The former congregational leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sister Anne Derwin rsj, died peacefully on 23 June 2019 of cancer at The Mater Hospital, North Sydney. She was almost 70 years old.
Sr Anne was elected to lead her order in 2007 and guided it through the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Current congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh said Sr Anne was a person in which great humility and sharp intellect were combined. “Probably her greatest quality was her hospitality of heart,” said Sr Monica.
Everyone was made to feel important to her, whether it was the pope or the homeless person.
“She had a deep love for the Sisters of Saint Joseph and was profoundly committed to religious life. Many people commented on her dedication and commitment, and her lovely smile. She was ordinary and simple but profound.”
President of Catholic Religious Australia Br Peter Carroll FMS pointed out that the year of the canonisation, Sr Anne also took up role of president of CRA.
“Sr Anne was a significant leader in the Church in so many ways, a woman of compassion, gifted in her capacity to bring people together, dedicated to the mission of God,” he said.
In 2011 Australian Catholic University awarded Sr Anne its highest honour, a Doctor of the University, for her contributions to education and leadership. ACU vice-chancellor and president Greg Craven paid tribute to Sr Anne as a “much-loved and well-respected member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph congregation and beyond”.
“Through her leadership and contribution to education and her service to the Church she has touched the lives of many and she will be deeply missed,” he wrote in a letter to the congregation.
Chair of Mary MacKillop Today John Watkins also expressed his appreciation for one of the organisation’s biggest supporters. “Her enthusiasm for us and our work will be sadly missed,” he said.
In 2010 Sr Anne was elected president of Catholic Religious Australia, an office she fulfilled for three years. In 2013 when St Mary MacKillop was approved as a patron of Australia by formal decree, Sr Anne said that many Australians have come to admire and appreciate the saint’s dedication to people, especially the most vulnerable and children.
“We are all delighted and hope that Mary’s values of generosity, inclusion, kindness, commitment and reliance on God’s providence and goodness, become the hallmarks of our country,” she said.
In recent years Sr Anne used her leadership skills and expertise as chair and member of several boards and acted as facilitator for religious congregations, especially during their chapters and similar events. In a statement the Sisters of St Joseph said that as her health declined and she became physically weaker, Sr Anne maintained her passion and interest in public and current affairs.
“Even up to her last days, she continued her commentary and reflections on local and world events and, as her illness progressed, her family, friends and religious sisters gathered around her to give her support and share in her wisdom,” they said.
“We continue to live in gratitude for her personal and leadership gifts, her organisational skills, and her sense of prayer and the presence of her God in her life.”
Sr Anne joined the order 50 years ago. She was a secondary teacher in the subjects of maths, science and religious education at Saint Joseph’s East Gosford, Mount Saint Joseph’s, Milperra and Saint Joseph’s Kogarah, before becoming principal of the Milperra school.
Subsequently, she was appointed to the New South Wales Province Leadership Team and later served six years as provincial of the NSW Province of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. She then directed the Saint Joseph’s Spirituality and Education Centre in Kincumber South and managed Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney before her election as congregational leader.
Her funeral will be held at St Mary’s Church, Ridge Street, North Sydney, on Saturday 29 June at 10am, followed by the Rite of Committal at Macquarie Park Cemetery.