IT’S a tight squeeze in the foyer of Joseph House, one of the nine residential cottages at Holy Spirit, Croydon. The room, spacious and fit for 30-plus residents is rarely populated by so many guests at once; all bearing gifts of flowers, balloons and framed certificates of achievement.
May 18 is no regular day for the residents of Holy Spirit. Today, their oldest living resident and the second-eldest resident across Catholic Healthcare, turns 105 – celebrating the milestone with an excited crew of family, friends and carers, and even a member of Federal Parliament.
In raising her bat yet again, Catherine Home is defying the odds of reaching centenarian status in Australia – a feat only accomplished by some 18 individuals per 100,000. Catherine’s family, including her four children and some of her 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren - have flown in from as far as New Zealand to relish the great occasion, including a surprise visit from her son, Harry.
Joining her family and friends, and some 50 of her fellow residents at the grand party was Federal Member for Reid, the Hon. Craig Laundy. The celebrations even included an entertainer specifically chosen for her legendary rendition of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ – a tune close to Catherine’s heart.
Catherine’s story starts far beyond the last three years she’s resided at Holy Spirit. The beginning stretches back to 1912, when Catherine was born in the Queensland city of Toowoomba. It’s a tricky spelling for some, but Catherine’s memory clicks like a snap of the fingers upon hearing the town’s name – something she voluntarily spells on cue.
From Toowoomba, Catherine moved to Sydney with her mother and sister at age 23, relocating to the inner-west suburb of Stanmore, once married. She gave birth to four children – Bernard, Kathleen, Harry and Therese - Therese, the youngest of the group now working alongside her mother’s carers as a Registered Nurse in the Holy Spirit service.
Even though the later years in life brought Catherine an immense amount of joy – it’s the earlier years upon the sunny dunes of Queensland that capture the attention of Mrs Home.
From the moment Therese mentions a lolly factory her mother once worked in as a teenager, where she would manually wrap the sweets before they went to sale, a brilliant twinkle glints in Catherine’s eye and she begins to demonstrate the lolly wrapping procedure etched in her memory.
Catherine’s unpredictable liveliness and her profound impact on those around her demonstrate the connection between staff and residents - a sentiment her daughter Kath acknowledges in her mum’s birthday speech.
“Holy Spirit truly does ‘embrace the Holy Spirit’,” she says. “You never have to ask for anything twice - they go above and beyond their duty of care. It is truly a home of genuine care and love”.
Looking over at a 105-year-old Mrs Home, a strong sense of retained youth emerges in her next sentence.
“I didn’t do too bad, did I?” says Catherine, a smile dimpling her cheek.
Not bad, Catherine. Not bad at all.