Obituary: Mercy sister brought laughter and hope
Sr Mary Mills RSM 1939-2003
The leader of the Cairns Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, Sr Mary Mills (Mary Stephen), who died recently, was known and loved by hundreds of people as a friend whose extraordinary generosity, cheerfulness and zest for life brought laughter and hope to all whom she met.
She was born in Gordonvale, Queensland, on April 7, 1939, the only daughter of Nancy and Walter Mills, and was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Michael’s, Gordonvale, and St Monica’s College, Cairns.
Mary completed her training at Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College then taught for several years in government schools before entering the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in 1964.
She made her final vows in 1972.
From then until she was elected as congregational leader in 1998 she devoted her boundless energy and gifts as an educator to making learning a fun-filled and memorable experience for children.
A “born teacher”, as a colleague has described her, she made an outstanding contribution to Catholic education, first as supervisor of Mercy schools in the diocese and then in her 17-year tenure as principal of St Thomas’s School, Mareeba.
The director of Catholic education in the diocese at the time spoke of Mary as “the exemplar of the Gospel person who preferred deeds to words, and generosity to counting the cost”.
As congregational leader, Sr Mary devoted herself without reserve to promoting the welfare of members of the order and facilitating their work while continuing to serve on diocesan boards and councils.
She was also involved in the work of the national council of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia.
Her leadership qualities, her wisdom and down-to-earth approach were highly valued.
But especially appreciated by the Institute’s Mercy Refugee Service was her capacity to be moved by the suffering of others and to respond with characteristic generosity.
Sr Patricia Fox, national leader of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, said that Sr Mary’s “loving kindness along with her great sense of the ridiculous has brought us enormous joy”.
She added: “I give thanks for Mary, our larger than life, loving sister whose very life proclaimed so vibrantly the good news of God’s reign.”