By Deb Warrier
Edited by Jamie O’Brien
Much loved and spritely Greenwood parishioner, Lillian Fitzsimons turned 100 years young on January 22, this year.
The occasion was marked together with family and friends at Mass at the All Saints Church Greenwood Parish, celebrated by former Parish Priest Fr Vinh Dong and concelebrated by Parish Priest Elver Delicano and Resident Priest Fr Benny Calanza and a congregation of some 200 people.
The Mass was followed by an overwhelming morning tea, together with some 70 well-wishes, including her brother, Fr Noel Fitzsimons.
Speaking to freelance journalist Debbie Warrier for The eRecord, Ms Fitzsimons reflected on the past 100 years of her life.
Growing up on a farm in Minnivale, Western Australia with eight other siblings, she was baptised at the age of five along with three other siblings by a priest who had travelled from New Norcia on a horse and a cart.
Shortly after, the family moved to Carlisle and had to walk five miles to get to Church.
At the age of 11, she received the sacrament of Holy Communion and Confirmation on the same day from Archbishop Patrick Clune at the Victoria Park Parish.
Ms Fitzsimons says she remembers having a happy childhood, blissfully unaware of the family’s poor financial situation.
Her financially strapped parents even took in another child at the earlier request of his late grandparents.
She recalled her Protestant-turned-Catholic mother told her children stories from scripture.
“That was my first introduction to the Christian faith and it has never, ever left me,” she said.
Ms Fitzsimons went on to speak about her father, a man who impressed on his children the importance of good manners, but noting that both parents exemplified kindness.
After completing High School, Ms Fitzsimons was the recipient of a one-year scholarship to Business College, with plans to become a secretary.
On completion of the course she completed a course in shorthand of Hansard reports. It was then that she realised she wanted to become a reporter.
However, with Australia still in the middle of the Great Depression, there was a job shortage.
So at the age of 15, she began work as a dressmaker.
After getting married at the age of 23, Ms Fitzsimons was blessed with the birth of her four children; two boys and two girls, whom she called ‘the song in my heart.’
Throughout the course of her life, Ms Fitzsimons also co-started and worked in a St Vincent de Paul’s shop as Manager for ten years.
With her family now including 12 grandchildren and more great-grandchildren then she can count, Ms Fitzsimons lives independently, having chosen her home because it was walking distance to the Greenwood Parish, which she describes as having a “wonderful atmosphere.”
Undertaking the daily walk for Mass is not enough for Ms Fitzsimons however, so she has a treadmill at home, which she walks on for half an hour everyday.
Thanks to her professed love of words, she quotes poetry or listens to talking books at the same time and at night in bed she spells words backwards to keep her mind sharp.
Ms Fitzsimons also spoke of her prayer life and wryly noted, “I pray for the world and my family and by the time I finish praying for them, I’m out of breath!”
She added that she also prayed for relatives who had passed away, the dying, those who have no one to pray for them, anyone who asked for her prayers and herself, including smaller prayers throughout the day, like thanking God when she finds her glasses.
Asked for advice gleaned from her 100 years of life, she said, “The most important thing is love and respect for others.
Be nice to people whether they are good, bad or indifferent – they’re still human beings” and added, “Many people carry the burden of not being able to forgive. Turn that page and close that chapter. Start again.”
In honour of her century birthday milestone, Ms Fitzsimons received her Apostolic Blessing from Pope Francis and letters of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II, Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and two local MPs, she said.
She also celebrated with 140 family members at the Swan Sailing Club, and had separate smaller celebrations with her nephews and friends she regularly plays cards with.
The secret to her longevity was simple, as the ever-youthful centenarian joked, “I never smoked, drank or went out with bad men!”
More seriously, she said, “I put my long life down to God. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. God has the upper hand.”
Ultimately, Ms Fitzsimons credited going to Mass as the source of her blessings in life and the impetus that keeps her going.
With infectious positivity, she testified, “I always consider myself to be the luckiest person on earth. My faith is beyond belief!”