle said.
"These words speak of thoughts and feelings, which we might be experiencing today as we give thanks for a woman who dedicated her life as a Sister of Mercy.
"One special call was caring for and teaching the children at St Patrick's Orphanage in Armidale - I imagine life would have been very demanding for the Sisters as there would have been little money and certainly none of the comforts of today."
Along the way, Sr Margaret studied at East Sydney Technical College, followed by secretarial work at Holy Trinity School in Inverell. Sr Margaret also took part in a 'spirituality year' at the Assumption Institute in Melbourne and followed up with a three-month trip to Ireland to attend the Marianella Centre for Study and Renewal.
Margaret was a very gracious woman.Sr Gabrielle Foley
In 1991, Sr Margaret took on a new experience when she joined the Volunteer Isolated School Education program (VISE) and spent many months over the next five years in the isolated areas of Queensland and the west. There she lived with the families and assisted the mother, helping in the house as well as taking on home schooling to give the mother a break.
"Margaret was a very gracious woman who was always hospitable when visitors called or something had to be prepared," Sr Gabrielle said.
"She was her own person but had a great love for her family - a lynch pin for her parents, siblings and nieces and nephews at the times of joy and sorrow. She was also a great letter writer, which helped family members keep in touch."
When she needed care five years ago, Sr Margaret was the first of the Gunnedah Sisters who opted to go to Nazareth House in Tamworth - mainly because she would be able to attend mass each day.
"We are indebted to the Sisters of Nazareth and their staff and give thanks for the wonderful care given to Margaret and our three sisters who followed in her footsteps," Sr Gabrielle said.
As her memory began to fail, Sr Margaret moved to the dementia wing, asking only that she could have a Sunday meal once a month with the other three Sisters.
"This was typical of her communal living," Sr Gabrielle said.
"She always asked where they were and was very grateful when they or others visited her."
At the age of 91, Sr Margaret Gleeson died peacefully on Monday, June 8 - four months after Sr Mary Bernard who had been professed at the same time. Together they would have celebrated the platinum jubilees of their profession in February 2021.
The late Sr Margaret is survived by her sisters Kathleen, Carmel and Eileen and their families. She was predeceased by her brothers Patrick and James and a sister Bridget.
The farewell mass was followed by interment at Gunnedah Memorial Park Lawn Cemetery.