With the death of Miss Marion Constance Craig at age 99 in April, and of her younger sister, Miss Delia Christian Craig, who died at age 91 in 2005, a loss has been suffered by the Catholic community of Melbourne on a quiet but telling scale.
Marion was born on 11 August 1907 in Bournemouth, England, and died on 20 April 2007 in Melbourne. Delia was born on 22 February 1914 in New Milton, England, and died on 7 September 2005 in Melbourne.
My Superior, Father Glen Tattersall, introduced me to Marion and her younger sister, Delia, upon my arrival in Australia from the United States in 2002. It became our custom to bring Holy Communion to these two extraordinary maiden ladies each Saturday while they were living, as they had since 1939, at 14 Adeney Avenue, Kew.
Later, when Marion and Delia made the move to a rest home, 'Perpetua in the Pines', in Donvale, we again had the pleasure, not only of bringing them the Blessed Sacrament, but also of enjoying their delicious company, for there is no other word for it.
Their very company itself provided a glimpse into another age - an age of manners and courtesies, of principles and predilections since trampled underfoot, sad to say, in the social and cultural chaos that, especially, comprised the latter part of the 20th century.
No chaos invaded their civilised sanctuary, a place reserved for pleasant converse, for mirth, for thoughtful discussion and, one sensed with certainty, for their own private prayer.
The sisters' recollections, particularly of their childhood and years of uproot from their native England and settlement with their parents and older sister, Letice (or Bonnie), in a younger Australia in 1923, held Father Tattersall and myself in mutual thrall.
Again, their knowledge of history and literature was a deep well they shared with each other and drew upon in the most delightful way to entertain their visitors. 'The Catholic Church', Delia would opine, 'had nothing to fear from the Plantagenets, and everything to fear from the Tudors'.
Very much the daughters of their Scottish father, R.S. Craig, both Marion and Delia possessed the minds and imaginations of poets. Their verse, written in their prime, reveals the distances of time, geography and thought their inspirations traversed with astonishing velocity, yet always in a very ordered way; ever ordered to an unflinching, unassailable faith in the Holy Trinity and the Catholic Church.
Always welcoming, always accessible, the Craigs' Adeney Avenue salon remains a Melbourne legend.
No mention of Marion and Delia Craig would be complete without reference to their dedication to the cause of the prevention of cruelty to animals, a cause they linked firmly with the goodness of our Creator reflected in the majesty and the fragility of His creation.
In 1971, as foundress (a word she always insisted upon) of the Australian Catholic Circle for Animal Welfare, 'The Ark in Australia', Marion Craig for many years organised the Annual Blessing of Animals at St Anthony's Church, Hawthorn, and was in fact rather a pioneer of ecumenism when her efforts to improve conditions in abattoirs in the Melbourne area in the 1970s found her in union with several other religious denominations in pursuit of the same goal.
Delia summed up the purpose of their tireless work in defence of animals: 'They cannot tell us their sufferings, you know'.
During Delia's final years, the occasional, probably seasonal appearance of an errant white male peacock and its mate in the pine forest beyond the window of her room at 'Perpetua in the Pines' garnered more excitement from her than any holiday parade might have done. Characteristic of her deeply sensitive and spiritual nature, Delia would see in the gloriously adorned male peacock Christ Our Lord, and in its docile, faithful mate, the Church and all its members.
Marion's and Delia's respect for the priesthood, bordering almost on veneration, often left Father Tattersall and myself in a humbled state of silence. No visitation would end without them both asking for the palms of our hands to kiss. Their devotion to the priestly vocation and to the priestly function was reflected more practically in their many years of service as sacristans for the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception, Hawthorn.
With first Delia, and, now, Marion, gone, we are left to ponder a world without two very virtuous, very inspiring Catholic women.
We are also left to realise in deepest gratitude that, indeed, they are more with us than ever, as advocates for the intentions of each and every member of the Latin Mass Community in Australia.
The following are examples of the sisters' poetry, the first by Delia and the second by Marion.
THE FALL OF LEAF
Like old affections that a final fate
In sudden splendour of a gracious grief,
Has conjured on the quick and from their state
Drifts down to death, so comes the fall of leaf.
* * *
Stripped branches simple to the welcoming sight
Of childhood! Now like passions pent by pain
And purged within death's devastating plight
That still must find me as a child again.
* * *
Grey branches dark against a soft grey sky!
I love them! For the smiling hour deceives.
And like them I must scatter ere I die
The passing joys that fade like make-believes.
* * *
I stand beneath and look above the boughs
And rest mine eyes upon the quiet grey,
And all my soul its second spring avows
And my whole heart toward Thy perfect Day.
(In the remote country districts of medieval England a priest would ride with the Blessed Sacrament to communicate the sick, a signal lantern slung from his horse's neck).
* * *
He came upon me hid and still
Like king within a litter set;
A light upon the drowsing hill,
The beat of hooves on turf dew wet,
A rider's face, down bent and pale,
Above a flowing linen veil.
* * *
The faint airs stirred expectantly
Before the presence where was none,
The shy stars watching from the sky
In tender confidence have shone,
The last bird winging for the next
Cried, cried his passing to the west.
* * *
Yon cock-crowned steeple far beneath,
A silent house, a tenantless,
Woke as with life-returning breath
And quickened in its loneliness,
And each white flower upon the grass
Lay smooth and sweet till he should pass.
* * *
He vanished to the sleeping east,
He took my heart, he drained mine eyes,
A stole-girt man, a lanterned beast,
What shades to tell of paradise!
But I bent down and kissed the sod,
The mark of hooves that bore my God.
Marion and Delia Craig were regular supporters of AD2000 from its very beginnings, and their writings appeared regularly in its pages over the years, notably their beautiful religious poems (examples of which are on the page opposite).
Fr John McDaniels FSSP is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and a chaplain for the Classical Roman Rite in Melbourne. The Fraternity was founded in Rome in 1988 with the blessing of Pope John Paul II to maintain the Latin liturgical heritage, and established in Australia in 2000 in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The Fraternity's headquarters is now located in Sydney with another chaplaincy in Canberra.