Mother Ellen Marie of Jesus OCDM, Prioress of the Carmelite Monastery in Kew, passed peacefully into eternal life on 3 August 2022 after a long illness.
A requiem Mass was held at Kew on 18 August. The following homily was given by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.
On my first visit to the Carmel here in Kew, Mother Ellen took me around for a short tour of some parts of the house. If I recall correctly, a few areas were ‘out of bounds’ as workers were in fixing something or another. Mother Ellen was particularly saddened that she could not show me the community library, but she was very keen to share with me just what a fine library it was, and how it had been built up over the time since she entered the Carmel.
I was left with the clear impression that the library was of particular importance to Mother Ellen. It was only later that I learnt that her Aunty—Aunt Nell, I believe?—had provided the means to allow for the growth of the library, which then Sister Ellen had used wisely over the years, for the intellectual, spiritual and cultural benefit of all in the community.
This one example, of a quiet work done for the good of others, is easily repeated in regard to her work in the community garden, or her liturgical work, or her learning the ropes of business and accounting, or her many acts of individual kindness and gentleness. Each example points to a good and faithful steward in God’s kingdom. As St Paul put it, ‘The life and death of each of us has its influence on others …’.
The consecrated life is indeed meant to be lived as a foretaste of the life to come, in the glory of Christ, such that, as Paul goes on to say, ‘if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord.’ The consecrated life, lived in the hidden form of contemplative monasticism, is especially a call to living one’s life in Christ Jesus.
Pope Francis describes contemplative persons in this way: ‘They are called to recognize the signs of God’s presence in daily life and wisely to discern the questions posed to us by God and the men and women of our time’ (Vultum Dei Quaerere, §2). Played out, then, in the daily living of the evangelical counsels, it is a life that—quite strangely—can reveal the transfiguration of our humanity and the transformation of the world. So might we characterise the life of Mother Ellen Marie of Jesus, Carmelite.
Born in 1946, Ellen Marie Quinn entered the Kew Carmel in 1964; and except for a short period spent at the new foundation in Florence, she lived out the rest of her life within these walls. Sr Ellen was first elected Prioress in 2008, and remained Prioress through two subsequent terms, until her death. The community of the faithful are stuck with their bishop—for better or worse—once he is appointed. But the Carmelite community of Kew repeatedly chose Mother Ellen as their Prioress.
I hardly need to point out, therefore, the obvious—that is, the esteem and trust the community had in her. Gifted, yet self-effacing, Mother Ellen is spoken of for her generosity, perception, discretion and humility. She was a deeply loving mother to her community, and a wise prioress. For those who encountered Mother Ellen from the ‘outside’, so to speak, they—you—knew of a woman of God who made the time to be present, and to bring Christ’s presence, to them.
There is a great gift for all of us in the contemplative calling. The quiet acts of constant prayer and sacrifice of this Carmelite community is given for the whole Church and the world. Their prayer for us and for those who don’t even know they need prayer is an act of generosity beyond words. Let us acknowledge this gift today.
Jesus promised that, by following in his way and truth and life, we would find our way to those rooms in the Father’s House of Heaven. We pray now that that promise is now fulfilled for Mother Ellen. May that good and faithful servant, and friend of Christ’s, now rest in peace and rise to glory.
Melbourne Catholic18 August 2022
Melbourne Catholic22 July 2021