Eileen joined nuns and hills were alive with sound of music

IN THE history of education in Northern N.S.W. one group stands out - the Presentation Sisters.

They were brought to our area from Ireland in the 1880s by Bishop Doyle of Lismore.

The Sisters were from a teaching order and the Bishop's idea was that they would help local children, especially Catholic children, to a better future.


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Small band of nuns 130 years ago changed our region forever

Over the years more sisters arrived from Ireland and others were recruited locally. At first the teachers commuted to other centres and then convents and schools were built.

Education, both general and religious, had always been an important part of life in Ireland. It helped to keep the people united during many years of unrest and persecution.

The Sisters were used to rough conditions and were not deterred by hardship.

Sister M. Frances (Eileen Kelly), the young musician
Sister M. Frances (Eileen Kelly), the young musician

One of the things which helped them was their love of music.

It is not strange, therefore, that they played a major role in the development of musical knowledge in the area, training many who went on to have careers both in Australia and overseas.

In 1953 a local girl, of Irish extract, joined the Presentation Order.

She was Eileen Kelly, who was to become known as Sister Mary Frances.

She was 17 at the time and had been born in Northern Queensland.

She later lived with her family at Toowoomba where she helped in the family store at "Kelly's Corner". She was not a stranger at the Lismore Convent as her mother's sister was Mother Mary Dympna and two of her cousins were also Sisters.

Eileen had been a brilliant student at school and was a very talented musician, having been a pupil of well-known Lismore violin teacher, Geraldine Spring.

Without government subsidies the Sisters often depended on their income from music students.

It is not surprising therefore that Eileen's musical talents were put to good use and over the years she found herself teaching at Lismore, Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, and Clovelly.

Many of her students later had professional musical careers, often in state orchestras.

She had always wished to further her academic studies and in the 1970s she was able to complete her music diploma (A.M.E.B.) and her Higher School Certificate.

She then went on to obtain a Bachelor of Theology, a Graduate Diploma of Education, and a Master of Letters. Much of this study was done at night or by correspondence while she continued to teach in the daytime.

Eileen had always been interested in history and started going through the Archives at St Marys Convent in Lismore.

She was fascinated and over the next few years wrote several histories including the story of her aunt, Mother Dympna Walsh, and a very detailed life and work of the first Bishop of Lismore, Jeremiah Doyle, which was published in 1999 as "My cause is just". For this work she had to research overseas as well as in Australia.

During this later part of her life she was plagued by illness. She had a fine intellect and it drove her in her search for knowledge and historical accuracy.

She died in Lismore on July 31 2003 not long before her 68th birthday.

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