This is the Vocation story of Sr Margaret Kelly O.P, a Cabra Dominican Sister, who lives and works in South Africa. Sr Margaret is passionate about justice and peace issues. She has served as Mission Area Prioress of South Africa in years gone by and she has also served as a Councillor in the Generalate. She is currently the Prioress of St Dominic’s Priory in Port Elizabeth.
MY VOCATION STORY
I was lucky enough to attend a Dominican school in Dun Laoghaire for most of my school life. I remember in the Primary school several Nuns from different Orders came to tell their stories and to invite us to join them. I remember thinking that if ever I decided to become a Nun I’d become a Dominican. I found the Sisters gentle, encouraging and friendly…they seemed to assume that if they taught us well we would respond by learning well. And they were right because they taught us above all to love and search for “Truth” – their Dominican Motto.
In High school we were treated more and more as responsible adults as we went up the ranks. We had Dominican Priests to preach our retreats and we could pop into the Convent chapel daily where we heard the Sisters praying the Divine Office. As I moved up the school I needed to decide what I wanted to do and what subjects I needed to take. With only two years left, I realised that I wanted to become a Dominican. After some time I found a close friend of mine was also thinking of joining the Sisters. Later we discovered that another friend had also decided to join the Order. So after writing Matric and enjoying summer holidays, Dorothy Balfe, Cora McCullagh and I joined the Dominicans – and we are all still here today. The initial inspiration came from God, but through sisters who were warm, friendly, intellectually challenging and committed to prayer, love of God and others and to education, as a way of preaching the Word of God.
At school I had also been very impressed when I heard stories of the Dominican Sisters and their ministries in South Africa and so after Novitiate responded to my second calling to Mission and I set sail for Cape Town. I enjoyed my years at university both in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria even though, because of Apartheid, only White students were allowed there. They too soon became friends even though they had been brought up prejudiced against Catholics as well as Blacks. The search for Truth at many levels and in various ways brought us all together. I then began my teaching career and after some years became School Principal in Holy Rosary in Port Elizabeth. I had also joined the local Justice and Peace Commission and both ministries came together in 1977 when we answered the call to open the school to children of all races which was against the Apartheid Laws. There were many threats and harassments from security police but the call to Justice was much stronger and we were bravely supported by many teachers, pupils and parents. When I was called to serve on our Region Council I worked to extend the appreciation of different races, languages and cultures in all our Schools.
In January 1987 I was invited to serve as Secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) headed by Archbishop Denis Hurley. Apartheid was at its worst and many of our workers were in prison so it was another challenging Call. In my years there I saw the bombed out headquarters of those who resisted apartheid: the Trade Unions, the Council of Churches and our own SACBC. But in spite of the brutality of the Apartheid System, it was a privilege to work with many stalwarts of the Liberation Struggle. Alas, just as Mandela took over as President and the ANC as Government in 1994 I was called to take over the Leadership of our Sisters in South Africa. Several different calls to Service and Leadership followed over the next two decades and to each I just said: “Yes Lord”.
Each day I just thank the Lord for His many different calls to me over the course of my life. The calls of the Lord meant I had a rich, fulfilling and very happy life – far greater that I could ever have asked for or imagined if my life had been determined by my own silly whims.
Sr Margaret Kelly O.P