Sister Pauline Fitz-Walter-
Australian's Own'
Mother Theresa'






Tuesday, August 02, 2016 01:16:46 PM




Sisters of The Good Samaritan
s Australia





Sister Pauline was born in 1923 and Pauline Fitz-Walter is her real her baptismal name.

Her parents separated when she was three and her deeply religious mum took all her 3 daughters to live in Queensland. She studied  for an Arts degree at the university of Queensland. She also tried radio announcing at Charleville doing sessions with woman and children.

When she was 23 she became engaged to be married.  The ’perfect match’ was not so fitting or quite right with her.  A friend remarked that her love did not seem enough to marry him, so she thought about it and broke it off, and then sent promptly  off the engagement ring to the outback sheep station where her fiancé had been waiting for her.

Her own opinions of mental illnesses actually came from her own life experiences. Her epiphany came during her engagement when some thought you were having ‘breakdown’. Her health and well being seemed to mimicked a breakdown but after been giving medication and being knocked out till 10 am next day she awoke and said 'no more mum and to the doctors'. Yes she did  appear to be greyish purple but she was not going to die and being over 21 she had some control over the situation. Her chocking feelings in her throat unable to feel anything in her throat also, made her feel quite unnerved her. Almost as vague suicidal thoughts come to mind. Clearly not so much as a death wish deep down inside us all. Much has to be reached before that come to mind though, she thought.

This was a ‘break through not a breakdown’ She found great comfort in dealing with all this her way, simple walking, swimming, talking to herself – (not ready to be locked up for that either) as in 1946 that is what they would do. After three months of her own treatment and getting proper rest she had managed to see the light again to pursue with her goals.

Spending some quite time reflecting in St James’s church Coorparoo Queensland and sitting at the back of the church, see saw a young priest saying the Stations of the Cross. It then struck her ‘what was I doing in my life that was meaningful' and then it was up to me to take up the Cross and enter a religious life. This was divine moment of what she was destined  to be. How right she was!

Sister Pauline entered to become a Good Samaritans’ novitiate in 1948 at the age of 25.  She would be Sister Mary Francisca. As she entered the life in the convent, it was a big reality check to conformity, being so blindly obedient. Not something that was easy for her. How would she cope with this rigid life? This was not a blaming exercise but simply how it was in that era.  She thought ‘I’ll get holy in a hurry and die off in my mid-thirties - but I missed out on that- perhaps on the two of them! I didn't die and I'm not holy yet’ Her relationship with Jesus always was her salvation and he  often came to her rescue. The religious life said 'aim at heaven and don’t take to much notice of what the material world is offering'. Her thoughts of life from back then has changed some what. 'God speaks through everything', but back in those days the Mother General would say ’that is white and even know I knew it was black, she just simply nodded in blind obedience, no way you would rock the boat. 

Enter Frank Webb.

In the grounds of Mt St Benedict’s Pennant Hills in 1965 an ‘absconded patient from Parramatta Mental hospital. He was holding a book of Gerard Hopkin's poetry in one hand, and a transistor on his shoulder.  Upon opening the poems it was quite obvious that she noticed right away he was a highly intelligent man, and also a very sensitive and loving man.  He gave Sister Pauline his name of Frank Webb, and this was the beginning of Sister Pauline and Frank’s journey and friendship. Frank was indeed a devout Catholic and a gifted poet.

Frank could see the good in people. So her chance meeting him would change her life forever. She was one of four nuns to be asked to be and usherette for the ceremony at Pennant Hills for the 17 novices. ‘Just wait near the gate to direct any lost souls.

Meeting Frank that day was a calling card to seek a place for these miss placed folks to go not jail. To so many it was their last resort to get shelter. Sister Pauline questioned what she was doing as this well educated Samaritan Sister. The order originally formed in 1857 for ‘women of the street ‘to seek a better life. The strong sense of meeting the poor coming up the hill for help or going down the hill to get them.

Frank looked troubled and lost and he said he was simply ‘looking for peace’ and Vinnie hostel.

So it there was quick dash to ask a visiting priest could she take the poor man to the nearest Vinnie’s hostel. Her plea fell to deaf ears sadly ‘he might be a sex maniac ‘Well how would one of those be recognised you might ask?

