FRANCISCAN MISSIONARIES OF MARY
JANUARY 1973 – DECEMBER 2000.
28 YEARS OF HISTORY
Hélène de Chappotin
In the early 1970’s the Mount Isa St. Vincent de Paul Society realised the difficulties facing indigineous girls in furthering their education. For many Aboriginal girls ‘main-stream’ boarding school proved too difficult. It was for this reason the St. Vincent de Paul planned to provide accommodation for the girls to further their education. By the early 1970s the building of Marillac House was in process and the Society began looking for a religious congregation to run the Hostel.
After initial contact between the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Provincial of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Pam Barker, the invitation to the Sisters was further initiated by the Bishop of Townsville, Leonard Faulkner, and warmly accepted by the Sisters. In January 1973 the involvement of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Mount Isa began with the foundation of Marillac House. The community was made up of five sisters -–Mary Allport, Viola Healy, Joyce Mainey, Bartolomeas Restuccia and Kathly Keavy who arrived later in the year.
At the opening of Marillac House there were 7 girls who came from as far away as Palm Island, Dajarra and Camooweal. Over the following years the number of girls at the Hostel varied between 15 – 20 girls, 12 – 16 years of age. The girls came from places including Hopevale, Mornington Island, Bedourie, Boulia and Mount Isa. It is interesting to note that a few non indigineous girls from country properties also stayed at Marillac House over the years.
Between the years 1973 – 1982, a substantial number of sisters lived and worked at Marillac House – a total of 22 sisters. The FMMs provided a valuable service in providing accommodation and a caring environment at Marillac House for girls to further their education. However this was not the only work performed by the Sisters. They have given their time and energy to the Filipino community. They have been employed to work in the community in the nursing, physiotherapy and pastoral care areas.
Given the demands of running the Hostel, the sisters were also committed and involved in other activities such as visiting families in Mount Isa; visiting families and making contacts in country areas – the beginning of the ‘Bush Run’ (to Camooweal; Dajarra and Boulia which began as early as 1973); catechetics; the Parish Pastoral Council, Parish work, the St. Vincent de Paul Society apostolates and Aboriginal apostolate meetings (regional and fmm).
The Sisters were strongly committed to affirm the abilities of Aboriginal people to do things for themselves, and to phasing themselves out of Marillac House. This happened in 1982. The Hostel ran successfully for another 10 years after the Sisters had handed it over.
Seeds were sown for further involvements, which have continued to the present.
The beginnings of the Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council here in Mount Isa go back to 1973 when initial meetings were held at Marillac House to form an A.I.C.C. Committee. Further meetings were subsequently held. By the mid-70s representatives from Dajarra and Mount Isa attended the annual State A.I.C.C. Conferences. Throughout all of this, the FMMs were of continuing support to the Aboriginal community in helping with the Jangawala Drop-In-Centre which opened at the Catholic Centre in 1987 and is a place where people can visit and drop in for a friendly chat. It provides a friendly environment in which many of the ‘homeless’ people feel comfortable to visit. The Ipika-Murrabi Creations was formed from a group of ladies who were encourage by Sr. Tina Nevesto to make and to screen-print clothing for low income families and built up a strong network of friendships amongst the ladies, most of whom are still involved in the A.I.C.C..
Yallambee & Orana Park Aboriginal Corporation involvement began in the early 1970s when some of the girls from Yallambee stayed at Marillac House. Slowly the Sisters made contact with the people and came to be respected by them. In the 1980s Angela Dunne met with the Yallambee people and an on-going journey began in assisting the people to articulate their needs and hopes for the future, and to have their voice heard. Support was eventually gained from a significant section of the white community – business, churches, City Council and Aboriginal organisations.
In 1985 the Sisters organised a Catholic Concern Support Group from the predominantly white Parish Church. The Support Group gained community support for the people and for their right to the land at Yallambee. As well as addressing the need for improved housing, Yallambee were also striving to improve their lives. Many ideas were discussed but one of the most successful was during the mid-80s when Yallambee members formed “Yallambee Country Lace”, a country band, with one of the FMMs, Judy Dynan acting as manager for the group. The group put on musical nights and dances in Yallambee, Dajarra, Urandangee, Camooweal, Tennant Creek and Normanton.
In 1993 Yallambee applied for funding for a community development worker, but this was declined. The following year the AICC offered the services of one of the FMMs, Janine Bliss, to work full-time at Yallambee as a community development worker and to set up the administration. By the end of 1994 a “Five Year Community Plan” was submitted to ATSIC, this plan was accepted and is currently progressing.
The FMMs have been involved in the “bush run” since 1973 when the Sisters were travelling to country areas such as Dajarra, Boulia, Camooweal, Gunpowder and Doomadgee to visit the families of the girls staying at Marillac House.
By the mid-80s, as part of the AICC, the FMMs continued to be involved in visiting these areas, and maintaining the contacts and relationships which had been built up over the years. During this period with the assistance of Angela Dunne and Dympna Kilbride, the small AICC group in Dajarra was growing, and holding bush masses, prayer meetings and receiving the sacraments. After making contact with Wontulp-Bi-Buya in Townsville a Pastoral Care Health Workshop was held in the town. They also successfully applied to Community-Education to have a “Mechanic and Welding Course” which was very successful and involved 24 of the local men. By the late 1980s Sr. Milagros Castillo was working at the Health Clinic in Dajarra as a nurse.
One of the most significant events that took place in Mount Isa during the FMMs work and involvement in the Aboriginal Apostolate here was the selection, blessing and presentation of five Aboriginal Elders for commissioning during the Parish Eucharist. The symbols of fire and smoke, together with dance and playing the didgeridoo by Arthur Peterson, a revered Aboriginal Elder, added colour and meaning to this magnificent ceremony. The new Elders – Peter Smith, Nola Archie, Colleen Muckan, Dolly Hankin and Evelyn Nemo accepted responsibility as leaders of their people within the Catholic Church.
Throughout the history of the FMMs in Mount Isa, the sisters have been actively committed and involved in the building up, the support and the encouragement of Aboriginal leadership and self management. In this they have succeeded and as a result ‘phased’ themselves out of the job they commenced way back in 1973.
FMM Sisters to serve in Mount Isa include – Mary Allport 1973-78; Batolomeas Restuccia 1973-74; Viola Healey 1973-77; Kathy Keevy 1973-75; Joyce Mainey 1973; Yvonne Mullane 1974; Marriette Gobeil 1975; Maria Grey 1975; Patricia Leonard 1975-78; Liz Campbell 1976; Judy Dynan 1976; 1984-88; Maria Hollis 1977-78; Veronica Sands 1977; Delma Wilson 1977-82; Cherryl Woodward 1978; Dorrie Cassimatis 1979; Angela Dunne 1979-2000; Audrey Graham 1979; Teresa Lee 1979-82; Collette Petizon 1979; Majella Tracey 1979; Mary Green 1981-82; Pamela Barrato –1990; Josephine Siroban 1986-90; Milagros Castillo; Ann O’Connor; Judy Hoch 1994-96; Anne Walsh 1988-99; Janine Bliss 1993-2000.