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Rockhampton sisters celebrate platinum jubilarians

Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy gathered recently to honour the commitment of Sisters Margaret Whelan, Mary Magdalene O’Shea and Ita Cavanagh, who this year celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their religious profession. These three women were part of a group of 21 young Irish women who sailed from Southhampton, UK in 1936 bound for a new life in Australia. Andrina Ryan RSM (Rockhampton) reports.

Photo: Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan with Sisters Ita Cavanagh RSM, Margaret Whelan RSM and Berneice Loch RSM (Congregation Leader).

On the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy gathered to honour, give thanks, and celebrate the platinum jubilarians – Sisters Margaret Whelan, Mary Magdalene O’Shea, and Ita Cavanagh. Because of ill health, Sister Mary Magdalene was unable to be present.

Bishop Brian Heenan concelebrated the Jubilee Eucharist with Fathers Grove Johnson and Frank Gilbert. He thanked the jubilarians for their witness to faithfulness and perseverance in living out their call. He also remarked, that it was fitting to be celebrating on the feast of the Assumption, “Acknowledging Mary and her perseverance as the Handmaid of the Lord.”

Sisters Ita and Margaret had family members from Ireland for the joyous occasion, as well as a number of long time friends. The Bishop said he was reminded of the tremendous gift Irish families had made to religious life here, especially to the Sisters of Mercy of the Rockhampton Congregation. It is well to note here that these three sisters were members of a group of 21 young Irish women who sailed from Southhampton, on the SS ‘Jervis Bay’, on October 7, 1936, enroute for Australia – Sister Margaret from Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow, Sister M. Magdalene from Dingle, Co. Kerry, and Sister Ita from Easkey, Co. Sligo.

Seventy-three years later, Bishop Brian said, “I wonder, did our three jubilarians ever look ahead and dream that they might see 70 years of religious life? I also wonder whether our jubilarians could have imagined what it would be like, leaving home and coming to Central Queensland – novitiate, training for nursing and teaching, and wandering through this dry and dusty land?”

Speaking to the jubilarians, he said, “Did you have any idea that life of a religious would change from what you thought it would be? Did you have any idea that the Australian society would go through a revolution of development, and that the Church we all grew up with, would be hardly recognisable as it set out to read the signs of the changing times and reach out to all? We are no longer a ghetto Church, we are called to be in the market place.”

Referring to the readings from St John chosen by the sisters, the Bishop said, “The readings you have chosen bring real joy to you this day – you have been chosen in Christ, and have lived through love in His Presence. Jesus’ words are all about the incredible intimacy we have with God through Jesus. Jesus insists that His love for us is based on friendship; and friendship includes being given intimate knowledge of Jesus, and the Father who sent Him to us. He reminds us ‘I chose you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’” (cf John 15:16)

Addressing the jubilarians, Bishop Brian said, “Dear jubilarians, as you look back on your many years of ministry as Sisters of Mercy, we hope that you can see that God used each of you to produce real fruit. There are literally thousands of people who have known you, been taught by you, nursed by you, visited by you, advised by you, who are everlastingly grateful that you came into their lives. It is not only your special ministry, but your witness as religious sisters which has been gift to so many. Right to this morning, and on to the future, till the time comes to leave this world, ‘you will be My Witnesses.’”

“Life is a huge mystery. The older we become, the deeper the mystery becomes. Yet, we are called to live the mystery, to be enriched by the mystery. I love the expression ‘God comes to us, disguised as our life,’ and it simply means that God is lovingly active in the mystery as it unfolds.”

The Bishop thanked God for the life of the jubilarians, and for their families who have so loved and supported them. In conclusion, he said, “May I honour each and every Sister of Mercy throughout the diocese, for the gift that you have been, and continue to be to the people of God around you.”

At the celebratory dinner which followed, Sister Joanne Molloy proposed a toast of thanksgiving to the jubilarians. She said, “Already, in your teenage years, you were ‘trail-blazers’ – you were stepping out in faith, taking a risk, exhibiting a strength and a courage that would stand you in good stead for the rest of your lives. These are surely the characteristics and the qualities which, over the years, have been shaped by the hand of God as you responded to the countless challenges of life. You have been inspired by the charism and vision of our own Catherine McAuley. We thank God, and we thank you for your faith-filled lives. Today, we congratulate you very sincerely, and we claim you as our own ‘living treasures.’”

From: Sister Andrina Ryan RSM (Rockhampton)