7 July 2011 - Sr Philippa Chapman's Homily

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 7 July 2011 - Sr Philippa Chapman's Homily

Mass of Christian Burial
Sr. Philippa Chapman
St. Mary’s Cathedral, 7 July 2011

In preparation for this Mass of Christian Burial for Mary Dorothy, known to us as Sr. Philippa Chapman, I was looking at a photograph of her which would have been taken only recently, possibly in the garden area in the complex at Tower Road. She was wearing a black polo-neck pullover, and a cross, hanging from a chain around her neck. As best I recall, she often dressed that way, but I admit to never taking a great deal of notice of the particular design of the cross.

I have been looking at it more carefully in recent days. Some of you may be more familiar with this particular cross, and have received an explanation of its background and meaning. From my summary research, I would have said that it contains some elements of both the Greek and the Coptic crosses, but I subsequently have learned that it has an Ethiopian origin. All these features are interwoven into the one cross which Philippa was wearing of the day the photograph was taken. The cross, I understand, is being buried with her.

In a very strong way, it was a reminder to me of the interwoven background to Philippa’s life and ministry, that of the cross of Jesus, but including a great number of talents, interests and activities, for which she is so well known and now remembered.

This occasion of the Mass of Christian Burial gives us a special opportunity to give thanks for the life of this truly remarkable, talented, and enthusiastic lady; it is an occasion for us to express our sympathy to the members of her family for whom she always had very strong links and a deep
affection. We are also aware of her Centacare family as well, with whom Philippa had strong associations for many years. We take comfort from the prayers and readings chosen for this occasion, and then we will take her to her place of rest after commending her to the mercy and forgiveness of God.

A member of Philippa’s family will speak to us in greater detail about her early life. I believe it was a great blessing for us here in Tasmania, that Philippa came to Hobart in the first place as a member of the community of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Mt. St. Canice in Lower Sandy Bay. At one point, as we know, she made a decision to stay here in Tasmania, and to offer her considerable talents and insight to work for the Church as a leading member of the staff of Centacare here in this state. It was around this time that her considerable music and singing talents became evident to us here.On 22 December 1979, Sr Philippa committed herself to live in the “Spirit of the gospel in celibacy and simplicity and to the service of the Church through the welfare ministry.”

Her contribution to Centacare has been truly remarkable, both in terms of the involvement at the leadership level, first in support of Fr. Clem Kilby, the founding Director, then subsequent Director, Jackie Donald, and more recently the Manager of Welfare Services, Georgina McLagen. We know that there were difficult times with the rapid transition of responsibility back ten years ago, but Philippa remained solid in support for whoever was in charge, and her only concern was to ensure that the good work which had been achieved would continue and grow, as it undoubtedly has done.

In the early phase of her time with Centacare, her main focus was on the provision of adoption services. Not only did that require a close involvement with natural parents and adopting parents, it also required involvement in the public arena, where new legislation was debated and considered at great length.

When concerns in relation to sexual abuse began to surface in the late 1990’s, Sr Philippa realised, rightly of course, that this was a most serious matter, and that it required very close attention within the Church and in the wider community. As it should be, her first concern was with the victims, but she also expressed a deep concern for those responsible for such suffering, and through her efforts, measures were taken to provide rehabilitation for the offenders as well.

During the next decade, yet another concern emerged, in relation to the increasing number of humanitarian entrants who were coming to Tasmania, often being assisted in the early stages through Centacare and the services the agency was asked to provide. But with her usual deeper insight, Philippa realised that many of these entrants were deeply traumatised, and so her efforts
were directed to help alleviate this deeper and longer-lasting suffering which the entrants experienced. It is little wonder that so many of these new arrivals, particularly the women, became so attached to her and appreciative of her special contribution to their lives.

The very brief first reading from the book of the Apocalypse assures us that those who die in the Lord are happy, that they can rest forever, because their good deeds do go before them. Philippa would have understood the message of St. Paul that if love is lacking, then the efforts that we make are without true meaning. Her kind of love was all those things, patient, kind, not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude. I was looking at some of my correspondence with her, and there were times when she had a suggestion to make about the way forward. Not all her suggestions were accepted, or her offers taken up, but that fine with her, and she just got on with what was in
hand.

The gospel passage is, as we know, is one of the most popular readings to be used. It occurred to me that in her case, Philippa was able to relate so well to those who are poor in spirit, who are gentle, and who often have cause to mourn. In some instances, as I mentioned earlier, they were persecuted, and she knew that also.

From the way Philippa spoke, it was clear that her love for and links to her own family were very strong, and so it is important for us to acknowledge the sorrow felt today by her sister, Jean, who is not able to be with us, her two nieces, Jeanette and Maria, and their husbands Luca and Andre, and nephews Alessandro and Matteo, and nieces Madeleine and Eleanor. This has been a difficult time for all of you, but I am sure that the presence of so many here this morning will give you great comfort, and assure you that so many others recognised her as being a very special person as you do.

I think it is appropriate to express our sympathy also the all the staff of Centacare here in Hobart and indeed throughout Tasmania. Philippa was an anchor person at the agency for many years, and although the governance responsibility had passed into other hands, the history, the values and the
purpose of the organisation were embedded in her very deeply.

My friends, I know that it is hard, but we do have reason, as the gospel passage tells us to “rejoice and be glad” – rejoice in the tremendous achievements of this remarkable lady, rejoice that she came to Tasmania in the first place and that her faith, commitment and insights have been of benefit to so many. Truly her reward will be great in heaven.

With great confidence, we pray that the Lord “will look upon her with kindness and give her his peace”, as she is now free from all anxiety and her worries have ceased; and “may the Lord keep her safe forever”, Amen