Archived News Item


On Monday 14 September, 2015 Sacred Spaces in Singleton NSW had over 200 Year 4 students visit Sacred Spaces for a “Mercy Works Day” organised by Maureen Rak and Helene O’Neil.  The local newspaper reported the event.

The spring serenity enveloping the immaculate grounds of ‘Sacred Spaces’ at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Singleton was shattered  as 200 year four students from various Newcastle Catholic primary schools paid a visit.

But the noise associated with the energetic students was welcomed, and reminded the sisters of their teaching days. The pupils were there to learn more about why their recent fundraising efforts for the Institute’s fundraising arm, Mercy Works, were important. Their respective schools had each held ‘blue days’ to raise money for the charity’s Little Learning Centre in Alice Springs.

And, where better to do this than at the “spiritual home” of the inspirational Sisters who founded the charity, and the very schools they attend today. ‘Mercy Works’ joint central region coordinator, Helene O’Neil says students from the area fundraise for the charity annually.

“This year all the schools, St John’s Lambton, St James Kotara South, St Columba’s Adamstown, St Therese’s New Lambton and St Patrick’s Wallsend, decided to pool their resources and hold blue days,” she explains.  “So then we were thinking of how it would all culminate and we decided coming here to experience the spiritual home of the sisters first hand was the best way.”

The day saw the large group broken into seven smaller ones and rotated through parts of the convent, including the old kitchen /boarder’s dining room, Ms O’Neil says. When The Singleton Argus caught up with one group in the refectory of the amazing old building, the eager students were hanging on the every word of Sister Val O’Hara. Her honest and colourful recollections of the time she spent living at the convent, and teaching at what was St Xavier’s Primary School down the road, captured their attention.

Sister O’Hara says every minute of their day was accounted for and they had to adhere to a strict routine known as the Honorium. “It means every hour of the day,” she explains. “We had to get up at 5am and be in the chapel by 5.30am for meditation or silent prayer then we had to do our ‘charges,’ or lots of physical work, before teaching at 9.30am. Recreation time meant doing things like repairing our socks or tagging our clothes not actually relaxing or playing sport, but that was not until after school finished at 4.30pm.”

This surprised many of the students, especially when Sister O’Hara told them she “was not sure exactly what went on in schools today?” “We also had to eat all our meals in silence except for on special Holy days.”

She also delved deeper into the rich history of the Sisters of Mercy – a congregation of Catholic women dedicated to serving people who suffer from injustices related to poverty, sickness or lack of education. They draw inspiration from Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, 1831, to alleviate the social and spiritual ills of the time. Bishop James Murray invited the Sisters to the then Diocese of Maitland in 1875, and on August, 31  ten Sisters arrived in Singleton commencing their works of mercy – education, care of orphans, visitation of the sick and elderly.

Through ministries which change with the needs of the times, the Sisters strive to know God’s loving kindness in their own lives and to share it with others.

With thanks: Article and photos – Shannon Dann, Singleton Argus.

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