Imelda McMahon mss:

A Woman of the Word

17.2.1925 – 17.3.2017

Imelda McMahon, daughter of Vincent and Josephine (nee Jensen), grew up as the youngest in a family of six on an orchard in Kurrajong, NSW.   In 1930 the depression  forced the family to move to Richmond where they were on a dairy farm. But in 1941 they moved back to Kurrajong, among the greater McMahon clan.

Imelda was a talented and active and young woman.  Music was a significant dimension of her family live.  Together with extended family members, they enjoyed many sing-alongs around the piano.   Imelda’s love of life expressed itself in many interests, included dancing, tennis, golf and horse riding.  How she loved the sense of freedom when galloping her horse at full speed.  

Like many families, the McMahon’s experienced hard times, especially when Imelda’s father, Vince, was in poor health.   When her mother opened the family home as guesthouse, Imelda left school to help her.    Over the next six years she learnt all the ins and outs of hosting a guesthouse.  

One day her sister Marcia who was a Sister of the Good Samaritan gave Imelda a pamphlet entitled Into the Highways and Byways.   It was the story of the then still very young community we now know as Missionary Sisters of Service.   She read it and knew that this is where she was called.   But how would her parents manage without her?    To test her concern, Imelda went to Canberra, not too far away.   There she worked in a tailoring and retail business.   Dis these years in the family business and her Canberra position, hone her people and business skills that later on would contribute so richly to her many years of fruitful life and mission as a Missionary Sister of Service?

In 1950, after two years in Canberra, Imelda resigned from her job and went back to Kurrajong for a short time before following the call she felt so deeply.   In August that year she left for Tasmania to join a very young venture: a community of women known then as Rosary House Sisters, founded only six years earlier.   She was drawn to their vision of seeking out people and families on the margins – those beyond the pastoral reach of the Church.

Imelda travelled from Sydney Harbour to the Derwent River in Hobart by flying boat.  Travelling by flying boat was something quite different, as were many experiences Imelda was to have over the next 62 years of her life as MSS.  She took to heart, in her words: “the dream of our Founder, Father John Wallis, to go where no one else went, to heed the need, whatever or wherever the place or circumstance, travelling outback roads, sleeping in unconventional places, in our little caravan or the back of a church or hall”.  

During Imelda’s long life, this mission took her into the highways and byways, first in Tasmania and then as part of the first community to move beyond Tasmania to the diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes (western NSW).  Travelling thousands of kilometres, often on dusty unmade roads and tracks, the sisters went out in pairs to isolated rural and outback areas, visiting families, teaching their children about their faith, preparing them for the sacraments, gathering communities for prayer and liturgies.  

Over the years Imelda’s mission found many expressions.    She spent time in Launceston, Tasmania, on the staff of a hostel for country girls coming to the city for study or work.   After this she had several years on a mission centre based in Scottsdale in North-East Tasmania, building up the small scattered faith-communities of the area.   Then she tutored people enrolled in the correspondence courses on the Scriptures.   Her response to the work of her students always accompanied by the personal letters through which people experienced her personal interest in their lives and families.

Imelda shared Father John’s “deep conviction of the value of good reading”, an appreciation that developed over her eight years in the Catholic Centre Bookshop in Hobart.   In 1982, with that experience behind her, Imelda she was invited set up The Family Bookshop in Toowoomba (Qld.).  This totally new venture called forth Imelda’s great creative and entrepreneurial talents.   She had a feel for a bookshop as a “rich avenue for personal contact as well as an outreach to people in need of comfort, healing, spiritual development or just a listening ear”.     She gathered a number of volunteers to work with her in the Family Bookshop, creating a beautiful space and a vibrant spiritual hub for the Toowoomba community and beyond.   Mail order and bookstall services enabled the staff to reach out to people throughout Queensland and other States.   We’ll never know the full extent of Imelda’s influence through that ministry. 

The year 2000 marked the time when Imelda needed to retire from that demanding ministry.   But she did not retire from life.    In a less public way she continued to be present to people in various ways.   She also enjoyed the leisure to pursue her artistic and craft skills.   Many a family treasures the beautiful candles she decorated for their wedding or for the baptism of their children.   Her knitting contributed warm clothing for families in need.

As she aged, Imelda realised she needed to go into care.   She spent the final years of her life in Lourdes Home, Toowoomba.   But here, too, she continued her pastoral mission, focused on her fellow residents and staff.   Among her many involvements at the home, one became especially dear to her heart:  “I have the privilege of assisting my elderly friends here to prepare for their ‘Final Call of Love’ and to sit with them as a comforting and compassionate presence in their final hours.”

Reflecting on the rich tapestry of her life, Imelda wrote, “I look back with utmost gratitude and wonder at the privilege that has been mine.  I have experienced and been enriched by the presence of God in myriad forms - from the vibrancy of youth to the lived experience of maturity and the wisdom, faith, and courage of the aged and have received much more of God’s love and goodness than I have been able to give.”

The time came for Imelda’s final hours.   Surrounded by her MSS sisters, she died peacefully at St Vincent’s Hospital, Toowoomba, on 17th March 2017.

Thank you, Imelda, for all you have given to so many

throughout your67 years of journeying with us

as a Missionary Sister of Service.