God’s been the pilot in charge of Sister

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Sister Eymard McNamara enjoys a cup of tea at Ryde’s Calvary Retirement Community. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Sister Eymard McNamara enjoys a cup of tea at Ryde’s Calvary Retirement Community. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

At 105 years young, Sister Eymard McNamara is not only one of Australia’s oldest nuns, she is the oldest member of the Little Company of Mary in the world.

The resident of Ryde’s Calvary Retirement Community has lived through wars, moon landings and even nine Popes.

Technology has completely passed her by, she has never had a mobile phone or email address and Google is something babies utter.

In her lifetime the Berlin Wall was erected and torn down, VE Day was celebrated and JFK was assasinated while closer to home she witnessed the establishment of Qantas, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Donald Bradman scoring his first century.

During her recent birthday celebrations, she lamented that while so much has changed in her 105 years, her desire to “give her life to God” is as strong as ever.

The Adelaide-born nun left school at the age of 15 to help her mother and at 16 thought about entering the convent.

She was also interested in nursing and after consulting her local priest, joined The Little Company of Mary at 17, an international Marian Congregation of religious women who commit their lives to prayer and to the care for the suffering and dying, founded in 1877 by Mary Potter.

Sister Eymard McNamara is pictured with an aunty in Adelaide. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Sister Eymard McNamara is pictured with an aunty in Adelaide. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Two years later, her mum passed away, leaving her dad John and brothers Richard and John to look after their property and while the thought of leaving did cross her mind, in the end her love of God and her vocation prevailed.

“I loved nursing, it was a marvellous career and I loved helping people,” she said. “When I first entered the order we worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week, it was hard work but we made the decision to give our lives to God and the Lord was always there to help us.

“I nursed both in Australia and New Zealand for 57 years and never tired of it, it was very satisfying knowing we were helping others.”

Following five and a half years of nursing training at Lewisham Hospital, she was posted to Christchurch, New Zealand for six years where she trained in midwifery and then spent a further six years in Wellington, NZ, prior to returning to Australia.

She worked in Adelaide for the following 25 years assisting with the births of hundreds of babies while being able to see her own nieces and nephews come along before spending the next eight years in Wagga Wagga and then returning to Lewisham for three years and a further 17 years in Adelaide.

At 89, Sr Eymard retired to Calvary Ryde Retirement Community and has been living at the Residential Aged Care Facility for the past 16 years.

Hale and hearty at 105 is an understatement for Sr Eymard McNamara in the flight simulator cockpit on her 100th birthday.

Today her memory and zest for life is remarkable. She lives independently and helps keep an eye on fellow residents as she regards her religious and nursing vocation as lifelong.
She recalls key dates and events without any trouble but admits putting names to faces has “always been a challenge”.

And while she’s had quite a few to choose from, she doesn’t have any trouble recalling her favourite birthday.

An aircraft enthusiast, she was treated by her great nephew – a Qantas pilot – to a session in a flight simulator when she turned 100.

“In another life I would have loved to have been a pilot … and waiting 100 years to get behind the controls was worth it, it was just marvellous,” she said.

“We flew to Bangkok, and then landed at Heathrow before flying over the Adelaide Hills where I grew up before returning to Sydney.” Looking back on her life she reflected on what drew her to becoming a Sister with the Little Company of Mary, Sr Eymard said she wanted to become a nurse “to care for the most vulnerable people”.

Sister Eymard McNamara holds a photo of herself with twin brothers Richard and John. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Sister Eymard McNamara holds a photo of herself with twin brothers Richard and John. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

And when asked about the secret to her longevity she shrugs saying it’s been an equal measure of “luck and good genes thrown in”.

“Living such a long time is about perseverance … it’s about knowing your limitations and getting on and doing the job,” she said.

“It has been a wonderful life and my family have been very proud of what I have achieved.

“I have always lived by the motto ‘May Christ Live in Me’ so I just hope I have always done that.”

In the end, it’s safe to say she has achieved her goal.