Words of remembrance for Sr Tricia Nugent rsm
At the time Patricia Nugent was received into the Bathurst Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, on 29 November 1956, it was customary for the Novice to be given a new name. It was little wonder that she was given the name Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians. In the two and a half years after leaving secondary school and prior to entering the Novitiate, she gained her A. Mus. A, an Associate in Music, Australia, described as “a diploma awarded by examination to outstanding candidates in musical performance and theory”. As well she continued to study the violin and the cello and also did singing and art of speech. In speaking with one of her friends from those years I discovered that she led a very busy social life as well. Her crowd of young friends followed the CYMS football team in winter, went to dances and parties and generally had a good time “fifties” style. They used to go to their friends' homes for parties and one of their favourite places was out at Nugent’s.
Patricia was the only child of William Peter Nugent and Edith Irene Griffin, who had married late in life and, as Patricia once put it, welcomed her with simple love when she was born on 19 February 1938. Her father was a farmer and she grew up on a farm near Dubbo. Her first four years of schooling were by correspondence and then she went to a small bush school before going to Boarding School at St. Patrick’s College, Dubbo run by the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters were well known to young Patricia as they had prepared her for First Communion and Confirmation and began giving her weekly music lessons from the age of six. Over the years several Sisters taught her music but one stood out for Patricia – it was Sister Mary Callistus Cannon. She once described Sister as “kind, human and encouraging” – characteristics that I am sure Patricia’s music pupils could use to describe her also.
After First Profession on 6 January 1959, Patricia spent another year of full-time music study before beginning her music teaching career at St.Mary’s College, Bathurst. Her music studies continued and she gained her Licentiate from Trinity College of Music London in 1964. She was put in charge of the Music at St Mary’s in 1961. In 1967, still known as Sister Cecilia, she joined the first staff of the newly opened Diocesan Catholic Girls High School, where with another Sister of Mercy and two Sisters of St Joseph, she helped establish a fine tradition of music that has continued till this day in the renamed MacKillop College.
In 1965 an event occurred that was to prove, both personally and professionally, very significant in Tricia’s life. Mr Keith Curry and his family moved to Bathurst. Keith worked for the NSW Department of Education and was responsible for teaching music to Teachers of classes K to 6 in the Government Schools in the Western Area as a new curriculum was introduced. In Mr Curry, Sister Patricia and Sister Mary Trainor, who had been appointed Supervisors of Music in the Mercy Primary Schools in the Central West, now found a kindred spirit. In his “spare time,” he assisted them to develop resources for both the Sisters and students in our schools.
Patricia’s parents met the Curry family several times when visiting her in Bathurst and they became great friends. In a way, Keith became the brother that Tricia never had and his family her family. And so it was that Margaret Curry, Keith’s and Thelma’s eldest daughter, was to be with her when her last illness struck. And we are very grateful to Margaret, who (in the midst of her distress and shock) took such loving care of Tricia in her last hours in this life.
In 1971, after 14 years in Bathurst, Patricia was appointed to Santa Maria College, Orange. The next four years proved to be a transition time for her. She heard of the Charismatic Renewal and became involved through a friend. She wrote in 1995, “This brought about a deep conversion within me. My prayer life changed, scripture came alive, a new confidence in my own possibilities and gifts emerged, the sacraments took on new meaning and sharing my faith with others opened a richness for me which I had never thought possible”. Feeling the need to have a more direct apostolate than teaching music she spent a year at the National Pastoral Institute in Melbourne in 1975 gaining a Diploma in Religious Education. In 1976 she was back in Bathurst working as part of a Renewal Team for the Bathurst Congregation, running prayer weekends for the Sisters and working in various ways on pre-Chapter work. In 1977 she was appointed to Forbes in charge of the Boarding School – a quite new experience for her! But before the year was out another unexpected event occurred which changed the direction of her life. In August 1977 her father died. Apart from grieving the loss of a much loved Father, Tricia is now faced with the dilemma of being an only child vowed to celibacy in a Community and caring for her Mother who is almost 80 years. She took six month’s leave of absence to assist her Mother at this time and to discern what her response should be.
