This article was originally published in the July 2019 edition of the Together newspaper.
They are always in the front pews at Mass, they are very visible in the parish community, they are graceful, they are faithful, and there are five of them.
They are the Lane Girls of St Mary’s Lockhart: Irene Smyth (88), Pat French (85), Betty Quee (82), Brenda Sullivan (81), and Nola Webster (79). These holy women are siblings – five of the eight children of Daniel and Ina Lane of Lockhart. Their great grandfather arrived in Australia from Ireland in the 1860s and settled at Benalla. Their grandfather, Tom Lane lived on a farm in Brookdale, while their father, Daniel Lane eventually moved to Lockhart where he raised his family with his Kiwi wife, Ina in Ferrier Street, Lockhart – across the road from the St Joseph’s School/ The Presentation Sisters’ Convent/St Mary’s Catholic Church. Sometime ago, I decided to sit down with them over lunch to share in their reminiscences of life and faith.
Dan Lane was a Catholic but not a super-active one. He used to take his children to Church and get them to sit in the front rows while he stayed in the back.
His wife, Ina was born in New Zealand and raised in the Church of England, but she so diligently raised up her eight children in the Catholic Church.
She would always urge the girls to go across and help the nuns in the convent to clean the brass in the church, etc. She herself used to help wash the sacred linens.
Fortunately, the ladies recalled, during their Children of Mary meetings in those days, one of the nuns used to make an intercession of “One Hail Mary for the Conversion of Mrs Lane”.
This prayer was answered very many years later when Ina was received into the Catholic Church towards the end of her life, aged 94.
On why she chose to become Catholic, she was emphatic that she wanted to be where her children were.
At the time of her death Ina had 98 direct descendants.
Dan and Ina had eight children in all: In addition to the five women already listed, there is Jim Lane (86) who lives in Wagga Wagga, Monica Edwards (who passed away at the age of 75), and Alan Lane (74) who lives in Canberra.
Theirs was a happy childhood although they did not have much to spare. Alan, who joined us for lunch on the day of the interview, recalled how they ate a whole lot of rabbits for sustenance.
Their dad used to set traps for rabbits to ensure a steady supply of meat for his family. They would skin the animals and sell the hide for an extra bit of income, while the excess meat was also sold for 6 Pence per rabbit.
The family lived in a very small house that had little heating, and the sleeping arrangement meant three girls in one bed.
The women, who were all taught by the Presentation nuns at St. Joseph’s, Lockhart, see the Catholic faith as a very strong influence that has shaped their entire lives and kept them close-knit all these years.
Their commitment to the faith means they are still working in the Church.
Notwithstanding the burdens of age, the Lane girls have continued to help in gathering the Sunday collections and helping to rearrange the altar and the sacristy after Mass, all with an infectious smile.
Over the years, they have been involved with the Children of Mary, playing the guitar and singing in the choir, the Catholic Women’s League, and the banking of weekly collections.
There has been so much joy for them in life and so much to be grateful for.
One such joy is the incredible fact that there has never been a “falling out” amongst the siblings, not even one.
When I first spoke to Brenda about her relationship with her sisters, her response was: “People don’t believe it, but we have never had a quarrel.” This was corroborated by her husband of 61 “short” years, John Sullivan who considers himself blessed to be married into the Lane family.
Having left home at 15 years of age, he felt like an adopted son of the wife’s family. “When I met Brenda,” he told me, “I was accepted in the family and her dad would always say ‘put another leg of lamb on, John has just arrived.’”
Confirming this too was Mac Webster, married to Nola for 56 years. He too feels blessed to have been part of the Lane family story.
Coincidentally, both John and Mac were life-long bankers and both men met their wives while working in the bank.
Ironically, however, bank johnnies, rugby players and Poms were not their dad’s favourite choice for future sons-in-law, but he ended up, without regrets, with two bank johnnies, two rugby players, and a Pom as sons-in-law.
The most sombre moment of the afternoon was when Brenda broke down in tears as she recounted the tragic death of her son, Steven who was hit by a car in 1983 at the age of 17.
The expression of grief on her face and on that of John (her husband) clearly showed the devastation they have had to deal with even after 35 years.
Nevertheless, she was very grateful for the role played by faith in their journey with grief. If not for their Catholic faith and the support of her family, she didn’t think she would have pulled through the pain the way she did.
John himself had this to say about the tragedy: “You don’t ever get over it, but with the help of the Lord you can find ways of dealing with it. You cannot get over it, but you learn to live with it. Sometimes I wonder whether the Lord is listening to me.”
Irene too had her own share of grief when her husband, Keith died in a tragic accident at the age of 53 in 1976, leaving her to raise their four children by herself.
All back in Lockhart:
On how all five of them ended up back in Lockhart, it happened that Irene never left – she continued living in the family home.
Betty returned in 2000 with her husband, Brian, when he had PTSD from an active service in the army and needed a lot of care, and Lockhart provided the best environment for that.
Pat returned in 2006 after her husband, Ray’s passing in 2003.
Brenda and Nola both came back with their husbands to retire in Lockhart.
And this has proved a great blessing to each of them – being able to continue their childhood together in the very same neighbourhood they were raised and being able to serve in the same Church that nurtured them both spiritually and educationally.
On a lighter note, one other thing that three of the Lane girls have in common is their ear problems – each has one hearing difficulty or the other.
But that has never been an issue as verified by the two surviving husbands – John and Mac.
Nevertheless, they are grateful to God for the gift of each other and for all the other blessings he had bestowed on them.
Their biggest ongoing regret is that their own children, like most post-Vatican children in the Western world, have not kept up the practice of the Catholic faith.
Another regret is the fact that their beloved sister, Monica is not with them anymore. They miss her sorely.
One thing that struck me when I first arrived in Lockhart was that as soon as you met any of the ladies in the church, she was enthusiastic to let you know that “there are five of us.” I had never met five adult sisters living in one parish before now, much less elderly ones like these.
Therefore, it was a no-brainer that I had to do a bit of a story on this, in gratitude to God for the blessings that they have been to my parish community – a combined 415 years of love and Christian commitment.
I always look out for them at every Sunday Mass – doing a silent headcount to be sure that all five are there.
And whenever, that is not the case, I usually get a bit worried until I make sure that they all OK.
My prayer is that we may still have them all around here in Lockhart for a little bit longer. It’s all in God’s hands!
Fr Henry Ibe is the Administrator of St. Mary’s Parish, Lockhart.
Republished with permission from Fr Henry Ibe and the Together newspaper, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.