Archived News Item

Kempsey convent closes but sisters not leaving

While the doors of the old convent in Kempsey have closed on over 100 years of Mercy history, the Sisters of Mercy Grafton are very aware of the words of the Book of Revelation: “I set before you an open door.” Sister Colleen Rhodes (Local Communications Facilitator, Grafton) reports.

One hundred and eight years after the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Kempsey they have moved out of the old convent. In the last 12 months two sisters have moved into aged care in the town and the third has found a home much more suitable for one person!

Sunday, April 27 was set aside to mark the change and movement forward. Sisters from places between Lismore and Port Macquarie processed into the parish church for the Sunday Mass celebrated by Emeritus Bishop John Satterthwaite, DD.

Before the recessional hymn, Sister Barbara Bolster (Congregation Leader) gave a brief outline of the Mercy story in Kempsey and assured the people that although the convent was now closing, the sisters were not leaving.

After Mass, sisters and parishioners moved to the convent courtyard. Sister Colleen Brady, who was born and raised in Kempsey, had prepared a ritual around a theme of opening and closing doors. Sisters read from Scripture and their Mercy Constitutions as they prayed their memories. Moving from room to room they blessed these sacred spaces then closed each door in turn.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard, parishioners were also remembering and sharing their stories.

Bishop Torriggeani, whose Diocese of Armidale included what is now the separate Diocese of Lismore, invited the Grafton Sisters of Mercy to Kempsey as early as August 1884. Since they had arrived from Bermondsey, London, only six months earlier, dividing the community was not really an option.

Initially, the Sisters of St Joseph provided sisters; they were followed by the Presentation Sisters from Lismore. When the Presentation Sisters, too, had to leave Kempsey the Grafton Sisters were better established and able to answer the call.

In 1900, five sisters travelled by steamer from Grafton to Trial Bay and then by coach to Kempsey. Their convent home was a cream stone, one-storey building, but later they moved into the old presbytery. It had a parlour, music room, small hallway and a spiral staircase which led up to the next storey with its workroom, a couple of sleeping apartments and a balcony all around. A detached kitchen, laundry, toilets, etc. were at the back of the convent.

In 1912, a new wing for boarders was added to the convent, and in 1923, further extensions were made. Schools, music and boarders, as well as the traditional Mercy work of visitation occupied the lives of the sisters. Much later, the boarders’ section was used as a women’s refuge.

Today, the sisters’ work in Kempsey is pastoral. It includes visitation of the sick in hospital and in their homes; support of various groups in the town, including the Reconciliation Group and the Mercy Associates; befriending the aged, lonely, marginalised; prayer and interest in others.

Catherine McAuley’s vision is still alive in the Macleay Valley. Though the doors of the old convent have closed on over 100 years of Mercy history, the sisters are very aware of the words of the Book of Revelation: “I set before you an open door.” (Rev. 3:10) The view from this door leads outward and into the future. With Catherine’s undaunted faith in Divine Providence, the Sisters of Mercy look forward to writing the next chapter of their story in Kempsey.


From: Sister Colleen Rhodes (Local Communications Facilitator, Grafton)