Sr Kate Conley RSM OAM

Kate grew up in Snowtown, South Australia and came to St Aloysius College in 1948 as a second year boarder. In her Leaving year in 1950, Kate was a prefect as well as school Sports Captain and captain of St. Anne’s. She also played competition tennis and captained the school’s A grade basketball team.

It was during her time as a boarder that Kate began to explore the idea of becoming a Sister of Mercy, transferring to the Juniorate at Erindale in her final years of school and during her time at Teachers College. From there she entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1954.

As a teacher at St Aloysius College and Parkside, and as a teaching Principal in Albert Park, Mount Gambier, Millicent and Elizabeth, Kate was already reaching out to families, especially to struggling mothers. Vatican ll disturbed the routine of Religious Life and Kate was up to the challenge to search out the places where the Sisters of Mercy called were called to minister.

In 1978, Kate began work as an Industrial Chaplain at Central Linen and in the mid-1980s she also moved into chaplaincy at the women’s prison. She found that one source of joy for her lay in the ecumenical prayer rituals she conducted regularly. It was in these services, celebrating deaths and births, and other big events in the lives of the women, that Kate said she felt “ordained by circumstance”.

Kate was a mover and shaker, not just happy with going along with the status quo, but always looking for ways to improve the lives of the women with whom she had established deep connections. She worked with others in the establishment of Taryn House, a half-way house for women leaving prison. She provided accommodation in a small unit at the back of her house for women who needed a break or a roof over their heads for a while or for family members visiting prisoners from the country.

Kate Conley at SAC
Kate Conley

She travelled around Australia and overseas, researching ideas to improve the lives of the women she worked with. She promoted the concept and application of Restorative Justice as a way to bring the victims of crime to engage with the perpetrators. She worked with other Chaplains as well as the staff at the Women’s Prison and through these friendships, she was able to encourage change. Through her friendships with the women prisoners,  their children and families, Kate was able to support them in their highs and lows. And her support is ongoing.

She was involved in forming groups where women could support each other, such as a Catholic Single Parents group at Henley Beach in 1978. In 1988 she served as chairperson of the Board of Catherine House, a shelter and safe place for distressed women, and remained as a Board Member for many years. In 1990, she helped organized Home Retreats through Sophia Women’s Spirituality Centre. Her Retreat work has continued with many different groups, including staff of our Mercy Schools.

When she had a chance to take a ‘sabbatical’ in 1995, she chose to spend the time in a shepherd’s hut in the Barossa Valley, a time when she could be truly contemplative in her little hermitage – focusing on her painting and poetry and immersing herself in nature. It was a time to nourish her soul and prepare her to go back to her work.

More recently, Kate has spent time at the Refugee Centre at Curtin, and supports other Sisters in ministering to refugees and asylum seekers in our community.

Kate is a story-teller, a good friend to many, a community builder – both among the Sisters and among those she worked with. She is a leader, a formator, a connector, an artist, a poet, a contemplative, an activist, a lover of life.

Kate’s life reflects the ideals of Catherine McAuley, Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, especially the call to minister to women and the poor. Her vibrant, fun loving personality has enabled her to go out to people on the edge of society in love and establish lasting connections of friendship with them.

In 2020, Kate was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in recognition of her work.

Reference

Duigan, A 2020Congratulations to Kate Conley RSMInstitute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia & Papua New Guinea, viewed 22 July 2020, <https://institute.mercy.org.au/congratulations-to-kate-conley-rsm/>.