Going Out on a Limb
7 December 2016
On a Christmas tree which stands in the ‘new’ McAuley House is the message ‘Remember you are of great value in this world.’ Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, went out on a limb in 1827 when she opened the House of Mercy in Baggot St, Dublin, for women who were homeless. The Sisters of Mercy are still taking risks to ensure women have a safe home and this week their latest venture, the new McAuley House, was opened in Melbourne.
A few years ago, the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea provided $7 million to build a beautiful home in Footscray for women who are homeless because of family violence or ill health. This year, the Andrews Labor Government contributed $4 million. Next week, women from the ‘old house’ will move into the new 25-bedroom McAuley House in Pickett St Footscray. The idea for a ‘new’ McAuley House, to replace the current building in North Melbourne, which was built as an orphanage in the 1930s, emerged four years ago. Construction of the 25 bedroom, four-storey building, which began two years ago, is now complete and the women are expected to move in before Christmas.
The day before the Opening, more than 40 Sisters of Mercy gathered to mark the occasion. Sr Kath Tierney rsm, McAuley Community Services for Women board member and a driving force in getting the new McAuley House built, reminded everyone why the idea took shape and why the Sisters of Mercy continue to invest in the care and safety of women and on the following night McAuley House, Victoria’s first purpose built accommodation and support hub for women who are homeless, was officially opened.
The opening celebration was attended by politicians, Sisters of Mercy, donors, supporters and staff. As part of the Opening, two women who have had a long association with McAuley House gave a compelling account of their arrival at McAuley House and the impact it has had on their lives.
Jocelyn Bignold, CEO for McAuley Community Services for Women, said: “Our objective was to build a sustainable building that offers women facing homelessness a safe community that promotes respect and values the dignity and worth of each woman. Ultimately, McAuley House is designed to foster a spirit of harmony, security and empower women to achieve independence. We all deserve decent homes and supportive environments. We have a transformational building which we hope will stimulate change in the lives of those who live here”.
McAuley House has a specialist focus on those women who have experienced, or are experiencing, family violence and mental illness. In addition to accommodation, it will also act as a hub for community services that will reach over 100 women each year. New programs that are sensitive to women’s specific needs will be pioneered, including education and employment, health, social and recreation opportunities.
“This building will become the hub of our work – we are open every day of the year and will reach many more women through this site; particularly women now stuck in refuges,” Ms Bignold told guests. “We tailor our support so that each person can move on confidently and remain safely housed once they leave, always knowing that they can call back in for companionship or support if they need it.”
Sr Kath Tierney said the opening of the new house brings together three important aspects of our lives as Mercy people and Sisters of Mercy. The Gospel, Mercy tradition and apostolic ministry. Here is an extract from her talk:
“In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:
Come you whom my father has blessed, take for your heritage the Kingdom prepared for you, since the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you fed me – thirsty and you gave me to drink.
I was a stranger and you received me in your home, naked and you clothed me.
I was sick and you took care of me in prison and you visited me.
The righteous will then answer – When Lord did we ever see you hungry and fed you or thirsty and gave you a drink
When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, naked and clothed you. When did we ever see you sick and in prison and visit you.
The King will reply “I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important of my sisters and brothers you did this for me”.
The provision of this facility is the home that Jesus spoke about – a home that will be a safe haven for those in need. This facility will continue the legacy and tradition of Catherine McAuley – a woman of vision, foresight and a woman of deep compassion.
Catherine’s greatest desire was to provide a home – not just shelter, but a home and hospitality for women, firstly in Ireland and then in many parts of the world. This was to be done with – open hearts and open hands – giving and receiving many graces from the women resident in the House of Mercy. The tradition of Mercy and the legacy of Catherine is lived out each day in the engagement that will take place here in this new facility.
For us, Sisters of Mercy today, we take pride in the Apostolic Ministry which is evident here and in the Board, staff and volunteers of McAuley Community Services for Women….the staff and volunteers are the face of Mercy – each and every day, as they care for the women, advocate on their behalf and give them hope for a life beyond McAuley Community Services for Women.
Thank you to each one who will care for the women who will make this place their home.
On behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, I wish each resident well as she takes up her place here and I assure each one of our prayers in the future. We are proud of this new home which is an expression of Mercy Ministry alive in our World today.”
Messages to: Rosie Hoban
Enews thumbnail image: Christmas tree where well-wishers leave a message on the Christmas tree at the new McAuley House.