Admiration of the nation
Our determination shows.
Our skill and nerve will see us through.
Our commitment ever grows.
It’s a fitting way to describe the life and ministry of Sr Monica Armstrong sgs, who has been part of the team of St Thomas Aquinas (STA) Primary School in Springwood for the past 25 years.
These are not words of a religious leader, school principal or public servant as you might expect at a significant farewell. They come from the team song of her beloved Adelaide Crows AFL team.
A sea of red, navy and gold, adorning hundreds of school students, gave Sr Monica, riding past in a golf cart, a ‘Grand Final-calibre’ send-off, as she bid farewell to her STA ‘club’ for the last 25 years.
With the pandemic a contributing factor, Sr Monica stepped down from her position as Family Liaison at the school, admitting her decision came with a heavy heart.
In her role as Family Liaison, Sr Monica would frequently meet with school families, helping them get to know the school community, and strengthening their connection between home and school.
“It makes us feel like we are working together as a team. Families have come to accept and welcome me into their homes,” Sr Monica told Catholic Outlook.
“There’s a level of trust shown by many people in many different ways,” she says as she explains the importance of developing relationships.
A friend to everyone in the STA school community, it seems unlikely that Sr Monica was full of nerves when, in 1996, she began in the role that was new to both her and the school.
She recalls that the then-principal told her to start getting to know the people in the community by being on the playground during school pick-up. Locking eyes with a family’s pet dog, and chatting with the owner, helped her take that first step into introducing herself in the tight community.
From there, Sr Monica was adopted as the school’s ‘nanna’, a loving and caring person children could talk to about anything.
Growing up in Kurmond, on the northern side of the Blue Mountains, Sr Monica entered religious life with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan when she was 21-years-old.
Over her 60 grateful and proud years as a religious sister, she taught mainly junior primary school students across New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, where she picked up her affiliation for the ‘mighty’ Crows.
“As a Good Samaritan Sister, Sr Monica has demonstrated to our students the depth of the love of God through her drive and passion. Through her vow of fidelity, she allowed herself to be shaped and moulded by the community. She has triumphed here in this place. We too have been moulded by her,” STA Religious Education Coordinator Virginia Fortunat says gratefully.
The strength of the community
Sr Monica gives the example of the devastating 2013 bushfires across the Blue Mountains when she explains the strength of the Springwood community and those she ministers to.
“We all pulled together during the fires. There were families who had lost everything, so we organised care packages for all of them, and made sure everyone got what they needed.
“I remember one parent telling me how they were planning on moving, because they didn’t feel comfortable rebuilding on their site, but told me ‘We can’t move, we can’t leave this community.’
“Although there was lots of sadness during that time, a joy I remember receiving was giving a teddy bear to a Year Five boy whose family had lost everything, and seeing tears flow from his eyes,” she said.
Coming to the end of her premiership season and heading into a new, slower pace of life, Sr Monica drew on the Rule of St Benedict of creating a balance between work, leisure and prayer.
“Prayer has truly been where my strength comes from,” she said.
“I enjoyed seeing the growth of children from kindy through the years to graduating in Year Six, and seeing all their successes and joys and their growing confidence in their abilities.
“I want the children to look on God as a friend and even if they can’t see Him physically, I want them to recognise him working in other people who want to help us.
“I didn’t always have to preach to them, just to be there for them.”
WATCH: Sr Monica’s farewell message to the STA community here or below