Sister Kate Conley

Kate Conley 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.

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. Kate was 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.

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.

Sister Kate Conley
Kate Coley sports captain

Kate 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 to organise 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’s life reflects the ideals of Catherine McAuley, Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, especially the call to minister to women and the poor, reached out and supporting people on the edge of society.

Kate was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2020.

(Adapted from article by Sr. Mary-Anne Duigan)

Reference

Duigan, M 2020Congratulations to Kate Conley RSMInstitute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia & Papua New Guinea, viewed 1 November 2020, <https://institute.mercy.org.au/congratulations-to-kate-conley-rsm/>.