The offer of help and permission not given and as she saw him walk away, she felt so was like rejecting Christ. She pondered how many times in her life had see sent others away, not recognising  her inner vision of Christ walking away rejected. So she frantically tried to find out whether he had made it, but some how Frank ended up at Orange’s Bloomfield Mental hospital. Her aim was to produce communities to give those folk a home to those who seem to have lost their place in the world and to give them some sense of being loved, wanted and belong.  Her order had always gone out to help, not actually staying out with these people and living with them. She felt that being with them 24 hours a day would give her a sense of how to give them ‘the Rhythm of Life’. These folks living with addictions and mental illness, alone with suicidal thoughts, just some good old fashioned nurturing and just gently touch their lives with some simple structure. What we seem to take for granted in our normal way of life,

In the beginning Sister Pauline would arrive each morning to view the night mayhem that had gone on whilst she was not there. Not always a pretty sight. She needed to be being part of their everyday life showing them the way to cope with the issues that faced them.

A normal house-hold had time structures, like what happens and when each day, like bathing, shaving eating etc. These people did not have these skills; they had no healthy ‘Rhythm. To us it was basic them it was never in their daily routine.

Some twelve months later a chance meeting again of Frank Webb at St Scolastica’s Convent Glebe, once again escaping in a ‘borrowed’ shirt and strangely enough a return ticket to Sydney ended up in his possession -, ‘oh the Lord works in mysterious ways' Frank thought. Again sister Pauline reached out in her usual friendly, helpful fashion and got him some hospital attention. Frank was visited regularly by Sister Pauline following that day onward for the rest of his life.

Sister Francisca organised overnight shelter at a Vinnie’s hostel for him, and renewed hospital care, and thereafter visited him regularly. Their strong faith was the base of their friendship and their great love of verse and language. To Frank, Sister Pauline was a gift and devotion to Christ and charity and she thought of him as ‘simply brilliant’. People with mental illnesses were in most need of some companionship and to feel wanted and loved unconditionally.

Rome was where the Good Samaritans sent Sister Pauline next and Frank Webb and Sister Pauline communicated through correspondence. In 1972 came back with sister Diana to whom she went with numerous distinctions and then later on a Master of Education. Her thoughts then were degrees were not mark of love and she did not become a Nun to have Thesis etc. She needed to be more practical with Christ's message.

Her chants to many of her lost souls was ‘you can’t take even a burnt matchstick with you, but you can take your peace and your joy’. How very true!

Frank had once told Sister Pauline and his words she never forgot “If you ever change from training and lecturing to looking after ‘no-hopers’ like me, would you please keep me a place…just one on a verandah would do.”  Sister Pauline quoted to him "Frank you'd be the first I'd think of". 

Frank was doing a complete turn around and began looking after those less fortunate than himself. Frank also had a premonition of him dying. Quite sad. Shortly before his death Sister Pauline took Frank and a friend for lovely picnic, his last but thankfully it was  fun and happy day for all.

Frank died of a coronary occlusion in 23rd November 1973 when he was only 47 in Rydalmere Mental hospital.

Sister Pauline penned these words upon his death “Faith for Frank... was a living vital force that drew a person into the mystery of Christ (to become) a new creature ready for the heavens and the new earth.” And in verse she wrote "Your heart clasped at the last latch of eternity; you reached the Lord you had loved and ciphered through all you ancient words"

The primary school in Guyra in 1983 the convent was used as a St Francis of Assisi community for needy people, a work initiated by a Good Samaritan Sister Pauline Fitz-Walter.

Vatican Two reforms made many changes to how Nuns dressed and were perceived in every day life. But as sister Pauline was a trained State school teacher and of course she was PE trained with her teaching, her lies the problem what would nun wear to teach that and as postulants and novices doing Physical Education they were required to wear corsets, my, my. So her way around that was to remove the whalebones. Nifty thinking!

By her own admission her most challenging battle was establishing a house to keep those that society frowned upon and would not take care of. The hierarchy wanted her to use her Academic skills and that inner turmoil of rejecting Frank way back kept haunting her.

Then one night late in 1975 tow characters called and Sister Pauline was still up whilst all the other nuns were in bed. Michael O’ Sullivan and his mate Ernie (later to be know to be suffering from schizophrenia), who had their first Holy Communion that day and wanted some extra faith instruction. Well not at late hour that was going to happen but she was free Saturday, “perfect' said Sullivan. They would come back then.

