On the death of her husband, Debora married Daniel Duggan, and had another daughter, Catherine, who was born in 1879. Catherine later became a Sister of Compassion as Sister Mary Jeanne. When Suzanne Aubert met Mrs. Duggan in 1889, they were living at Spring Creek; the girls were then aged thirteen and ten. They were a very close-knit family, and clearly a seed of a vocation was sown in the heart and mind of Mary at that time.
As a young woman, Mary Small had wanted to marry a Presbyterian man but was forbidden by her family. When she was twenty, she joined the Sisters of Compassion at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama. On 7 March 1896, Mary began her Novitiate and was given her Religious name Sister Mary Marcelle. She made her First Vows the following year on 19 March, 1897.
Two years later, on 6 January 1899, Sister Marcelle along with Sisters Magdalen and Agnes accompanied Mother Aubert in starting a new area of work from the one they had been accustomed to in Jerusalem-Hiruhārama – the care of the sick and poor in their own homes.
On 8 September 1900, Sister Marcelle made her Perpetual Profession. The story is told that Sister Marcelle received a message that Mother Joseph wanted to see her. She found Mother waiting with a lighted candle which she thrust into her hand, telling her: “Go into the Chapel and make an act of contrition.” Sister Marcelle did so, trembling and wondering what crime she had committed. Sister was told that she was to make her Perpetual Profession there and then. She never faltered for a second. The explanation given later was that she would not be eligible for the office of Mistress of Novices if she had only Temporary Vows. She often laughed over the fright she had when Mother Aubert gave her the candle and told her to make the act of contrition, she thought she must be going to die. Suzanne Aubert had thought that the priest had told Sister the previous evening of their intention. Sister Marcelle was noted for her obedience and for her spirit of mortification. In 1902, Sister Marcelle was elected Fourth Assistant, but she did not get her appointment as Novice Mistress until 9 March 1904.
Sister Marcelle was much loved by the Sisters, especially her Novices, and she also had a very special place in the heart of Mother Aubert. During 1908, the Novitiate was transferred to the new Home of Compassion at Island Bay. Here the Novices were to help care for the little babies who were beginning to be admitted.
It was Sister Marcelle’s frequent advice to her Novices (and it was evidently her own practice) to live one hour at a time – not to attempt a whole day, or even half a day – but to offer whatever they had to do or suffer for just one hour.
Some of her Novices have kept her thoughts:
- Be unselfish;
- Be cheerful always, and try to cheer others;
- Be honourable under all circumstances, and be trustworthy – scorning to do a mean or dishonourable act;
- Say in your heart ‘Yes, my Jesus’, every time you are told to do anything, whether you like it or not;
- Lastly, but not the least, be ready to make any sacrifice for the love of God with a cheerful, ready spirit.
The older Sisters said that Sister Marcelle and Agnes vied with one another to make the first offer to carry out any unpleasant duty or office. Later Sister Marcelle waited a while to allow someone else the honour of volunteering first. It no one offered, she was happy to do so herself, in the second place, as it were.
Sister Marcelle suffered from tuberculosis and died in 1913, in her thirty-sixth year. She was the first Professed Sister of Compassion to die during the Congregation’s twenty-eight years of existence. Sister Marcelle had prayed that the community might be with her at the end, and that it might come at a time when all could be with her, and nobody be disturbed at night. Before her death she said the she had never been unhappy – ‘My twelve years in the Convent have been truly happy ones. I love all the Sisters, and they have given practical proofs of their love for me. Is that not happiness itself?’
Everyone loved Sister Marcelle and it was a shock to the Sisters when she died on 14 January, 1913.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
04.03.1876 07.03.1896 19.03.1897 14.01.1913 Island Bay Karori Cemetery