(Sister Mary Cecilia of the Angels)
Franciscan Missionary of Mary
Born in Nambour, Queensland, Australia
on May 9, 1933.
Entered the Institute
in Mittagong, Australia
on March 17, 1957.
Died in Calgary, Alberta
October 28, 2017.
In her 85th year,
the 61st of her religious life.
May she rest in the peace of Christ!
for it is your duty,
and we will be with you.
Be brave and act.”
Cecily was born on May 9, 1933 in Nambour, Queensland, Australia, daughter of William Henry and Ellen Mary Gill. She had three brothers, Robert Francis, Allen James and Lesley. Nambour is a town of 13800 in southeast Queensland about 100 km north of Brisbane. In 1949, she obtained a junior scholarship to the Junior Teachers’ College in Brisbane. She then went on to the Senior Teachers’ College in 1951. She completed her assistant teacher’s practicum in Montville, Queensland. There, she taught grades 7 and 8 until 1953. In Mount Barney, Queensland, she discovered grade 6 the following year. Just before entering, from February 1955 to January 1956, she taught high school in Palm Island. It is during this teaching post that she discovered the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary charism. She would spend occasional weekends in our convent. By our elderly sisters who fondly remember her, she was a fiery, happy, lovely redhead.
On March 17, 1957, she began a year as Postulant. Her religious journey is rooted in the Feast of Saint Joseph, March 19 since on that date; she entered the novitiate (1958), had her temporary profession (1960), and her perpetual profession (1963). It was the beginning of her life long path to a deeper relationship with God. Her first posting was in Melbourne, Victoria in the fmm community teaching all levels with the Ave Maria Kindergarten, Our Lady of Nativity Primary School, and Ave Maria College in West Essendon. A born teacher, she honed her skills for nine years until 1969.
From 1970 to 1989, she dedicated herself to the fmm mission in Papua New Guinea (PNG). These some twenty years shaped her and her understanding of presence among God’s people. After a brief stay in Seim, she was part of the Wati community with Emily Seen, a Chinese nurse, and Eugenia, a Polish social worker. Cecily taught in Saint Francis High School in Walamu. It was a mixed school founded by the Brothers of Saint Patrick (the Irish order of the Patrician Brothers). Its founder, Brother Charles Berry, always spoke in praise of her. He and his brothers were amazed at how she ran the boys’ classes and got them to study as well as clear the grounds for additional classrooms. Thanks to her diligent work with the boys at cutting down trees and uprooting stumps, they could build three classes annually out of government funds for one class.
As the mission of PNG grew, she became provincial counsellor. Throughout, she graciously received requests that she tried to answer. She was very hard working and clever in her ability to find solutions. She gave much and asked little thanks to a very finely tuned self-sufficiency. Despite the difficulties of the final years in PNG, the people remember her as pioneer missionary fully integrated as a real Papua Woman as she is affectionately referred.
Every mission is a paschal mystery in itself. Cecily prayed through this in one of her prayers. “When there is darkness inside me, lack of faith, trust, whatever, I beg God not to let this darkness infect them or hurt them. I talk about them to God, but he knows more than I know and I never know when or how he’s going to break into their consciousness. Another thing I don’t know is whether I am playing a role in their faith history or whether they are playing a role in mine?”
During the school year of 1977-1978, she went to Berkeley, California in the United States to complete a certificate in theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology. She once again undertook studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario in 1990. In Calgary, she worked with the First Nations coordinating pastoral care to the Native reserves. In 1993, she became the director of the Diocesan Mission Council. She helped sisters like Annette John in her ministry as parish administrator in the Native reserve of Tsuu T’ina Nation and later at the Latour Native Pastoral Centre. With her rich experience in Papua New Guinea and in Canada, she introduced and guided her. She always brought to mind that being with these people was standing on a holy ground where we need to remove our shoes as God has walked there before us. She empowered the Natives and developed their artistic talents. She did not tolerate spineless attitude. She was tough, straightforward, and respectful.
Cecily also started the group of Fmm Associates in her community. She animated the liturgy with a modern flavour through beautiful songs and readings. Cecily’s green thumb created a vibrant vegetable and flower garden where she applied modern technology.
The last two years were etched in suffering and illness with a series of heart attacks, strokes, and severe factures. Through to her will of steel, she believed that she could beat the odds when she told Annette John on her birthday, May 9, that she would see her at our province’s 125th Jubilee in September. After many months of failing health, it was not to be and she passed away in the morning of October 28 with Sr. Rita Kim at her side.
The great thing in this world
is not so much where we stand,
as in what direction we are moving…
We must sail sometimes with the wind,
and sometimes against it…
But we must sail,
and not drift,
not lie at anchor.
This was Sr. Cecily,
a woman of courage and conviction.
She was truly a valiant woman,
strong and free.
Whenever a responsibility
was entrusted to her,
however challenging it was,
she welcomed it with open arms
and a daring spirit.
She considered these challenges
as opportunities to serve
especially those in the periphery
Sr. Annette John, fmm