Mums there for mums - Madonna Magazine

Mums there for mums

Tracey Edstein 20 August 2019

Women who are finding life difficult can call into Mums’ Cottage for a chat, a cuppa and practical advice. Louise Roach is one of the passionate volunteers at the Newcastle centre.

Louise Roach is articulate, passionate and colourful – the latter literally and metaphorically.

Louise is a Waratah woman, and the home where she and her husband Gary raised their four children is not far from the home in which her much-loved parents, Pat and Ken, raised their six.

I met Louise at Mums’ Cottage in the Newcastle suburb of Holmesville. More a village than a suburb, Holmesville’s broad streets boast neatly kept homes on large blocks. However, it’s somewhat isolated and community services are limited, so Mums’ Cottage has, over the past 10 years, become a place of welcome and warmth. Mums’ Cottage has become an important place for Louise, too, and she is important to it – but we need to go back to the beginning.

Catholic Kardashians

Louise describes her family as ‘traditional Catholics’; in fact, she goes further and says, ‘We were the Catholic Kardashians – four of the six children were called to religious life/priesthood!’

Like most Catholics of the era – Louise’s parents, Pat and Ken, married in 1942 – they were at Mass every Sunday, and the children were educated at Catholic schools. ‘We said the Rosary every night, on the veranda in summer – turning the volume down as people walked by. We each led a decade and extra prayers were added. When my grandmother came to live with us, she added, “O God whose only begotten Son…” which didn’t make us happy because it made it longer.’

Religious life  

Louise’s parents prayed daily for their children to be called to the priesthood and religious life. The family was committed to Corpus Christi Parish, Waratah, and there were ‘several Josephites and a smattering of Redemptorists’ in the extended family.

Louise’s passion was music and as well as endless piano practice she recalls listening to ‘Party Line Requests’ in bed, as popular music was not deemed acceptable. ‘I was growing up in the ’60s but I had no idea about the music!’

Those prayers for vocations were clearly answered; two of Louise’s brothers were ordained, another brother entered the Marists at Mittagong (he left after 15 years but maintained a connection) and her sister entered the Lochinvar Josephites. Louise had followed her sister to St Joseph’s, Merewether, then boarded at St Joseph’s, Lochinvar, for her Higher School Certificate. Her parents were ‘committed to ensuring we each had the opportunity for as much education as possible’.

Louise describes boarding at Lochinvar as ‘like a pre-novitiate, with daily Mass, chapel visits and silence in the morning until class . . .’ She vividly recalls being told how beautiful she would look in a postulant’s veil. However, Louise had been a passenger in many family car trips to visit the seminaries at Springwood and Manly, and novitiates at Mittagong and Lochinvar. As the Rosary was prayed on the return journey, Pat would be hiding her tears behind sunglasses.

Louise felt strongly that she could not leave her mother, so when she finished school, she began studying at the Newcastle Conservatorium. That bore fruit, not only in teaching music for 40 years, but in leading the music in the parish and in various choirs and musical events. 

Women of spirit

Much of Louise’s teaching was at St Mary’s High School at Gateshead, a Josephite school. When Sr Helen-Anne Johnson rsj spoke to staff about Mums’ Cottage, a dream she had worked hard to bring to fulfilment, something stirred in Louise. She was now a grandmother, and had long been drawn to women of spirit, acutely aware of the strength of the women in her circle. Mums’ Cottage was a place for mothers to companion mothers and to offer practical, emotional and spiritual support.

When it was time for Louise to retire from the classroom, she was keen to marshal her considerable skills and experience in a new direction – and Mums’ Cottage beckoned.

Since retiring in 2016, Louise works with volunteers as they companion guests − mothers who may be worried about paying a bill or supporting a child with a disability, a grandmother caring for her grandchildren, or someone looking for a chat and a cuppa. Guests are also able to access parenting courses, craft activities and special interest groups. Mums’ Cottage accesses other agencies to provide counselling services, legal advice and emergency accommodation.

Joint initiative

Mums’ Cottage is a joint initiative of the Sisters of St Joseph Lochinvar and the Uniting Church, and it occupies the site of the Uniting Church. The church is a sacred place for Louise, a refuge amid full and unpredictable days.

Louise has no doubt that the richness of her Catholic upbringing, her extensive experience in Catholic schools and her keen sense of justice all contribute to her work at Mums’ Cottage. In fact, she admits, ‘I genuinely feel called to be here. It’s the strongest calling of my life.’

Louise’s mother used to say, ‘My children have educated me’. Louise says the same of her four children, and of the students she taught. Now other people’s Mums continue to educate her – and she returns the favour.