Remembering Sr Carmel Beirne: Teacher and Troubadour.
Carmel entered the Missionary Franciscan Sisters. Her only sibling, Brian, became a Franciscan priest. Carmel came to the sisters as a well educated young woman in May of 1947. She completed her Bachelor of Arts soon after entering. She also attained excellent qualifications in Speech, studying through Trinity College, London.
One of our Sisters who was a student of Carmel remembered, I shall always be grateful to Carmel for my great love of the English language – I always told her she taught me too well – I am forever finding fault with the construction of sentences in books and conversations!! Another Sister remembers teaching with Carmel at Mt Alvernia: Later when I joined the staff of Mt Alvernia, I found that Carmel was known as a great teacher of English literature, who passed on to her students her own love of poetry and Shakespearian plays. After Carmel retired from school, she put these talents to use in U3A classes, the University of the Third Age. Another Sister recalled,Her Enthusiasm for and depth of knowledge of her subject, besides her teaching skills and cheerfulness, gave us a great love for 19th Century English literature and poetry.
Another of our Sisters a past student also recalled: Carmel was fun to be around. She was able to let the class enjoy the moment while encouraging us to immerse ourselves in Shakespeare and poetry. My class put on a full dress production of the Merchant of Venice which was a highlight of our school years. Carmel had such a magnificent reading voice that we would listen spellbound to her recitations. She knew how to draw out the special gifts and talents of the naughty and turn our energy to more worthwhile endeavours.
Carmel was a founding Sister of Mt. Alvernia with Sister M Helen recently deceased and Sr Crea, formerly Sr Patricia. These three sisters created something special through their gifts, hard work and their total dedication in these initial years of the college. Their legacy continues in the Mt. Alvernia College of to-day.
A Sister reminisces: I will never forget Carmel as the person who first welcomed me as a raw recruit to the Mt. Alvernia staff back in 1968! Back then, she was able to break from the rigidity of the rule separating postulants and novices from the professed to rescue me from my isolation in the little room under the stairs and welcome me to the common staff room! As principal, she was always affirming and she made Mt. Alvernia a happy place for me. I am grateful for her welcoming presence then and whenever I met her in subsequent years on visits to Australia.
While in hospital during her final illness Carmel was still cheerful and continued to recite poetry. She never lost her sense of humour and we had many laughs despite her serious condition as she reminisced over past students and all the humorous situations she found herself in. No doubt she is having the time of her life rubbing shoulders with the likes of William Wordsworth.
Carmel told other Sisters that she was quite content with her solitude reciting poetry in her head and speeches from Shakespeare. She was unable to read because she could not move much in the bed. She was happy with her library in her head.
Carmel also taught at Mt Carmel, Coorparoo and was Principal at Marymount College, Burleigh Heads. She made sabbaticals in Maynooth, Ireland and the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury, England. She studied as a Librarian and returned to Mt Alvernia. Here she again instilled in the students a love of books and learning. She served on the Provincial Council in the 60’s, 80’s and more recently in the early 2000’s.
In her retirement, as well as teaching for U3A and reading for the blind, she set herself to keep busy and to use her creative gifts by making cards. Here was a new outlet of her creative gifts. She encouraged others to send their craft work in to the Ekka – Sisters sent in their knitting and crochet – and she herself was interested in macramé, crochet and anything else that resembled craft work.
Carmel was involved in Parish Ministry in Rockonia Parish, Rockhampton for five years before moving to Pottsville where she lived and ministered for nearly twelve years. Quentin, her companion during her final years in Pottsville has this to add about her card making: I have known Carmel since the 1950’s. We both had a sense of humour so we were both able to take many friendly insults. Carmel was a hoarder of card making and all the necessary equipment that went with it. I threatened her that if she went before me, I would torch her room and ring for the fire brigade. Now I have decided on a more charitable plan.
It has been said of her that she had a real gift for loyal friendship, and such a talent for teaching, yet in many ways she also lacked confidence in herself.
We will remember Carmel each time we hear a poem recited, each time we hear a line from a Shakespearian play. We will remember her laughter, her sense of fun, her deep loyalty to her closest friends. She was a true Franciscan, a troubadour like Saint Francis, delighting others. She lived life to the full, may she now find fullness of life in her loving God.
Eulogy by Sr Pauline Robinson, Congregational Leader, Australia.