Sr Phil still Young at heart
If the Hilltops Council was looking for a new face to head up a tourism campaign, they couldn’t do much better than sign up Sister Philomena Sewell. There’d be just one condition… you’d have to call her Sr Phil.
A long-time resident of Young, Sr Phil has lived in a number of country towns. She favours Young above all others, but as retirement beckons, she needs to move.
“I’m just about to go to a retirement area and I’m leaving because my health is not allowing me to care for myself enough,” Sr Phil said.
“I keep saying to people my head says it’s the right thing to go, but my heart doesn’t want to.”
Sr Phil has spent 36 years in Young with just a two year stint in Cobar in between, and feels very much a part of Young.
“I just love it,” she enthused.
Born and raised in Bathurst, Sr Phil moved to Wagga in her youth to join the Presentation Sisters. While the two cities bare many similarities, even that move was a culture shock for Sr Phil.
“For a start Wagga didn’t have mountains around it,” she said.
“Where I lived I could just look at the mountains and I loved that. And it was just very different. Where you grow up and know everybody is very special and I didn’t know anyone when I entered.
“Also, when I lived there, we were enclosed, and I was in charge of the boarders, so for me, Wagga was the fence around the boarding school.”
In retirement, or more correctly the second phase of her retirement, as technically she retired from teaching 10 years ago, Sr Phil will return to Wagga where her order is based and this time around she’ll have the chance to see a little more of the town.
Today there are only about 50 Presentation Sisters remaining in Australia, and of her order in Young, Sr Phil has been last nun standing for the last 20 years. But she never feels lonely.
“I’m happy in my own skin,” she said.
“And I’ve been very fortunate to have so many caring people around me anyway so I don’t feel isolated.”
In her retirement, Sr Phil hasn’t had a specific role, but rather sees her role as being a presence. But that’s busier than it sounds. Since retiring from teaching, she has helped run a faith and life group in that assisted people with disabilities and was involved in assisting a group of around 70 Afghan refugees in town to learn English.
Bathurst, Cobar, Wagga, Hay, Canberra and Young (and a spell in Sutherland)… Sr Phil is a genuine country girl and has never wanted it any other way. And when asked just why she loves Young the most, she says simply, the people.
“They are the people I am familiar with, and they are the people I admire so much with how they struggle,” she said.
“I think country people are tremendously strong people, in lots of ways, but strong in faith as well. In fact these people are an inspiration to me.”
“I love the simplicity of the people. Country people say it like it is and I’m not very good at bunging it on so I appreciate that. I’ve just met so many great people who don’t know they’re great and have allowed me to enter their lives and have nourished me as much as I think I nourished them. “
The parishioners of St Mary’s Parish would dispute just who got the most nourishment from whom. And in retirement in Wagga, Sr Phil will remain very much Young at heart.