A Woman of the Word: Imelda McMahon mss
Imelda McMahon grew up in a large family at Kurrajong, NSW. As a vibrant young woman with many friends and career opportunities, Imelda was drawn down a different life path: She followed a call she felt deep within, and left for Tasmania to join a very young venture of a community of women who travelled the highways and byways 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. It was 16 August 1950. 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 recalls taking to heart “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 lived this life and mission, first in Tasmania and then for a time in the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese (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 ministries have been many. 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, to the tutoring of the adult correspondence course on the Scriptures.
Imelda shared Father John’s “deep conviction of the value of good reading”. In 1982 she set up The Family Bookshop in Toowoomba (Qld.) and managed it until 2000. This called forth Imelda’s great creative and entrepreneurial talents. Already her eight years in Catholic Centre Bookshop, Hobart, had given her a feel for its “rich avenue for personal contact as well as an outreach to people in need of comfort, healing, spiritual development or just a listening ear”.
Imelda 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.
Now (2013), at the age of 89 Imelda resides in Lourdes Home, Toowoomba. And yes, she still involved in pastoral outreach. Among her many involvements at the home, there is one 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 her life, Imelda says, “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.”