Sister Laurencia Honner – 140th Anniversary

Caritas College Port Augusta Remembers

This past weekend (11th March) marked the 140th Anniversary of the death of Sister Laurencia Honner, the newly professed Sister, who in 1878 went to live and teach in Port Augusta.

The first Sisters had arrived in the town in 1871. However when Laurencia arrived, there was still no-purpose built school or church, instead a two storey building had been acquired to house the Sisters and provide a space for teaching during the week and for devotions or Mass on Sundays (there being no resident priest).

It was here in the church/school that disaster struck on Sunday 4th March, 1878. After Benediction that evening, while extinguishing the kerosene sanctuary lamp in preparation for school the following morning, Sisters Laurencia Honner and Immaculata Punyer were accidentally burnt. Years later, Sister Immaculata recalled the incident:

We were both severely burnt but dear Sister Laurencia more seriously than I.  Mother Mary was in Adelaide when she received the news that we were dying and calling for her.  She started at once but found that the last train had left; also the boat. So Mary hired a coach from one town to another undertaking the long journey by the quickest way through the rough bush country. It was over 300 miles, but she came along without any unnecessary stopping until she reached Beautiful Valley  (Wilmington) about 30 miles from Port Augusta.  It was impossible to get anyone to drive her through the dark night.  She went from place to place begging someone to lend her a horse and she would ride on to see the two young Sisters who were not expected to live through the night. Eventually a good old farmer touched by Mary’s prayers and tears consented to driver her.  (This man was Owen Harvey, Owen is buried in the Wilmington cemetery)

For most of the week, both Sisters, suffering from the burns, were nursed by the women of the local community and the local Doctor. Sr. Laurencia’s pain was excruciating and she died on Sunday 11th March. She was 19 years old.

The next afternoon, after an early morning Requiem Mass, a huge crowd gathered for her funeral and accompanied her body to her burial place at the foot of the Flinders Ranges in the Stirling North Cemetery. From the local paper we read:

 At 2.30pm a large number of people assembled to attend the funeral. The body was taken to the hearse, and followed to the Stirling Cemetery by a long line of buggies and other conveyances, containing about 100 persons. Having entered the cemetery, a procession was formed… until the grave was reached.  The celebrant then blessed the grave and went through the other portions of the ceremonies. The entire proceedings were very imposing.
Our College Leaders and SRC remember Sr Mary Laurencia Honner

It is a consoling picture we have of Mary MacKillop attending Sr Laurencia’s funeral, and staying on to comfort the Sisters.

The stained-glass window which now adorns our school, came from the old convent and was donated by Sarah and Richard Honner in memory of their young daughter.

Each year on or near her Anniversary, the Caritas College School Leaders and Class SRC’s gather around her grave, her story is retold and after the Gospel and prayers, her tomb is blessed and 19 roses are placed on this her final resting place in the shadow of the Flinders Ranges.

Helen Duke rsj

View Sr Laurencia Honner newspaper mentions (PDF)