Archived News Item

Gunnedah sisters gift their heritage to community

During an emotional and symbolic ceremony in Gunnedah last week, the Gunnedah Sisters of Mercy officially handed over their convent buildings to the Diocese of Armidale. The following report is from an article written by Marie Hobson, correspondent for The Namoi Valley Independent, Gunnedah’s bi-weekly newspaper.

Photo: Gunnedah Sisters of Mercy in the Convent Chapel after the handover ceremony.

The beautiful Romanesque chapel at the Convent of Mercy was the scene of an historic event in Gunnedah last Thursday when the gracious convent buildings were officially handed over to the Bishop of Armidale, Reverend Luc Matthys.

In an emotional symbolic gathering of priests, parishioners, school staff, students and past pupils, the Sisters of Mercy gifted their heritage home to the Catholic Diocese of Armidale.

The stately convent has been the focus of the enormous contribution made to the community by the sisters since January 3, 1879, when four Sisters of Mercy arrived in Gunnedah from Singleton – four years after they had come from Ennis, Ireland, in response to an invitation from the Bishop…

Speaking of the handover, Congregation Leader of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Helen Baguley, said the decision had been taken some time ago to offer the land and buildings as a gift to the Trustees of the Diocese of Armidale and, by extension, to the Parish of St Joseph Gunnedah.

“This decision was grounded in the recognition of a close association with the people of Gunnedah,” Sister Helen said. “We are conscious that what we have here has been built by people standing on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before us – many sisters and many others, both deceased and living. We regard this ‘holy ground’ as a legacy which we have held in trust for 130 years, and which we now entrust to the diocese and parish to continue to serve the needs of God’s people in whatever way the Spirit leads into the future.”

Quoting the book of Ecclesiastes, There is a time to let go, a time to hold, Sister Helen said “This is our time to let go… and for the sisters it is a time of joy and sorrow mixed! There is a deep sense of loss which carries its own pain, but there is also a deep-knowing that this is indeed our call at this time, and within this knowing is a delight. And so we are delighted to have been able to offer this gift, and delighted that the Diocese and the Parish have graciously accepted the gift and the future that this entrusts to them.”…

Bishop Matthys thanked the sisters for their generous gift to the diocese and parish, while acknowledging their enormous contribution to the wider community and their changing role in the last decades of the 20th century, when the sisters had moved from education to health and aged care, rural ministry, parish ministry, pastoral work and spiritual direction. Gunnedah Mayor Adam Marshall praised the work of the sisters and acknowledged their gift of the historic buildings which have been recognised by Gunnedah Shire Council as ‘having historical interest and value’…

The simple ritual of transfer began with the symbolic lighting of the Mercy candle which was carried to the altar by the sisters. Towards the end of the proceedings, the sisters carried the Mercy candle to the back of the Chapel and used its flame to light the St Joseph’s Parish candle, which was then carried in procession to the altar by the school captains of St Xavier’s Primary School and St Mary’s College and presented to the Parish Priest, Father Ron Perrett. The ceremony concluded with the signing of documents and the symbolic handing over of the Deeds of Property and the ‘Key of the Door’.

From: Sister Helen Baguley RSM (Congregation Leader, Gunnedah)