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People were important to our missionary sister, ‘Gussie’

Sr Augustine Quarless SJC died September 2. She was 95. Following is an edited version of her eulogy.

Rita Quarless was born on November 4, 1927, to O’Brian and Fidelina Quarless. The family migrated to Venezuela when Rita was a baby and returned to Trinidad after five years as Rita needed urgent medical care for her eye which was badly damaged during play.

Having to leave Venezuela also meant it was the last time Rita would see her father. The family lost not only father/husband but all their property due to civil unrest that was unravelling in Venezuela at the time.

Despite this loss, Rita’s youthful days were carefree: stealing sweets from her mother’s shop, cycling to and from the beach during holidays, and regaling the family in endless chatter—sometimes to the annoyance of her two older sisters.

Rita was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny (SJC). She began her education at Sacred Heart Girls’ when she was six years old and completed it at Providence Intermediate.

After graduating from Providence, she attended the Catholic Teachers’ College where she obtained her Teacher’s Certificate. She began her life as a teacher at Providence School and it was there that she met the young Sr Philomena Fletcher SJC who made quite an impression on her.

On February 2, 1952, at the age of 25, Rita entered the Congregation and at the novitiate received the name of Sister Augustine of Our Lady.

After taking first vows in 1954, Sr Augustine’s first Obedience was to Sierra Leone in West Africa, where she arrived by ship. The ‘black mother’—as she was called by the villagers—became quite an object of curiosity, as up until her arrival they had only known the white Irish Sisters.

Sr Augustine shared that it was from the Irish she learnt to eat bread and butter, and from the Sierra Leoneans how to lace her food with pepper. She worked in Sierra Leone for 16 years and in 1970 was assigned to The Gambia where she worked for 15 years.

While in West Africa, Sr Augustine proved herself to be a very devoted missionary Sister. As a trained teacher, she taught and administered in Primary Education both in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. She also fulfilled the role of Community Leader and Bursar.

She studied at the Pastoral Institute of East Africa and when the Province opened its Novitiate in 1975, she was appointed the first Formation Directress and served in that role until 1984.

In spite of her heavy schedule in West Africa, Sr Augustine was very much involved in parochial work. She gave great service at the Gambia Pastoral Institute lecturing on faith and morals.

It was in The Gambia that the sobriquet or nickname ‘Gussie’ was lovingly given to her by an Irish Sister. After serving in West Africa for 31 years, Sr Augustine returned to the West Indies to take care of her two ailing sisters.

By 1988, when her two sisters eventually passed on, Sr Augustine returned to her missionary life. She served for six years in the communities of Cumana, St Joseph, Pembroke Street, Maraval, and Providence fulfilling various roles as the need warranted.

In January 1994, she was assigned to Mesopotamia in St Vincent, where she worked with Msgr Michael Stewart. It was here that Sr Augustine would at last settle again doing Pastoral Ministry in nearly all the Mission Stations.

For ten years, she moved between Kingstown and Mesopotamia assisting the Sisters and engaging in parish ministry where needed. Her radio programme touched many lives and brought many to God.

At the age of 94, when Sister’s health began to fail, she was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes House Community at Arouca where she would spend her final days.

As we reminisce about Sr Augustine, we recall the gift she was to us. People were important to her. If she saw a stranger looking sad or disturbed, she would not hesitate to approach them to offer a listening ear, a word of consolation or to pray with them.

She was a paragon of confidentiality. She strictly kept the confidences of those who confided in her and she was sought after because of the sound advice she gave to others.

Sr Augustine’s sense of humour and cheerful spirit steered her through difficult times. In her early formation as a Religious Sister where life was very strict, she related many anecdotes of her and her “batch” mates getting in and out of trouble. During her long years of ill health, she kept up her spirits and never complained about her illness. She was always very grateful for the least act of kindness shown to her.

Many people enjoyed being around her because she was a great storyteller. Her stories of West Africa would make a great novel.

She also loved to sing. Her favourite songs were ‘My God Loves Me’ and ‘Climb every Mountain’. She loved ice cream and often joked about the varieties that must exist in Heaven.

She loved life and thoroughly enjoyed her overseas trips with Carl, her very devoted and kind nephew and his two children Karen and Laura Ann.

Sr Augustine was a prayerful and a very devoted Missionary Sister, with a fascinating character. She will be sorely missed.

Rest in peace, dear Sr Augustine.