Sr Elaine was born in Boonah, south-west of Brisbane, and, after her family moved further north, was educated in a “one-teacher state school in Gundiah … halfway between Maryborough and Gympie”.
When she was eight she “experienced great joy” at the birth of her sister Rita.
Sr Elaine also spoke of “knowing” of her vocation aged 14.
“The day I went to board at Gympie convent, I knew this (being a nun) was what I was meant to be,” she said.
“I knew it when I walked in the door.”
After schooling, Sr Elaine spent some years caring for Rita and her father Arthur, following the death of her mother Margaret (Madge).
As a result she was 24 when she took up the road to her profession of vows.
While she’d “loved the Mercies (the Sisters of Mercy)” who ran the Gympie convent, it was a Josephite whom Madge had befriended that led the way to the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
As a postulant Sr Elaine was sent to Holland Park, in Brisbane’s south, where another Josephite “made a deep impression” on her.
Now gone to God, that was Sr Jude Dwyer. Sr Jude was the first Josephite to be involved in CPPC and joined its founders Fr Jim and registered mental health nurse Janine De Maria “from the beginning” – in 1987. “CPPC began as a small prayer group in the (Fortitude) Valley,” Sr Elaine said.
“Fr Jim and Janine realised there was no one to care for people with a mental illness once they came out of hospital,” Sr Margaret said.
While Sr Elaine was sent for “teacher training” and taught in places like Nyngan (NSW), and Mundingburra, Allora, Miles, Cribb Island, Tambo, Clermont, Chinchilla, Quilpie and Blackall (Queensland) – it was this experience of the “outback” and her connection to Sr Jude that Fr Jim said eventually led back to CPPC.
“Sr Elaine spent a lot of time in the outback,” Fr Jim said.
“She admired the people in ‘outer places’.
“That sense of mission as a primary school teacher she shows with those people who are on the outer of society.”
After also farewelling Rita to God and as a great devotee to the Legion of Mary, Sr Elaine completed pastoral care training for CPPC and hasn’t looked back.
Keeping extraordinary records not only of birthdays and attendance at events, she also makes a calendar for other pastoral carers to take to CPPC members at Christmas time.
Relying on donations of depictions of the Holy Family, Sr Elaine has already begun this year’s effort.
“I like to give them hope,” she said.
“I like to give them a picture of the family to look at all year.
“And what better family than Jesus, Mary and Joseph?” Fr Jim also spoke glowingly of the 90-year-old’s commitment to those in hostels around metropolitan Brisbane.
“It’s another beautiful thing to see her dedication to residents,” he said.
“When she came to CPPC and found out we too value the Mass so highly, that nurtured her love of CPPC too.
“There’s Mass every Tuesday in one of the hostels … Sr Elaine’s been organising that for many years.
“She wants to make sure these isolated people in the hostels get to Mass.
“It’s the biggest crowd we see because people come out of their rooms.
“It’s incredible,” an emotional Fr Jim said, pausing. “These poor people that have so little in life know the Mass is so special.”
Sr Elaine has continued the “enormous influence of Sr Jude in the spirituality of CPPC”, Fr Jim said.
CPPC offers the praying of the Rosary on Wednesdays, paraliturgies on Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays, and a Mass every Friday.
Sr Margaret said CPPC ensured “the members eat morning tea and lunch every day” at the group’s Fortitude Valley address.
“It’s like a home away from home for them,” she said.
“(And) people who have mental illness come to the centre and Sr Elaine relates so well to them.
“They are so delighted to see her, to see a sister.”
Each year CPPC asks for assistance to aid the outreach and “relies on Sr Elaine’s prayers”.
“Elaine prays and we get them,” Sr Margaret said, Fr Jim adding, “We see God provide for us.”
CPPC’s regular Friday “companionship” Mass on July 15 in St Patrick’s, Fortitude Valley, celebrated Sr Elaine’s birthday in a special way. Fathers John Begg and Don Grant concelebrated, and members, pastoral carers and staff gathered in great numbers to honour the petite Josephite.
This was followed by a lunch organised by Janine. Sr Elaine said “she thought of everything … (and) I couldn’t have wished for more”.
Continuing to show great energy Sr Elaine “walked around and thanked them for coming”, Fr Jim said.
“There’s no airs about her, she’s so approachable and the most humble woman,” he said.
“You’d never find an easier person to deal with.”
While Sr Elaine may not have made Lemon Delicious for her recent birthday it’s sure to be on the menu in the future.
“As long as I’ve got good health, I’ll keep going,” she said.
And two days later, there was the recipe in the mailbox.
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