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Sister Mary Karen (Shirley Gwen Therese Stafford)

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 15/07/2021

SMSM Sisters

    Sister Mary Karen Stafford smsm (Shirley Gwen Stafford)

Born:             1 September 1935

Profession:   31 May 1956

Died:              15 July 2021

Sister Mary Karen Stafford was born on 1 September 1935 in Sydney, Australia. She was a greatly longed for child of Henry and Adeline Stafford whose first two infants had predeceased this little daughter whom they had baptized Shirley Gwen.

Shirley’s early childhood was marked by many moves around New South Wales. Henry Stafford was a commercial traveller. He was called up in 1942 to serve in the Australian Air Force in Papua New Guinea during the war and so, it was not until 1946 that the little family finally settled in Turramurra. Shirley’s parents sent her to Catholic schools even though they themselves were unchurched. It was during these school years that Shirley’s great love of the Eucharist developed and was nourished. As a young girl and teenager, she was a daily communicant so it was not surprising that, towards the end of High School, she had already determined she would enter religious life.

After a year working as a pharmacy assistant, Shirley entered the postulancy of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary at 34 Billyard Avenue, Wahroonga, with the blessing of her parents. Six months later, she was called to the novitiate and received the name Sister Mary Karen.  St Catherine of Siena was her patroness. Thus began her love of Dominican theology which was to colour her faith life and spirituality into the future, but above all, she was a Marist. She was a woman without guile without hidden agendas who gave herself wholeheartedly to whatever was asked of her.

As an only child, the life of the novitiate presented many challenges for Sr M. Karen but she trusted she was following God’s will for her. The novitiate transferred from Sydney to Watsonia, Victoria, in 1956. On May 31st of that year, Sr M. Karen made First Profession.  An unexpected joy on that day was when her parents went to Communion. The prayers of their loving daughter had been answered with their return to the Church. Following her Profession, Sr M. Karen was assigned to kitchen duties at Lourdes TB hospital in Killara, NSW, for two years, after which, she began preparatory studies for entrance to University in 1961 to study for a Bachelor of Science degree followed by a Diploma in Education.

In 1965, Bishop Rodgers of Tonga asked for the SMSM to set up a High School for girls. The purpose of this High School was to prepare as many girls as possible to become apostolic and useful members of the Catholic community. It was here that Sr M. Karen was missioned early in that same year. From 1965 until 1980, with a break for Spiritual Renewal in the USA in 1974 and a return to Australia on the death of her father, Sr M. Karen spent the happiest years of her life. She demanded much from her students who saw the fruit of their hard work and was a competent advocate for the girls and young women in her care. She was an excellent Mathematics and Science teacher as well as being coach, cheer leader and supporter of the various sporting teams for both girls and boys.

In her SMSM community, Sr M. Karen was equally committed. Her great love of the congregation was undoubted. She embraced community routine, prayer times and Marist reflections but especially recreation where she devoted much time to her love of swimming.

It was a huge adjustment for her in 1980 when, after spending two terms at the Columban Mission Institute in Sydney, she was asked to become Matron at St Anne’s Hostel in Auckland and a little later, the community coordinator. The following year, 1981, Sr M. Karen was named Assistant to the Provincial for the South Pacific Province, a role she took on wholeheartedly.  She never lost her love for Tonga and her past pupils, relishing every opportunity to visit and meet up with them.

On completion of her term on the South Pacific council, Sr M. Karen returned to Australia in 1987 to help care for her aged mother. Her community was at Wahroonga. In 1989, she was asked to take on the role of Provincial Financial Administrator, a task for which she was especially gifted. After the death of her mother that same year, Sr M. Karen continued the work of PFA and did so until 2004. She was an excellent steward of SMSM finances and temporal goods and always had the good of her sisters as a priority. She worked in a ‘hidden and unknown’ manner, was gracious and caring whether visiting SMSM in the outposts of the Province or dealing with business colleagues in Sydney. Her love of sport and the Australian Cricket team became legendary among all who knew her and brought her much joy.

With the sale of Wahroonga in 2007, Sr M. Karen moved to Rydalmere. However, her physical health had already been declining for several years and in 2013, she moved to residential Aged Care in the nursing home at Gilroy Village, Merrylands.  She never tired of expressing her gratitude for every little service and rejoiced in the fact that she had the opportunity for daily Mass and prayer. The restrictions on nursing homes due to Covid 19 were a terrible blow and she felt the absence of the Eucharist very deeply.

Two weeks prior to her death, Sr M. Karen went to hospital for a blood transfusion but was still very unwell on her return. On Sunday July 11th, we were notified that she was ‘going down’ but were not granted permission to visit as it was deemed she was not yet dying. The chaplain, Fr John Goulding, a good friend of Sr M. Karen, managed to gain admittance to the nursing home. He administered the Anointing of the Sick but best of all, brought her Holy Communion. Sr M. Karen was overwhelmed with happiness and telephoned to let us know. However, this was to be her Viaticum because in the early hours of July 15, 2021, her Beloved Lord called her to Himself. The nursing staff discovered Sr M. Karen had already died when they came to check on her at 8.15 am and notified us.

It is from intimate union with God, born out of meeting Him in the Eucharist, in listening to His Word,            in prayer, that we can draw the joy, the courage, and the strength to give our lives in service for all, in a love the Holy Spirit Himself unceasingly creates and renews” (Const. 6).

Sr Janice Ruff smsm