Sr Mary Francois Wridgway RIP
17 NOVEMBER 2018 | GENERAL INTEREST
Born to life 27-08-1930. Born to eternal life 17-11-2018
Sr Mary Francois entered the Missionary Franciscan Sisters in 1951 and spent most of her years in active service in Papua New Guinea. She left Australia just months after her First Profession of Vows in 1954, and except for a couple of brief renewal programs remained in Papua New Guinea until 2010. She longed to end her days there, but ill health and the risk of permanent blindness forced a return to Australia. She was the longest serving mfic Sister in PNG.
Prior to her Entrance into the Novitiate, Fran completed certification in Nursing / Maternal Child Health. In Papua New Guinea some 10 years after beginning her teaching career completed certification in Teaching.
Across her long stay in Papua New Guinea Francois embraced a wide range of ministries: Nursing, Teaching, Maternal and Child Health, sewing, carpentry, building supervisor, Diocesan Health Secretary, Diocesan Family Life Co-ordinator, Pastoral Minister. Fran received an Independence Day medal in 1977 from the PNG government for outstanding service to the people of Lumi.
Within the community Francois served as Provincial Councillor; Provincial Treasurer; Local Minister; and Vocations Co-ordinator.
Fran was strongly connected to her family. She kept in touch and shared her mission zeal with them. Many of her family members visited her there, and over the years many gave time as volunteer workers including her nephew Brian who tragically died piloting the mission plane. Fran loved her family and was very appreciative of the love and care she received from so many of them.
Francois returned to Australia for a year in 1967. She served in the Generalate in Rome for some months in 1992. She attended renewal programs in Australia in 1966/67 and 2011, and in England in 1994.
On her return to Australia in 2010 Francois found every opportunity to continue her pastoral outreach among the Kedron parishioners, Delamore residents and Sisters. She also found a second home and an outlet for her missionary spirit with Sr Maureen Andrews and the people of Cunnamulla. She could often be seen riding her motorised scooter with a huge box of clothes or household items balanced on the handlebars in preparation for her annual train trip to Cunnamulla.
The stories of Fran’s mission adventures were many – driving bikes and 4WDs on muddy roads, crossing flooded rivers by foot and by car, riding horses through the mountains on her health patrols, and examples of her deep love for the people of Papua New Guinea. Fran welcomed Religious men and women from other congregations to our convent in Aitape when their new missions were opened – the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St Joseph, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the Spiritans and many others. She was dedicated, funny, stubborn and faith-filled. She lived simply and was a master of recycling! Even in palliative care she was able to cut up her daily menus and collect unused napkins and other items for other uses.
Fran was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just months before her death. The diagnosis explained bouts of severe pain that had been present for some time. Fran embraced the diagnosis with faith and with her usual organisational skills. Items in her apartment were sorted and labelled, donations were set aside for her favourite charity, her stamp collection was prepared for transfer to her sister, Christmas cards were written and sent, letters were sent, she prepared for her last journey with peace and with acceptance. She died very peacefully in her sleep at St Vicnet’s Hospital.
By an extraordinary coincidence eight of the Sisters from PNG were in Brisbane at the time of the funeral. They escorted her body from the convent with small garamut as it left for the church, and they later sang a pidgin hymn as we farewelled her from the Church. Also present were members of Fran’s family, lay missionaries from Aitape Diocese, Sisters from a number of congregations, Delamore residents, and parishioners.
Goodbye Fran, your mission is complete. May you enjoy eternal rest in the presence of all the Angels and Saints.