Mother Rita Mary Posa CCK
Born: 18th March, 1925
Solemnly Professed: 9th June, 1957
Dies: 16th October, 2015
On 23rd October, 2015, in the Chapel of St John's Village, Wangaratta (Australia), the funeral took place of Mother Rita Mary Posa CCK, Superior of The Community of Christ the King, Taminick. At Mother's invitation I had spent large slabs of 2010, 2011 and 2012 living in the CCK hermitage, sharing in the Community's life, helping in the ministry with those who came on retreat, and ensuring a daily Mass. It was a special time in my life and ministry, and I received far more than I gave. I then became one of the many whom Mother regularly contacted, encouraged and counselled by email until very recently. Her Funeral Mass was celebrated by The Rt Rev'd John Ford, Bishop of The Murray, and Episcopal Visitor to the Community. The Eulogy was given by The Rt Rev'd David Robarts OAM, long-time friend, spiritual guide to the Community and regular retreat conductor for the Sisters and Oblates. It is reproduced here - with his permission - as a tribute to a remarkable woman of God:
As a text, some words from the final of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets : Little Gidding.
“With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
The drawing power of Love and the Call of God : these have been key elements in the life of Mother Rita Mary and the remarkable pilgrimage which has emerged from them. Wherever this exploration led her it was always initiated by God and led to Him anew. For the true and living God was both the source and homing point of her exploring. God, ever new and renewing, still, yet still moving her deep within, but also utterly beyond her. God , ever fresh in discovery yet wonderfully familiar in recognition.
Rita Posa was born in Western Australia’s rural town of Bruce Rock in 1925, the fourth in a household of six children. Though baptized an Anglican, her earliest formative influence was Methodist. This gave her both a strong love of the Bible and a profound sense of the immediacy of Jesus in her life. Indeed, a Godly Minister so inculcated a sense of the power of God’s forgiveness that it led later to her first Confession. There the initial sense of joyful release continued with her through regular and frequent Confession as a lifelong activity.
The next formative influence was during her time as a boarder at St. Joseph’s Convent School . The sense of worship at Mass so enraptured her that she encouraged everyone to pray that she might become a Roman Catholic. God answered her prayers in a strange way. In her Matriculation year Rita became very seriously ill with bronchial pneumonia which took her to the gates of death. During a long convalescence, Sunday by Sunday, the bells of the nearby Anglican Church rang out until she heeded their call. One evening she went to their source when, as she said, “God claimed me for His own”. Instruction followed and Rita was Confirmed on St Francis Day in 1940; always thereafter an important day in her calendar.
At the end of the Second World War Rita was encouraged by her Rector to enrol at the newly opened St. Christopher’s College in Melbourne where women were trained in teaching Religious Education. The Principal there, an inspiring woman who embodied the College motto : “In Christo Vita” - in Christ we live – became her mentor. After graduation, Rita returned to Perth, then a missionary diocese – having served there for 13 years myself, one might perhaps say, it still is! - where she became a Parish worker. Here she was blessed by the zeal and sound theology of able missionary priests from England. However, a sense of Calling to a Religious vocation began to impress itself. Nonetheless, Rita spent a further three years as Diocesan Youth organizer in Tasmania. This, and the influence of Father Bruce McCall, later to become Theodore, Bishop of Wangaratta, hastened her steps to Cheltenham and the Community of the Holy Name (CHN).
After her Clothing with CHN in 1955 – she was Professed in 1957 – Sister Rita Mary spent 17 years of demanding but fulfilling ministry at the Mission House in Melbourne, first in Spring St, then in Fitzroy. This meant Child and Adult Court work, visiting at Fairlea women’s prison, and Winlaton Youth Correctional Facility for girls. Here amidst so much raw human frailty and brokenness she discovered the extraordinary strength of love and loyalty shared by recidivists and down and outs with families and friends. All this gave a depth of compassion - and sometimes simply a passion - to Sister Rita Mary for the underdog and the marginalized and those dismissively labelled as no-hopers. Part of her Gospel armoury was the conviction that “ the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”.
There were, however, two three year breaks during this period, at Dogura in Papua New Guinea with Holy Name School, each of which left their mark. The first provided the joy of living in a community almost completely Christian which was focussed on the Cathedral and its worship. This also brought home the truth to her that there is war in heaven; that where the Lord is, and is at work, evil will be powerfully present to try and destroy His work. This involved personal attacks for herself with overwhelming negative thoughts from which she was rescued by her daily Communions and the wisdom of a Franciscan confessor.
The second trip, ten years later, brought entirely different lessons. During the intervening years the world of government grants and transistor radios had taken over. Cathedral worship was no longer a joy but experienced as boring and resented. The world, she discovered, was a far more deadly enemy than Satan – or, rather, was it Satan in a new guise? As one biblical scholar has rightly discerned, “the strength of the Powers today is that they seem not to be”. In other words secular humanism and hedonist materialism may not appear to be demonic but their fruits – division, disintegration, and dehumanization - reveal the hand of the same enemy.
