St. Mary's Merivale youth group on a trip to Broken River, 1981. I am standing at left. Beside me is Catherine Fuller. Kneeling, in red striped jacket is Mark McIlroy, later to be her husband.
Catherine McIlroy died on Monday. She was 49. When I was first ordained she was a member of the youth group that I ran at St. Mary's Merivale in Christchurch. Well, helped run. Selwyn and Penny Paynter (Penny has the Canterbury colours in the photo above. Selwyn is cuddling up behind her) were a seriously cool couple just a little younger than me and they were the main attraction. I did the Bible studies and drove the kids who wouldn't fit in Selwyn's Capri and kept things sweet with the vestry if something got broken; which wasn't often because they were spectacularly great kids; and none so spectacularly great as Catherine.
She was smallish, with dark serious eyes. She played the flute and helped out with music at youth services. She was intelligent and very sensible and self contained and just a little shy, which didn't seem to stop her being at the heart of pretty much everything that was going on. I can't remember a time at youth group when she and Mark weren't an item. Mark was somewhat more impetuous and certainly a lot more extroverted but they balanced each other and together were pretty much the centre of the group. They were one of those couples who are so comfortably harmonious with each other that one glance is enough to know that this relationship is right. The way they moved, the way they talked, the opinions and interests they held just seemed to fit. I can't remember exactly when they got married, but I do remember the service, which I shared with Michael Brown, the then Vicar of St. Mary's, and I remember the reception with many of the youth group present. Mark has lived all his adult life with her, and she was, truly, his other half.
I left St. Mary's in 1982 but over the years Mark and Catherine would pop up occasionally, appearing on our doorstep after long intervals looking pretty much as they did in 1981; a little more lined, perhaps, and lately a little more gray, but only a little. They had built a good life together. They had two children who are now both doing very well indeed at University. With a combination of Mark's superb interpersonal skills and Catherine's savvy, over the years they had built up a business which allowed them a measure of comfort and some exciting possibilities for the future.
Last Friday Mark celebrated his 50th birthday at a restaurant with a few good friends. Catherine was feeling a little ill, but not ill enough to stay home. By the end of the evening she was feeling a lot worse and continued to deteriorate during the weekend. On Monday she died of influenza.
After I learned of her death I went for a long walk on St. Kilda's beach, to pray for Mark and his children, but also to face my own sense of shock. The services with guitar and flute and the games of shipwreck and the studies with gestetner sheets all seem so very, very recent; but of course they are a lifetime ago: Catherine's lifetime. In this tiny span of time a lovely woman has come from the brink of womanhood to maturity, formed a home, raised children and made her contribution to her society. Now she is suddenly gone. It is all so fragile and temporary and brief.
Her funeral is on Friday in Wellington Cathedral, and Michael Brown will lead it. I am sorry I can't be there but I know Michael will do the best possible job that these circumstances allow. So I commit her to Jesus, who loved her and who loves her still.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the soul of your faithful servant Catherine rest in peace. Amen.