Archived News Item

Wilcannia-Forbes diocese pays tribute to Mercy sisters

A gathering in Parkes on Sunday November 19, 2006 enabled a rare panoramic view of Mercy life and ministry in the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese of NSW. The day was typically hot and dry and mercy women had come from distant parts of Australia to be present, to celebrate together with the clergy and people of the diocese.


Father Peter Unwin, Parish Priest of Parkes had wanted to pay tribute to the Sisters of Mercy for their contribution to the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes over many decades. He told the gathering he wanted to respond to the continuing valued presence of the nine sisters still living in Parkes at the Southern Cross Village. He sees their continuing deep and compassionate involvement with the local parish and Parkes community as worthy of celebration and rejoicing. He gathered a committee around him (Chaired by Bernie Crowe). They learnt that many sisters who had worked in the diocese were interested in returning to Parkes to join the celebration.


On November 19, 9:30 am Mass in Holy Family Church was crowded. Sisters from the Wilcannia-Forbes, Bathurst, Melbourne and Parramatta Congregations had followed up their links and sense of belonging to the story of this diocese by travelling to Parkes for the event. Bishop Chris Toohey, celebrating the liturgy with Father Unwin, welcomed all and spoke of the sisters as “good ambassadors” of the mission of God. Friends, family, ex-students and co-workers joined in the celebration and the lively storytelling, sharing of news and gossip, so typical of the rural scene that accompanied the cups of tea in the parish hall after the Mass.


At midday almost three hundred (there were many more of the earlier ceremony who could not fit!) gathered at the Parkes Golf Club for a delightful luncheon and a continuation of the telling of stories. Sisters Marie Agnes Carey, Hazel Baker, (reading Rita Crowley’s presentation in her absence due to illness) and Christine Aitken remembered their school days, their earlier years as religious and the gifts they brought as Mercy religious to the schools of the western towns, to the hospital and nursing homes. The joy, good humour, love of the life they were living, the places they inhabited and the people with whom they walked was evident.


The Bishop, presenting a formal tribute to the sisters, reminded us all that there are sisters working in the diocese at present. He named the women in Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Cobar, Parkes, Forbes and Peak Hill as carrying on a wonderful tradition of Mercy presence to enliven the Church in the diocese.


Sisters Nerida Tinkler (Institute President) and Pat Lynch, (Wilcannia-Forbes Congregational Leader) accepted the presentation of a “˜tribute plaque’ on behalf of the sisters.


In her response, Sister Nerida Tinkler gratefully acknowledged Bishop Chris Toohey, the people of Parkes Parish and those who had organised the “˜tribute event’.


“To see so many people, many of whom have travelled to be here is an absolute joy and occasion for reunion!” she said.


“At a time when our country and families are experiencing such severe drought and hardship, taking time for celebration is uplifting and a sign of the hope we all need to keep alive in these times – a tribute to the faith of rural people.”


Nerida went on to outline the ways in which many sisters – about 350 to 400 – have served the needs of the people in the diocese over the years.


“We set about giving practical support by providing education, religious and secular, in infants, primary and secondary schools; assisting country children by conducting boarding schools; visiting the sick and needy and families of students, teaching music, assisting in parishes, establishing the Mater in Forbes and contributing to the social and cultural developments in the towns.”


I had worked with Nerida and Bishop Doug Warren on the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocesan Education Board throughout the 1970s. Now I was pleased to have this celebratory opportunity to view this panorama of Mercy life and to thank the many Mercy women who had contributed so lovingly and faithfully to the Australian Church.


Isolation, heat, distance, the difficulties of rural life, had enabled rather than hindered a wonderful expression of love and compassion by these women. The spirit of independence and responsibility, flexibility, hope, dry humour and common sense I glimpsed in the stories that were shared were but the surface of a deeper loyalty and faith. Catherine McAuley would have enjoyed the happening. I am proud to be part of the Institute that has nurtured such courage, independence and creativity.


Thank you Father Unwin for the inspiration. Thank you to all who attended, organised or helped make the event such a celebration of Mercy life and spirit.




From: Sister Paula Smith RSM