Marnie Kennedy, 1927 - 2011.

Spiritual leader ... Sister Marnie Kennedy was dearly loved for her generosity and warmth.

Spiritual leader ... Sister Marnie Kennedy was dearly loved for her generosity and warmth.

Sister Marnie Kennedy was a nun and an educator, counsellor, activist, spiritual leader and defender of the rights of the dispossessed and marginalised. She was greatly valued and dearly loved for her warmth, grace, wisdom, generosity of spirit and capacity for love.

She loved family and friends, enjoyed her social life and rejoiced in the achievements and happiness of others. As well, her powerful sense of duty helped her lead a life of value.

She loved her church, even though she wearied of its leadership. She believed the role of women in the church was undervalued and looked forward to a time when their full potential could be realised.

Kennedy was educated at Ashbury with the Ursuline Sisters, as a boarder at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Rose Bay and at the University of Sydney. She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1948, then completed her university studies before taking her final vows in Rome in 1956.

Kennedy had deliberately and joyfully chosen to leave mainstream society and embrace a life of contemplative prayer. In the mid-1950s, she could not have foreseen where this commitment would lead.

For the next two decades, she worked as a teacher and later, as principal of Sacred Heart schools in Rose Bay and Elizabeth Bay. Most of those years were spent in an enclosed convent environment, wearing the full habit, nurturing young novices and students.

However, when Vatican II came, bringing an end to the restrictions of this way of life, Kennedy welcomed its changes.

She wrote of that time: ''Vat II broke open for us - and for me in particular - a whole new vision of life. For 20 years I have been totally enclosed while, at the same time, endeavouring to educate young women in their senior years at school to face an ever-changing world. In many ways, these young women were my educators.''

She greatly valued her involvement with the Jesuits from the mid-1970s. After studying at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, she joined the spiritual direction team at the Jesuits' Canisius College in Pymble. As a spiritual director, she conducted retreats and helped many people come to know God as loving and compassionate rather than demanding and judgmental.

Her brother, Father Ted Kennedy, as parish priest at St Vincent's in Redfern, was bringing a more open and inclusive church to some of Australia's most marginalised people. Redfern had become home to many Aboriginal people from all over NSW, especially for members of the stolen generations finding a new connection with their people.

Kennedy's connection with Redfern led her to what she saw as her most formative experience. She embarked with others, including the late Sister Maureen Flood, in offering ''street retreats'' in the inner city. In this work, Kennedy formed a close and lasting connection with the poorest, most powerless and most marginalised people.

In 1987, with Sister Patricia Ormesher, she moved to Redfern to continue her religious work.

The last years of Kennedy's life, after the death of Ted in 2005, were difficult. She was deeply disappointed by what she saw as the deliberate dismantling of all that he and others had built over 30 years at St Vincent's.

In these circumstances, she did as she had always done - she said what she thought and did what she thought was right.

She gave unfailing support to the community, writing frequently to authorities about the injustices she perceived.

Marnie Kennedy is survived by her niece, Margie, nephews John, Mark and Peter and their respective families.

Kathleen Gilbert