29 March 2022

Sister Mary Patrick Comerford (1867-1951),
a pioneering nun and teacher in Australia

Sister Mary Patrick Comerford (1867-1951) … born Mary Anne Comerford, the daughter of James and Mary (Phelan) Comerford

Patrick Comerford

I recently came across the story of Sister Mary Patrick Comerford (1867-1951), who was a pioneering teacher and nun in Lochinvar, near Maitland in New South Wales.

Mary Anne Comerford was born in Sydney on 1 December 1867, the daughter of James and Mary (Phelan) Comerford, who were the parents of a large family.

The family moved to Newcastle where the Comerford children were educated by the Sisters of Mercy. Mary Anne Comerford joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph at Lochinvar in March 1884, and she was given the name of Sister Mary Patrick.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph in Lochinvar emerged from the community that gathered around Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop at Penola in South Australia and began to live according to a rule that Julian wrote in Adelaide in 1867.

Sister Mary Patrick Comerford was the second person to enter the Lochinvar congregation. The first postulant Sister Mary Gertrude McNamara entered in January 1884, four months after the foundation began at Lochinvar. However, as Sister Mary Gertrude left to become a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart in North Sydney in 1900, Sister Mary Patrick was the first postulant to enter and remain at Lochinvar for her whole life.

At first, Sister Mary Patrick Comerford was entrusted with the work of teaching. She would carry in her life a good deal of the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the Diocese of Maitland. She was a member of almost every convent of the Sisters of St Joseph in the diocese and local superior of many of them. She ministered in Lochinvar, Quirindi, Burwood, Cessnock, Carrington, Aberdeen, Wybong, Merriwa, Cundletown, Largs, Cardiff, West Wallsend, Krambach, Abermain and Swansea.

Sister Mary Patrick Comerford has been described as an excellent teacher. Her influence over children was above the ordinary, particularly in the case of boys. Years after they had left school, it is said, any remembered her with much gratitude.

However, the weight of years compelled her to retire from her vigorous workload. She rested quietly at the Mother House in Lochinvar from Christmas 1950 until she died peacefully on 25 July 1951, after an illness that lasted some weeks.

Her funeral took place in the Convent Chapel the following day, 26 July 1951. Bishop Edmund Gleeson of Mailtland, presided with a choir of 42 priests. Her funeral took place in the Sisters’ plot in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery, Lochinvar.

Sister Mary Patrick Comerford was 84 when she died, and she had lived 65 years as a Sister of Saint Joseph.

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