By Shelby Brooks

THE last nun in residence at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Wonthaggi after 108 years was farewelled in a special mass and art exhibition on Sunday, January 17.

Sister Helen with one of her art works which were auctioned off on Sunday.

Sister Helen Barnes lived at the parish for the last four years, but due to ill health moved back to the Sisters of St Joseph convent in December.

She said when she was asked to move to Wonthaggi, she jumped at the chance.

“I said yes before they even finished the sentence,” Sister Helen said.

“I found a home here.

“I will miss it, especially the health care workers from Bass Coast Health, and the district nurses.”

The first two Sisters to serve in Wonthaggi were recruited from Bacchus Marsh in 1912 to help establish the St Joseph Primary School, with 160 students attending in its first year.

Since then, there has always been at least one Sister in presence at the church.

Newly appointed Bishop Gregory Bennet of the Catholic Diocese of Sale said the Sisters of St Joseph’s, ‘the Joeys’, provided extraordinary service to Catholic education but after spiritual discernment, the congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph advised they could no longer sustain a pastoral presence of the Sisters in Wonthaggi.

Wonthaggi Parish Priest Father Darren Howie said Sister Helen’s energy would be missed.

Sister Helen Barnes (front centre) with friends who came to celebrate her time in Wonthaggi- Anne Hotton, Nadia Stephani, Bianca Stephani, Kaye Hotton and Erica Kurec.

“She helped show the face of Christ to the parishioners,” he said.

An avid artist, Sister Helen displayed 40 of her paintings at the parish hall on Sunday.

The art ranged in topic from bush fires, lives of women, ballerinas and Christ. Sister Helen, who has travelled Australia and the world, said she studied art in California.

“Art is an expression of yourself,” she said. About 30 of the artworks were sold through silent auctions and the proceeds will go to charities of Sister Helen’s choice.