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Josephite nun who founded two rugby league clubs dies in Holy Week

Vale: Sr Kathleen Carroll.

WHITE jerseys are a rare sight on rugby league fields, so imagine the looks Sr Kathleen Carroll got when she ran out on the oval in a white habit.

The Josephite nun, known in her coaching days as Sr Francis, would reminisce about the stains on her white habit left by the young boys who cuddled into her to form a scrum.

She grew up with a love of rugby league – of all sports – and was a faithful Broncos fan “through and through” until her death on April 9.

But how did she get a job as a football coach?

In 1966, while principal at St Joseph’s Primary School, Nundah, Sr Francis approached acclaimed Brisbane coach Bob Bax with a proposal – with his help, they would start a rugby league club in Nundah for her schoolboys.

Mr Bax agreed and offered to be a volunteer coach, alongside Sr Francis, of the inaugural North St Joseph’s Junior Rugby League club.

Sr Francis became the first life member of the club and her legacy as its founder has never been forgotten.

Ten years later, she got the chance to start another club, this time for schoolboys on Brisbane’s south.

While principal at St Paul’s Primary School, Woodridge, Brothers rugby league club wanted to start a new club on the southside.

They pitched the idea to Sr Francis and parish priest Fr Tom Hamell, and in 1976, the first meeting of the new Logan Brothers club was held.

Sr Francis, who changed her name to her baptismal name (Sr Kath) in 1982, and Fr Hamell picked the team colours, green and gold to depict the fighting Irish, and to be sure, took the infamous Brothers Leprechaun as their logo.

In years to come she would watch some of those boys who dirtied her habits – like Greg Conescu and Joe Kilroy – become league stars.

Fellow Josephite Sister Margaret Robertson, who gave the eulogy at Sr Kath’s funeral on April 20, told The Catholic Leader that the footy-loving nun had “a great ability to spot talent”.

“There’s some people who ended up at international level that Kath Carroll would’ve bought their first jersey,” Sr Margaret said.

Sr Kath loved children and she loved to teach them.

Through the Josephites, Sr Kath was a trained teacher, and apart from her positions as principal in Nundah and Woodridge, also taught in Quilpie, Allora, Miles, Clermont, Wandal, and Mt Isa.

Born in Harrisville, just outside Ipswich, in 1933, Sr Kath was one of eight children, three of whom entered religious life, including her brother, the late Fr Vince Carroll, and her last surviving sister, Sr Marie Carroll.

The son of one of her cousins is Brisbane priest Fr Kevin Smith.

She made her first profession in 1957 before dedicating her entire life to the service of the Church in 1963.

Apart from her rugby league coaching days, Sr Kath was also a pioneer in Catholic prison ministry, becoming the first female to enter a Queensland male prison as a chaplain in 2007.

She founded Mackwood Life Centre for women and children, Maryhaven Ministry in Scarborough and started a halfway house in Highgate Hill.

She was known to the Josephites as a great entrepreneur, finding ways to fund scores of community ministries.

Several years before her death, Sr Kath was diagnosed with bowel cancer, but was in remission at the time of her death.

Her niece, Brisbane woman Kate Eggar, said Sr Kath was suffering from heart failure with the possibility of undergoing a heart valve replacement.

However, she contracted pneumonia and was transferred to the Prince Charles hospital for care but “she rallied” and was eventually sent to live at Emmaus Retirement in Nudgee.

Her medical team decided she couldn’t cope with a heart valve replacement surgery, causing her heart failure to increase until her death on April 9.

Mrs Eggar said Sr Kath knew at the time that her earthly pilgrimage was coming to an end.

“You can’t live a spiritual life and fear death – she knew that this was coming and she has led an inspired and spiritual life,” Mrs Eggar said.

She was given the Last Rites early on April 9, and in line with COVID-19 restrictions, was allowed to have a maximum of two people in her room, up to two hours a day per person, for a total of six people in her room per day.

Within 12 hours of her decline, Sr Kath died with doctors and nurses by her side.

She was 86.

Sr Kath was remembered at a private and intimate Liturgy of the Word in Nundah, the regional administration centre for the Josephites in Brisbane, with no more than 10 people.

“Her funeral would’ve been huge with all the things that she’s done,” Mrs Eggar said.

Sr Kath is buried alongside her fellow religious at Nudgee Cemetery.

As for the Josephites, they are feeling the loss of one of their pioneering women of the Second Vatican Council.

“All of us, we say every time one (fellow Sister) dies, you’re constantly losing your favourite aunt,” Sr Margaret said.

“Kath was very much a favourite aunt.

“I was glad her suffering was over and I was so sad to leave knowing that someone so special was dying.”

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