It was decided that she would be appointed to Dubbo where her Mother lived. In early 1978 she moved into the Convent of Mercy in Dubbo and became involved in parish work and some music teaching. Two years later her Mother became seriously ill and permission was given for her to live at home. Her ties with the local Mercy Community were strong and she continued to teach piano and guitar as a means of financial support. She worked in the Parish for 8 years and was always part of the liturgy – as organist, on the planning committee and for many years a Choir Leader. She was the Superior of the Dubbo Community in 1986/87, a difficult assignment as Sisters lived in more than one house. She was on the Congregational Formation Team for some years and part of the National Formation Team for three years. I was the Leader at the time the decision was made that Patricia should live with her Mother. Little did we know that it would be for 14 years! But I am sure that she never regretted it, no matter how hard it became at times. Also during these years between 1984 and 1993, she was an integral part of the support team for eight annual National Charismatic Retreats for Religious, coordinating the music ministry. For the last 3 years, she was a member of the National Committee organising these January retreats. During all this time she continued to depth her own spiritual life and mutually share experiences of life in the Spirit with others.
Patricia’s Mother died in November 1994 and a new period of her life began. She had to finalise her Mother’s affairs and pack up and sell the family home in Dubbo. When this was done she requested time for study and renewal. This was welcomed by the then Leader, Sister Patricia Powell, who encouraged her to discern further what courses were offering overseas. She was granted a two year Sabbatical for renewal and retraining, first in the School of Applied Theology in Berkeley California and then in the Loyola House Staff Associate Program in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The latter is an intense, residential internship in the ministry of spiritual direction. On her return to Australia Tricia was based at St. Joseph’s Mount in Bathurst and set about offering the new ministry for which she had been trained to those who might feel the need for a “prayer companion”, a term she preferred to spiritual director. She began by consulting other spiritual directors for advice and support and set up a group of directors for Supervision and Peer Support. She arranged meetings in Bathurst from time to time organising useful input. This group continues until today and meets three or four times a year. As spiritual direction is not something that is easily come by in rural areas she worked to bring spiritual direction to Bathurst Diocese and in the years before she officially “retired”, did her best to see that it would continue into the future. Sister Ann-Maree O’Beirne recalls, “In 2009 I was mentored into the ministry of Retreats in Everyday Life in the Bathurst Diocese along with a friend, Kathleen Jones by Sr. Patricia Nugent. Patricia began this ministry a decade earlier, as I was making my entry into the Sisters of Mercy. I participated in Patricia’s first Retreat In Everyday Life in Dubbo in 1999, never imagining that I would one day be involved as a spiritual director on the team and be responsible for the organisation of these retreats.”
I have tried to remind us of the different stages of Patricia’s life, especially her ministerial life, but what of the woman herself? Who was she? She was a gracious, caring person who was truly humble in the best sense of that word. She knew her gifts and her limitations. She knew she was loved by God and spent her life returning that love. She was meticulous in all she did, from the early days of perfecting her skill as a musician, through the years of teaching music to her many students, when preparing for liturgies and prayer groups throughout her life, in caring for her Mother in her old age while remaining true to her calling as a Sister of Mercy. Another example of her meticulous care for others was when she had a stroke some years ago (from which she subsequently recovered). She did something many of us would think about but not do. She had her name put on the Organ Donor Register. As a result, her liver, kidneys and corneas have brought new quality of life to at least three people.
She loved her extended family and had just visited her cousin Elaine Morgan before she died. One of our Sisters, a close friend, recently told me, “For an only child she had a great sense of family. One of the fairly recent highlights of her life was to go on a pilgrimage to all the Queensland Cousins. And on another occasion she went to Nathalia in Victoria where cousins took her to her Father’s childhood haunts. Even to talk about that brought a shine to her eyes.”
Such a compassionate, caring, prayerful person as our Sister Patricia will be sadly missed, but we come today with grateful hope that she is now enjoying full union, “face to face” with the God who loves her and whom she loves in return with all her life.