Sisters of Mercy celebrate 150 years in Melbourne
At St Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday March 11, over 1500 people gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Sisters of Mercy in Melbourne. Gathered in the cathedral were Sisters of Mercy from Ireland, Newfoundland, New York and New Zealand, and from all parts of Australia. They were joined by hundreds of their colleagues and friends some of whom had travelled far and wide to join with them in celebrating 150 years of Mercy in Melbourne, Victoria and Tasmania.
Archbishop Denis Hart was the principal celebrant of the Eucharist and he was joined by Archbishop Adrian Doyle of Hobart, Emeritus Archbishop Frank Little, Bishop Peter Connors of Ballarat and many priests who had various links with the Sisters of Mercy. Sister Joan Wilson, Chair of the 150 Planning Committee, welcomed the congregation. She said that while we were remembering a significant event, what we were essentially celebrating was the mercy of God present in our lives.
Mass was preceded by a procession of women and men representing Mercy life and ministry today – Sisters of Mercy from Ursula’s places, Newfoundland, Perth, Melbourne and Australia, Sisters of Mercy in formation and the oldest professed sister in the Melbourne Congregation. The various ministries represented included education health, child and family care, aged care, multimedia, parish ministry, pastoral care, homelessness and work in justice.
The choir, a group of sisters and friends, was directed by Geraldine Wilson rsm with her usual expertise, and Roger Heagney conducted the congregation. With the choir accompanied by the organ and a brass quartet, the beautiful cathedral was filled with truly joyful song.
Archbishop Hart thanked the Sisters of Mercy on their contribution to the Church over one hundred and fifty years, noting the fortune of Melbourne in having Mother Ursula Frayne as foundress. In 1834, Ursula was the eleventh person to join Catherine McAuley in the newly established Sisters of Mercy in Dublin and she experienced first hand Catherine’s vision, courage, humour and compassion. All these attributes, and more, were characteristic of the Mercy ministry of Ursula Frayne, her first companions, Anne Xavier Dillon and Joseph Sherlock, as they have been of the work of the Sisters of Mercy since that time.
In her address to the congregation, the Melbourne Congregation Leader, Sister Kath Tierney (pictured at the lecturn) thanked the celebrants, the Sisters of Mercy and the people who had joined with them for this happy occasion, emphasizing that in working together, so much is possible in extending the reign of our merciful God. The life and works of the Sisters of Mercy will flourish into the future while sisters and lay people continue to work together in service of those who are disadvantaged. Sister Kath also spoke of the many changes in religious life over time since the days of Ursula recognized the vital place religious hold in the life of the church.
As the Sisters of Mercy left the cathedral at the conclusion of the Mass, the congregation burst into warm applause. All then gathered in the gardens of Parliament House for afternoon tea and an exchange of stories with friends connected in Mercy.
It was always the hope of the Sisters of Mercy that this moment of celebration in their story would be a time itself of mercy, a sharing of the faithful love and tenderness that God has for each of us. The Sisters and those who work with them are privileged and proud to carry the name of Mercy and understand that it challenges them to be a light of hope, a way of freedom and a source of truth.
The celebratory Mass on Sunday was the culmination of a week of celebrations for the Sisters of Mercy. The opening highlight was a Public Lecture delivered by Sister Deirdre Mullan (pictured), an Irish Sister of Mercy who represents Mercy Sisters worldwide at the United Nations. She addressed a packed audience at Knox Theatre of the Australian Catholic University on Tuesday March 6, the exact anniversary of Ursula Frayne’s arrival in this city. In her presentation, titled Journey to the Heart, Sister Deirdre told the story of Mercy, the Ireland from which Ursula came, the story of Mercy in this ancient land, and the yet unwritten story of Mercy, of a new and liberating world of Mercy inspired by the “˜Dreaming’ – the Dadirri experience. In an inspiring way, those present were challenged to the reality that our Mercy journey is unfinished business, that we are never too young or too old to do anything and we are called to move to those places where the living water springs and engage with the movement that beckons us to make the journey to the heart. In so doing we will move from thinking “charity” to “doing justice”.
On Friday evening the Sisters gathered in the chapel at Fitzroy named in honor of Ursula Frayne and recalled the journeys of this great woman – Newfoundland, Perth and Melbourne. Following this was the unveiling of three beautiful stain glass windows in the school depicting Mercy Past, Mercy Present and Mercy in the Future. Sister Kath and her Leadership team hosted a meal for international and interstate Sisters of Mercy on Saturday. It was a most enjoyable evening and provided the opportunity for the Melbourne Congregation to present a memento to each group of Mercy Sisters represented – a photo of the Ursula Frayne Memorial Chapel.
For the occasion of the 150th anniversary, several resources have been produced including a Reflection Resource and a Curriculum document which are still available from the Mercy Congregation Centre Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: (03) 9499 1577. Further information can be found on the website of the Melbourne Congregation at www.melbmercy.org.au
Sister Joan Wilson RSM
Chair 150 Planning Committee