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Sister Rita Hanly

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 11/07/2019

SMSM SistersSister Rita Monica Hanly smsm

         Born:                 1st November 1928

Professed:       31st May 1956

Died:                11th July 2019

Sr. Rita Monica Hanly was born on 1st November 1928 in Swan Hill, Victoria, the daughter of Leo and Mary Imelda Hanly and a sister to Robert Hanly.  She grew up in the country and with a love of nature that grew and continued her whole life.  On 28th November 1953, she entered the SMSM postulancy in Wahroonga and made her first profession in Melbourne on 31st May 1956.  As was the custom, Sr. Rita gave two years of service in Killara and Wahroonga before being sent for teachers training at Loreta Hall in Auckland.  After teaching a year in Wellington during which she made her perpetual vows, Sr Rita was missioned to Tonga where she taught from 1963 to 1966.  After home leave and medical care in Australia in 1967, Sr. Rita was appointed Provincial Councillor in New Zealand from 1968 to 1971 while pursuing University studies part-time.  Thus Sr. Rita’s life followed the expected pattern of an SMSM.

In February 1971, Sr. Rita returned to Australia where she has lived her missionary life ever since.  Initially Sr. Rita had a number of leadership roles while also studying, first Theology at Mater Dei Institute and then Counselling.  In 1972, she and Sr. M. Madonna (Mary Maher) directed the first Long term spiritual renewal LTSR for the Sisters in Australia.  She coordinated a second one in 1975.

Then in 1976 – 77 came her life-changing experience of a year’s study of Spirituality at Berkley California USA. A new phase of her life began with giving retreats both in Australia and other parts of the Pacific.  In 1978, Sr. Rita joined the staff at St. Mary’s Towers Retreat Centre, Douglas Park Her ministry of spiritual direction and retreat giving continued in various places until 1989.

In 1987, she and Sr. Mary Maher moved to Queensland to Woodridge and later Kingston.  Sr. Rita was attached to the community there but was based in Tabulum.  Long before Laudato Si, Sr. Rita became involved in the care of creation.  Tabulum where she lived and worked alongside Anglican Franciscans was the first of her many activities working in collaboration with others, usually outside the Catholic church, in this emerging dimension of mission.  Her love of nature begun as a child found a new expression.  However, she also brought to this vital work the spiritual dimension.

Ecumenism and living with the people on the edges was also part of Sr. Rita’s life in Toowoomba and other places.  In 1994 Sr. Rita was privileged to be a member of the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme for the elections in South Africa that saw Nelson Mandela elected.  It was a rich but shocking encounter for Sr. Rita who was accustomed to the Pacific and its ways.

In 1997 Sr. Rita moved to Victoria and worked with her brother who had a similar concern for ecology.  A life-long learner, Sr. Rita began a course on Environmental Studies through distance education.  She moved to Wangaratta and became involved in the environment restoration of the Warbies mountains.  During this period, Sr. Rita was awakened to the New Story of the Universe and its implications for the way we live and what we believe.  Sr. Rita’s books have passages underlined, highlighted and annotated, and she wanted others to share her passion. At assemblies she spoke; she gave a formation series on ecology to our Sisters; she shared books and videos on the story of the universe with a missionary zeal.

In 2004, Sr. Rita moved to Bateau Bay, North of Sydney, and immediately made contact with the local environmental group.  However, she found that it was difficult to contribute to the group of much younger activists.  In 2005, Sr. Rita was given leave to be with her brother, Rob, and to aid in his care until his death in October that year.

Then Sr. Rita returned to Bateau Bay but found that the village had changed in her absence and after some deliberation asked to move.  Fortunately, Sr. Rita was able to transfer from Bateau Bay to Plumpton retirement village and joined the Sisters there in 2007.  A new phase of her life began but with the same concerns, care of the earth, the marvels of the story of the universe and outreach to those who shared her interests.  She was also blessed by having her nephew Robbie not far away.

Sr. Rita was a trail-blazer who showed us new dimensions of life and mission.  She started on the traditional path of an SMSM but before long she was showing us a new way of being a missionary – in one’s own country.  She became a spiritual director at a time when few women were trained and officially involved in this ministry.  Just as that became more normal, Sr. Rita became a collaborator with others in the care of the earth, before collaboration was seen as the desired mode for missionary endeavours.  Even before care of the earth became mainstream, Sr. Rita was demanding our attention to the far-reaching implications of the New Story of the Universe.

One day when she was complaining that many of the Sisters did not share her sense of urgency for the planet or her thinking on the story of the Universe, she was reminded that a prophet must always suffer the loneliness of being ahead of others.  She certainly knew this loneliness as shown by the short poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that she kept by her bed:

My self speaks

and spells


“What I do is me,

For that I came.”

When Sr. Rita was admitted to hospital, she had one last lesson to give us.  In the space of a few short days, she moved from being diagnosed with a terminal illness to peaceful and hopeful acceptance of her death.  She farewelled her visitors with “I’ll see you up there”.  After leaving Sr. Rita, Sr. Anne Marie Thompson rsm was reminded of what Sr. Joan Chittester said

“Some crawl down inside themselves, angry and waiting to die. 

But the truly spiritual person strides to the top of the mountain of life

and looks down on the plains below and laughs. 

There is no more climbing to do now. 

There is only the glory of the view.”

We have been blessed by the life of Sr. Rita and we are called to continue on the path she has shown us – a path of openness to the new, a path of collaboration with others in the great adventure and mystery of life, and a path of living our truth.