It was at this time that Sister Rita Mary realized the need to respond to an awareness she had known since before her Profession, and heed “ the drawing of this Love” and “the voice of this Calling” to be led from active Missionary work to a Life of Prayer within Enclosure. In this she was not alone and in 1975 the opportunity was given to her and others including Sisters Margery, Clare, and Patience, to test such a calling within the CHN. Thus began, Mother says, the most wonderful part of her life as a nun: the task of being part of the Foundation of an Enclosed Contemplative Community.
In 1990, at the invitation of Bishop Robert Beal, the enclosed sisters moved to Taminick; in 1994 becoming the Community of Christ the King, and then in 1997, after much prayer and consultation, adopting the Rule of St Benedict. It has been a difficult vision to translate. Mother observed seven years ago that “today the task is no nearer its goal than it was in the beginning. Indeed, one wonders if it is going to die before it has even been born. Yet we know the work is the Lord’s , and if our task is simply to sow seeds then if we are true to our longing to know God as He knows us, He will bring it to completion in His own good time”.
These are perceptive and challenging words to be pondered and prayed over variously by members of the Taminick property’s Company, by Oblates, and by Friends of CCK, as we look to the future. I have mentioned Oblates, numbers of whom are participating in this Requiem Mass. Here we have one tangible fruit of Mother’s vision: they take with them, and translate into their lives, the way of St Benedict which has been embraced and embodied by this Community.
Mother’s own thoughts here lead me to reflect further on T S Eliot: “As we grow older The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated of dead and living. Not the intense moment Isolated, with no before and after, But a lifetime burning in every moment... Here and there does not matter We must be still and still moving into another intensity For a further union a deeper communion”. Indeed we must, my friends. Mother understood that in God’s hands and in God’s time all our endeavours, if they are initiated by His Spirit, will become something more. He is never a God of diminishing returns. All life in this sense is a preparation for something more.
It is time for me to speak personally. For over sixty years, more than twenty of them as Spiritual Advisor to this Community, I have been privileged and richly blessed by being actively associated with Religious Communities of various kinds: from regulated convents and monasteries, to an Indian Ashram translated to Jerusalem, to Charles de Foucauld’s Little Sisters of Jesus living alongside fringe dwelling aborigines next to the Alice Springs rubbish dump.
These are the serious people, the explorers and pilgrims, seeking God with all their heart and the sort of life He wants for them. They have saved my sanity – just, but also caused me much cultural and spiritual dissonance, as I have spent too many years in the unreal world of political make believe within the Church’s corridors of power. It is the pilgrims and explorers, I believe, who live in the real world; they are God’s front line troops in the spiritual warfare, and they are the praying heart of the Church. Without them the Church would have destroyed itself long ago.
This brings me to CCK and Mother Rita Mary. I say, respectfully, that she was a rare bird: a contemplative charismatic. When I came to Taminick to lead a Retreat, or whatever, I never quite knew what God might have in store for me, but I would soon find out. Mother would be fired up with a new cause – or an old one revisited. The spring at the end of the property was a dark place, and it certainly was; so we headed down there with Ritual and Holy Water in hand to give it literally a spring clean. Lambs had got out through a hole in the fence, so we had to hot foot it after dark to get them back to their mothers. And so on and so on. Mother was driven by things many and varied from liturgy to bird baths.
Oh yes! Mother could be contradictory, wilful, vulnerably human, bossy, and a good deal more. Ah! But she so loved God. She loved Him with every fibre of her being, and especially His Son on the Cross. Mother returned often to that spiritual pioneer Father Gilbert Shaw and a particular saying of his:“In stillness nailed, to hold all time, all change, all circumstances, in and to Love’s embrace.” Those 14 Stations of the Cross at the property which silently address us to stop and wonder afresh at the mystery of the Crucified God: these, not least, will continue as a Memorial to Mother Rita Mary.
Mother knew that Prayer was the most necessary, if the most demanding and exhausting, of activities. This was why CCK existed, as a living witness to the fact. This is what we are for. Those cedar boxes on, and those books beside, and under, the Altar; all those little bits of paper with names on them that fill up the boxes – these are people in their need of God. These are people to be brought before Him, for healing, for wholeness, for salvation. Kyrie Eleison. It is for us to hold this broken world and its children in prayer and in Christ until He comes. Countless men and women, from near and far, have been upheld and inspired by Mother Rita Mary’s unswerving devotion to the Lord of Life and her tireless loving care for His children.
For me, as the years passed, what I came to treasure most were the early morning Offices, generally with only the Sisters present. Often cold and sleepy but alert at 4.30am, Mattins, and after that silence, followed by Lauds and the dawn of a new day. Ah! The silence: the Living God awaiting and holding us there. In the unforgettable words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Elected silence sing to me
And beat upon my whorle’d ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.
And now our dear, driven, waiting and worshipping, utterly self-giving , Mother Rita Mary has been piped to pastures still, and is at one with the music that she cared to hear. We will go on together, deeper and deeper, into that unfathomable mystery we name as God, the Living and True. He, in whom all our longings and yearnings will come home at last.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.