This was the beginning of her journey helping the down and out a they did come back with 19 others and so it began ‘Tea and Holy Spirit ‘ at Good Sam’s  with some singing, music and some prayers thrown in for good measure. Her work continued with these folks and some two years later the first of her rented houses – St Francis of Assisi. 16 homes were established over 30 years in Victoria NSW and Queensland, giving people of the street accommodation. This did come with a great amount of stress however. Just five minutes with Sister Pauline after mass she would introduce you to some of her ‘folks’ and sometimes when alone the tales of what her life was with their stories and woes. I was always amazed how she coped.

Sister’s first house was in Belmore Road Surry Hills and so radical, two nuns sharing a house with men, we can only read between the line how this rocked the establishment. Upon asking Mother General all she could think of them as wasting their education and in 1977 when this was being requested, n one was able to resolve the issue with these strong willed nuns, but she was how ever was given permission to live in the house with the three schizophrenic, and non-practicing alcoholics on the 16th March 1978.

In Surry Hills in May 1978 she was beyond her human endurance. Having not eaten and not slept properly a volunteer sent her to St Vincent’s hospital. She woke up 24 hours later not even remembering the taxi ride. She awoke to hearing voice of patients saying: ‘Thank God you're still here. You were grey. We thought you were dying’. There was no need for drugs all she could recall "I could remember was going up and up surrounded by stars, billions of stars, extraordinarily beautiful with a great sense of peace, tremendous peace"

Over the years I have seen her in Hurstville with some of her ‘lost souls'. The drugs and alcohol and mental illness often had her in court, or Long Bay Jail. Instuitional life was not the only answer to the problems that they faced. There had to be a better way.

Some of Sister Pauline’s ‘street people’ had been raped, just got out of jails or mental hospitals. Referees would often ask, are drug addicts and alcoholics welcomed with you? Well she said 'there were no simple term for whom to took in or conditions - just the need and we try to give them some self worth and comfort'. So the ‘Street Angel’ was up and running!

Her absolute faith in God and his trust was always with her at 2am in dark lanes in Surry Hills. Very dangerous conditions for someone not so young to have to endure.

Dealing with drugged fuelled folks who were often quite violet to say the least and frightening. Having been grabbed around the throat,  and also a swift karate chop on her head. Control was in her vocabulary whilst teaching now she drew on all her skills to overcome these ‘Tense Moments’

There were visits from police at 3 am. To identify a destitute's body, she could never  understand why they could not wait till morning - or having an addict ‘promise her a bullet’ she clearly had wonderful mechanism and strong faith she would not be hurt being around these people.

This dilemma of living with these people was a thorn in the establishment side. Having tor face each morning on her arrival with wine flagons and other nightly frolics was so very difficult. And to live with her boys was at first refused , but some faith intervention and Bishop's ok  she could be a career a not keeper. 

This is where Bishop David Cremin entered into the equation.

Our dear Bishop David was a friend of Sister Pauline’s. She had been requested to meet with him to discuss this difficult religious issue.  She was almost resolved  to the fact he would never understand. So she met with him after mass at Surrey Hills. Bishop David ate with them, sang with them, danced with them.. just seeing him doing the hokey pokey with the street people, she thought now this is not the vision I had of bishops.   He answered the call to open his heart to these people, just like she wanted to do. This clearly changed Sister Pauline mind of what Bishops were suppose to be and do and so her path to do this steeped up a notch as he was the one that the hierarchy had listened to and gave her a trial go. We all did and still do see him as one who walks with Christ understating the poor and lonely and their ongoing friendship still goes on today, as he a Christ like figure who understands the ones in life that most seem to want to hide.

 

Sister Pauline wanted home in Erskineville and as Sister Diana prayers were saying Hurstville. The first real estate agent she visited gave her house. Sadly with ongoing increasing loads from of loading from the governments the cost of housing these people was too much of a burden and t hide fizzled out.

Sister Pauline now lives in nearby unit after her Hurstville home closed two years ago.

 





The book 'sister Pauline. Street Angel of Sydney is available at $25 from the author and publisher Grace Chan at sydneystreetangel@hotmail.com or by ringing 0410 151 340.