Sr Philomena Hockings - Remembered

3 June 2017 | General Interest

Sister Philomena Hockings died peacefully at St John of God Convent, Subiaco on the 15 May in the company of Sisters and friends. She had been ill for a some months and was well cared for by Sisters and Staff. During her long life of dedication and commitment, Philomena, spent over 68 years in ministry with the people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where she holds a special place in the hearts of the Indigenous people whom she had come to know and love.  

A native of Brisbane, Queensland, she grew up in Sydney where her brother, Frank still lives. She also has a number of nieces and nephews in the Sydney area and two loving sisters-in-law, Lill and Nell.

Through her long life of religious commitment with the Sisters of St John of God, the Kimberley region became her home and the people became her family, especially those Indigenous girls whom she cared for at the Holy Child Orphanage, as well as the girls she supported and trained at Balgo and Beagle Mission. They became her family and many of them still call her 'mother', and often enough some call her 'grand mother'.(Read more below in the Eulogy).


Bishop Christopher Saunders, Bishop of the Broome Diocese, was the chief celebrant of the funeral Mass for Philomena. He was assisted by Fr Marcelo Parra Gonzalez, Fr Hilary Rotich and Fr Christopher Knapman. In his homily, Bishop Saunders acknowledged the immense service and contribution of the Sisters of St John of God to the people of the Diocese - for more than 110 years. He went on to say that 'Sr Philomena was outstanding in her care and commitment in attending to those in need. History, rightly researched and written, would count Philomena among the great heroiness of the North West, who stayed the distance and gave generously of her talents and energies in service to others' he said. 

A number of the women present were young girls at the Holy Child Orphanage in Broome where Philomena was their carer and companion. Here, one of her friends, Francisca Ishiguchi, (nee Augustine), proclaims the Word of God at her funeral Mass.

 Rita Augustine, who grew up at the Holy Child Orphanage, is incensing Philomena's coffin at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral, Broome, before her funeral leaves for burial at the Broome Cemetery.

As part of a long standing traditon the men take turns at filling in the grave, 

Bernadette Bin Sali, who also grew up at Holy Child Oprhanage, leads in praying the Rosary as the grave is being filled in.. 

Local women add the finishing artistic touches to the grave to honour their deceased and beloved friend and 'mother', Sr Philomna Hockings.

It was a very special surprise when Trevor Hockings, a nephew of Sr Philomena's arrived from Sydney for the funeral- a round trip of over 11 hours flying time. In the Aboriginal tradition, 'blood-family' is very important, so it was a great joy for the people to have her nephew present with them. Here Trevor sprinkles the grave with holy water.

A number of Sisters of St John of God with local people gather to say a fond farewell to Philomena. May she rest in peace, at home now amongst the people she loved so much, and enfolded in the hidden mystery of God's earth, our home.


Sr Philomena Hockings

Gloria Everill Hockings was born at Longwood Street, Brisbane on the 12 April 1926, although the family soon moved to Sydney where she grew up. She was the only daughter of Mary Quinn and Frank Hockings Snr and joined two older brothers, one of whom, Frank Jnr, is still living and was able to visit Gloria two years ago. We are honoured to have Philomena’s nephew, Trevor, with us today – representing the Hockings family. It was a pleasant surprised when he arrived yesterday from Sydney.

Gloria's journey to enter religious life and work with Aboriginal people was influenced by an article she read about the Sisters of St John of God working with the people at Bungarun (Leprosarium). She arrived in Broome on the 29 May 1949 with her friend, whom many of us know as Sr Veronica McCarthy. Philomena brought with her a gift for sewing, a love of people, especially children, with a willingness to respond to any need.

The Old Convent Chapel was where, on the 8 December 1949, Gloria received the religious habit and the name of Philomena. Within weeks of her arrival she was sent to work with the girls at Holy Child Orphanage, then located on the corner of Barker and Herbert Streets, Broome. Thus began twenty-five years of caring for children and training of young women living in Old and New Balgo Missions, Beagle Bay Mission and the Orphanage in Broome. It was during these years that special relationships developed and there are many women today, and many here with us today, who will say that she was like a mother to them. That relationship continued over the years, and she loved nothing better than to receive a phone call, letter or visit from these women as they often brought their own families to meet her. She would always have time for her girls.

With the changes in religious life, and the situation of Aboriginal peoples, so too the Sisters of St John of God adapted their ministries, and Sr Philomena took the opportunity for study leave to undertake a National Pastoral Institute Diploma of Religious Education. She returned to the Kimberley in 1977 to take up Pastoral Associate positions, initially in Derby and then in Broome.

At the request of the Broome Uniting Church the Sisters took over the management of the Kimberley Bookshop in 1981, and in the management of this ministry Sr Philomena flourished as it provided broad pastoral opportunities over the next decade.

During the 1980s and 90s Philomena held various leadership roles for the Sisters, while at the same time continued pastoral work in the community. She was one of the founding group for the Broome Chapter of St Vincent de Paul; a member of the Broome Cemetery Board for many years; a volunteer at the Broome Museum for 13 years; active in the Sisters 2007 Centenary celebrations, and a volunteer at the Relationships Exhibition from 2007 only relinquishing this work in October last year.

Throughout her 68 years in the Kimberley, Sr Philomena saw and experienced many changes. She was able to experience the hand of a loving God on her through the ups and downs. In a recent article published in the Kimberley Community Profile she is quoted as saying: "I'm happy in the life I've chosen."

In the last few months of her life, Philomena embraced her illness with gentleness, and died peacefully in the company of Sisters and friends at Subiaco Convent, - where she was lovingly cared for by Sisters and Staff. It was her wish to 'come home to Broome' to be among the Kimberley people, whom she loved and served so well for over 60 years.’
Today, we thank you, Philomena, as we bid you farewell on your earthly journey. May your spirit rest in peace here among your friends, enfolded in the mystery of a loving Creator, God. The world is a better place because of your presence’.

Eulogy prepared by Sr Patricia Rhatigan

Photographs used with permission, courtesy of St John of God Heritage Centre, Broome, Western Australia