Shakespeare’s words from his drama, Romeo and Juliet, suit this story well, I think.
In the end, “What’s in a name? After all, a rose, by any other name, smells just as sweet!”
Well, sometimes, a lot can be in a name!
It was while I was living in Cygnet that I achieved something worthwhile, with a name change.
Long before that, I decided to change the name my mother had chosen for me, hopefully with the help of Dad.
It was Mary, the name I had until I was 15.
As a matter of fact, I still kept it as a nun because, in those days, thanks to the insistence of our Archbishop at the time, Mary was not only to precede our name whatever it was, but the full name was to be used when we addressed each other.
I found that so hard, and so artificial. I was overjoyed when the practice seemed to somehow slip away. And now, as a Josephite sister, the new name I received was Angela, but still prefaced, in theory, by Mary.
I was Sister Mary Angela.
After Vatican II, many other Sisters made the change to their original baptismal name.
But not me!
I liked my name.
And a very special niece was named after me – I didn’t like to let her down. She was the daughter of a dearly-loved brother of mine, Michael, and his attractive, happy-go-lucky wife, Pauline.
It was since Vatican II that we realised that our original call to follow Christ is not so much when we became nuns.
Like all Christians, it is actually when we are baptised. So that is why many of us changed back to our original baptismal names.
But that is not really why I changed.
Someone had given me a packet of notepaper with the letter M on it. Jokingly, I remarked to my mother: “Maybe I should change my name back to Mary?”
But Mum took it seriously. Her face lit up and she said: “That would be lovely!”
I decided I would do it if only to give her this happiness. So I talked to my leader about it, and the change was made!
I may have made my mother happy. But there was another follow-up to this decision that was the happiest result of all.
* * * * * * * *
Living with me at the time was the very modest and very humble Sister Benigna.
She disliked her name, especially as her unpleasant, rather racist nick-name among her pupils was Sister Nigger!
And even among her friends, Benny-Bones!
Certainly, for Sr Benigna, her name did not “smell just as sweet” as any other name!
And so, the moment I walked in with the news of my name change, the rather timid Benigna smiled broadly, and announced: “And I will have mine changed, too.”
The next time she was in Hobart, Benigna visited our leader in her office.
She returned home with a beautiful name.
Born in Cygnet, she now bore the name she had received at baptism, and by which she had been known to everyone in the district, Rose Kelly!
What made it so apt was that Sister Rose tended the fine rose bushes surrounding the Cygnet church and convent.
Looking rather stern in the photo above! Not really Rose – she was a strict, but kind, teacher, with a cheerful smile, betraying a roguish sense of humour and a love of nature.
For many years, you could see her out among the multi-coloured, sweet-perfumed flowers, pruning the bushes, weeding the gardens around them, or picking a bunch as a gift for her sister, or for the altar.
I felt glad that it was my change that had empowered Sister Rose to make hers into a name that smelt much sweeter – like her roses!
Now Rose is in Heaven. There, I am sure, she is surrounded by the most beautiful roses, much more multicoloured and sweet-smelling than those she had ever cultivated!
And she doesn’t have to do that back-breaking work of tending them! They just bloom so beautifully – with God, as the gardener!