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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Sr Emmanuel Chapman hits a century

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Sr Emmanuel White celebrates her 100th birthday on 24 May. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Sr Emmanuel White, who celebrates her 100th birthday on 24 May, take in the view from Sydney Tower. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

How does a religious sister who spent her 90th birthday scuba diving celebrate her 100th?

With a visit to Sydney Tower, where the view of the city is the perfect backdrop for looking back at a century of life.

Sr Emmanuel Chapman, accompanied by Sr Ancilia White and CW photographer Giovanni Portelli,  made the visit last week ahead of her 100th birthday on 24 May.

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A Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sr Emmanuel was born in Auckland and grew up in Randwick and Coogee.

It was here that she nurtured her two great loves: for the spirituality of the MSC Fathers and Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and for the sea.

A decade ago this enduring love of the sea found her scuba diving with her nephews at Port Douglas to celebrate her 90th. It was, she said, simply wonderful.

Sr Emmanuel entered the OLSH congregation in 1936 and started her missionary life in 1939.

During World War II she accompanied evacuees from Thursday Island to Cooyer in Queensland.

In 1946 she was one of the first Sisters at the newly-opened mission at Port Keats, now Wadeye.

Motivated by a fierce commitment to education, she spent the next 55 years teaching in remote Northern Territory communities.

Sr Emmanuel received the Order of Australia Medal in 1996 for services to Aboriginal education.

After almost 70 years in remote mission territories, she returned to Kensington, where the story of her birthday outing began.

Just a week shy of her 100th birthday, Sr Emmanuel experienced her first 3D movie, comprising aerial footage of Sydney Harbour and the iconic landmarks of the city she left for so many years.

Sr Ancilia White accompanied Sr Emmanuel Chapman on a visit to Sydney Tower. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Sr Ancilia White accompanied Sr Emmanuel Chapman on a visit to Sydney Tower. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“The film attendant was amazed that she was going to turn 100,” Giovanni said.

He and Sr Ancilia then accompanied Sr Emmanuel atop the tower.

“When the doors opened at 268m Sr Emmanuel and Sr Ancilia rushed – at a careful pace – straight to the nearest window.”

The centenarian was in her 20s when she last had a panoramic view of Sydney. Giovanni broke the news that “it has changed a bit since then”.

While she took in the view, including Cockatoo Island where her father worked as an engineer, tourists were captivated by her.

“Sr Emmanuel became a bit of an icon as the tourists around her overheard that she was turning 100,” Giovanni said.

“An orthopaedic surgeon from Chennai, India, was awestruck and just had to have his photo with her. Others were amazed at how sprightly she was.”

Her birthday celebrations continued this week with lunch at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent, Kensington, on Tuesday.

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