Sister Paula Brettkelly was this afternoon remembered as a woman with a "fantastic heart," who was staunchly loyal to the people and causes she believed in and who always put others first. Sister Paula Brettkelly A Catholic nun who embraced the gay communities' fight against HIV and discrimination, Brettkelly died on Sunday after a long fight with cancer. She left messages to her friends, family, Plimmerton parishioners and "all my gay friends," to be read out at her Requiem Mass in Wanganui. She said she had enjoyed supporting gay community initiatives against discrimination and the spread of HIV, and hoped that gay people would continue to find the strength to carry on that work. Around 200 people attended the hour and a half-long service. Meanwhile, gay men closely connected to Brettkelly have paid tribute to the nun who overcame her initial prejudices against gays to become a powerful ally. Roger Swanson of the gay Catholics' support and networking group Ascent says Brettkelly was "an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary nun. For me as a gay Catholic she exemplified what my Church really was about and what it really should be. She was a warm caring person full of life and common sense." Swanson notes that she left the "comfort and safety" of her religious life "to work with those on the edges of society in a radical way. She gave herself totally to working for justice and human rights for gays and lesbians and for people with HIV and AIDS." He adds that Brettkelly was a very spiritual person who "radiated goodness and wisdom." "She was a strong supporter of gay and lesbian Catholic community and her presence and advice will be greatly missed." Former NZ AIDS Foundation boss Warren Lindberg, who headed the organisation when Brettkelly was employed there on a human rights project, says she was "an extraordinary demonstration of what Christianity can be at its very best. Her commitment to people who were marginalised extended from New Zealanders with HIV to any group whose human rights were being denied." In fact, Brettkelly worked for a time for the Human Rights Commission, "and had a deep understanding of what human rights means in daily life," Lindberg says, adding that the diminutive nun had a "profound" effect on him personally. "She helped me realise that whatever the forces against you are, sticking to your principles is always the right thing to do," he says.
Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff
First published: Wednesday, 3rd September 2008 - 10:41pm
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