Eulogy – Sister Frances Murphy CSC

Sister Frances Murphy, Sisters of the Church

Sr Helen CSC, writes the Eulogy for Sr Frances, who died in January. Sr Frances was the Sister-in-Charge of the first house of the Community of the Sisters of the Church in the Solomon Islands in 1970.

I met Frances Murphy, when we were both members of the choir at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney around 1959. It was not long after our meeting that Frances entered the novitiate at Perth College, Perth on May 30, 1960. Perth College was a boarding and day school for girls run by the Sisters, as well as the Australian training place for women wishing to test their vocation to be a Sister in the Community of the Sisters of the Church.

After some months as a postulant, Frances was clothed as a novice on December 15, 1960, taking the name of Valerie because there had already been a Frances in the Community. Some years later she was allowed to return to her name ‘Frances’. I joined the same novitiate at Perth College in January 1961.

In August 1962 Frances travelled to the novitiate of the Community in England. To go to England to be professed was the usual procedure for novices in Australia at that time. I travelled to England in January 1964, in time to be present at Frances’ profession on February 8, 1964. This was when she made her life vows, received her black veil (replacing the white veil of a novice), silver cross and gold ring. She also moved to the Junior Sisters’ room in the large Convent and had different activities – no more ringing the rising bell early in the morning to wake everyone up! For Frances!

I was professed in April 1964, so briefly we were together again, as Junior Sisters. One of the worst moments of that time was accompanying Frances while she was learning to drive. It was definitely frightening. One of the most enjoyable was when we were both sent to Walsingham to represent our Community at a celebration of the Sisters of the Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham. Our ability to sing proved valuable as we were asked to assist the Sisters’ choir at the Eucharist, because some Sisters had difficulty singing the right notes.

Frances left England in 1965 for Hobart, where she was the housekeeper and did some teaching in the school. In August 1966, Frances, Faith, Gillian and I began a new house at 36 Hereford St. Glebe. We were following the ideals of Charles de Foucauld and the life of the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus of the Roman Catholic Church in Algeria and France. The ministry was to live and work alongside others, often doing manual work, and by sharing friendship. Frances worked for a while as an untrained nursing-aide at the small local hospital making beds etc., and did some housework for neighbours.

In 1969 Frances went to England for her Solemn Profession when she ratified her life vows and the Community accepted her for life. On the way she visited the Solomon Islands. This stop over was significant as our Community had been invited to start a new house in the Solomons, along with a men’s community, the Society of Saint Francis.

A decision was soon made by the Community to open a house in the Solomons. Frances was appointed Sister-in-Charge of the house and Sisters Beryl and Helen Jane were chosen to be with her. They all had a term together at the missionary College of the Ascension, Selly Oak, Birmingham, England that gave them some guidance on how to live in a country with a different culture, before they flew to Australia and caught a cargo ship to Honiara in December 1970.

In the Solomons the Sisters began Bible studies and Sunday Schools, and visited people in the hospital, prison, and their homes. Frances travelled to various islands in the Solomons telling people about the Sisters and what it would mean for those who wished to join the Community. In 1973 a suitable place was found in a coconut plantation about 14 km. from Honiara where buildings planned by Frances such as dormitory, dining room and chapel, were erected from bush material with corrugated iron roofing to house the women who wished to become Sisters in our Community. Frances was in charge of this place which was called Tetete ni Kolivuti, ‘Hill of Prayer’ in the local language.

An animal population also appeared under Frances’ direction, consisting of guard dogs (sort of), cats to catch the local rats, goats to provide milk, fowls to produce eggs and meat, and later a pig or two. To feed those coming to stay, vegetable gardens were begun as well as flower gardens to make the buildings look attractive. Frances managed to be the driving force behind the establishment of this house even while coping with health problems such as leg ulcers, boils and various bouts of colds and flu.

Sister Frances Murphy, Sisters of the Church

In 1977 Frances was elected the Mother Superior of our Community and moved to England to take up the role. She was blessed as Mother Superior on this day, 2nd February, in 1978. At the time Frances wrote, “I won’t be too sorry to leave (the Solomons), as I feel my work is done here – at least the spade-work has been done.” While Mother Superior, Frances travelled around visiting the Sisters where they were living in England, Canada, Australia and the Solomon Islands, and represented the Community at meetings with the heads of other Religious Communities in England. Frances brought new ideas and ministry to birth during her 10 years in this role, before returning to Australia in 1988.

On Frances’ journey back to Australia, she spent 6 weeks in Israel, and attended a course at St George’s College, Jerusalem. On arriving in Sydney she became part of the household at 96 Hereford St Glebe, where the Sisters from 36 Hereford St moved in 1986 as it had more room for guests. From 1990-1996 Frances was Sister-in-Charge at Glebe and the Australia-Pacific Provincial.

A quieter time for Frances followed when she spent short periods at a cottage in the Blue Mountains and let it out to clergy and church workers in need of a rest. The Glebe house was closed in 2001 and Frances moved to an apartment on Parramatta Road, Camperdown. She was involved in the life of several churches, chiefly St Stephens, Newtown where she was a parish reader. In 2014, because of failing health, Frances moved to The Sister Anne Court in Surry Hills. Her health continued to deteriorate until her death on January 26, 2021.

And I add words taken from The Rule of the Community (adapted). Frances has travelled through all the changing circumstances of her life, and now in her death is made fully one with God at last. Amen.

Sister Helen CSC