The spirit of friendship

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Photo above, taken on the steps of Ormond College, 1960: L to R. Back row: Janice Brown, Jean Shadforth, Olive Howell, Mary Moodie. Centre: Margaret Lochhead, Joan Burnup. Front: Valmai Harper, Barbara Peach, Louise Baker.


















Half a century melted away when six self-proclaimed ‘old girls’ gathered to reminisce on the 50th anniversary of their training as Presbyterian Deaconesses. Nine young women studied together from 1962 to 1964 at Rolland House and Ormond Theological College. Six of the nine gathered again at Catherine Ritchie House in Mount Martha one weekend in October last year.

Mary Moodie travelled from Bundaberg, Louise Mattay (Baker) from Katoomba and Jean Shadfield from Bendigo. The other three women – Margaret Carroll (Lochhead), Olive MCahon (Howell) and Barbara Higgins (Peach) – all live in Melbourne.

The reunion was organised by Deaconess Valmai Schmidtke, who sadly passed away the week before the gathering took place. Ms Schmidtke had suffered bronchiectasis since childhood.

Barbara Higgins said in spite of her illness, Ms Schmidtke had lived a full and rich life as a deaconess, a wife, mother and grandmother.
Others missing from the original group were Joan Cazers (Burnup) who lives in England and Janice Brown, who died in 1997.

Although saddened by the recent death of their friend, the women all felt her presence among them. In an email sent from England, Joan Cazers wrote: “I shall never forget her glorious giggle, her energy in the Lord’s work in spite of having such a frail body, and her kind way with people.”

As the women spent the weekend reminiscing over old photographs and memories they all agreed that the loss of their friend added to the poignancy of the weekend.

“In a strange way, Valmai’s death made the time together more meaningful,” said Ms Mattay. “I feel really grateful that Valmai had the vision to bring us all together.”

50 years on at Catherine Ritchie House: Jean Shadforth, Barbara Higgins, Mary Moodie, Olive McCahon, Louise Mattay, Margaret Lochhead

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