Homily to mark the departure of the Sisters of Mercy, Killaloe town, Friday, 7th of December, 2018
Introducation and words of Welcome
Joining with the Parish Priest, Fr. James Grace and with Fr. Brian Geogheganwhowas PP here for 14 yearsI welcome Sr. Peggy Collins, Provincial Leader and all the Sisters of Mercy along with the many parishioners of Killaloe Parish, past and present. Special welcome to the last three Mercy sisters to reside in the convent here in Killaloe, Sr. Noreen O’Rourke, Sr. Attracta Duggan and Sr. Teresa McNamara.
Appreciation and gratitude for 129 years of Mercy Service
We gather during this Mass to give thanks to the Lord for the work of the Sisters, to express our gratitude to them for what they have done and to reflect on what they have meant to the people of Killaloe for 129 years. Our celebration is tinged with a certain sadness because we say farewell to the Sisters who were close to the very heartbeat of this community over the years.
A story of Visionary Pioneers
In the work of Church historian, Fr. Kieran Waldron in his book “Out of the Shadows” – the work of the sisters of Mercy is referred to as “the story of visionary pioneers” in accounting for the great work of the Mercy sisters did in so many pockets of the country. These were people who put so much on the line in their huge efforts to make hope a concrete thing, to make dreams come true. As the Sisters set foot here in Killaloe, it was a difficult and challenging time post land agitation nationally and considerable poverty all over the country. The Annals of the Sisters of Mercy testify to the way in which the Sisters worked and the sacrifices they made in caring for the poor of the area as well as the sick and uneducated.
Plans for inviting the Sisters of Mercy take root
One could say that the story of the sisters of Mercy in Killaloe took root or began with the appointment of Fr. Nicholas Power as PP here in 1852. He became coadjutor bishop of Killaloe in 1865. In 1867 he built what became known as the Bishop’s Palace the building that was to become the convent of Mercy some years later. Fr. James Ryan, a native of the parish took over from Nicholas Power as coadjutor bishop in 1871. From the many pastoral appointments he had previously in the diocese he saw the huge amount of poverty in the surrounding area and the lack of education and he resolved to have a community of sisters of Mercy in every town in the diocese – in his own words “not only to serve as houses of prayer but to act as permanent institutions for care of the sick and indigent and for the education of poor children”. During his lifetime he did not succeed in establishing a convent in Killaloe but plans were set in train. He died in 1889 leaving concrete plans for that to happen. The new bishop, Thomas McRedmond, anxious to fulfill the wishes of his predecessor moved to Ennis and left way for the establishment of a convent in the former bishop’s house that year. On tommorrow’s date, December 8th 5 sisters of Mercy were met by a delegation in Ogonolloe and as they say the rest is history.
Putting The Works of Mercy into action!
The Sisters immediately set about the works of mercy as their first ministry. Their main work was in the area of education, setting up the pension or pay school for girls in 1890 and eventually the convent national school in 1891, officially opened in 1899. In 1904 the sisters also branched into the area of the Knitting Industry to help alleveiate unemployment and poverty, based in the coach house at the gate of the convent. Typewriting, shorthand and bookeeping were also taught by the sisters there. In 1939 a secondary top was set up, St. Anne’s Technical School and eventually St. Anne’s Secondary school proper emerged in the 1940s. St. Anne’s became a full secondary school in 1956. St. Senans in the town amalgamated with St. Anne’s in 1968 and numbers rose greatly. In 1976 the sisters decided to phase out of St. Anne’s over three years and in April 1989 St. Anne’s Community college was blessed by Bishop Harty. In December 1989 the centenary of the presence of the sisters was celebrated.
In the centenary booklet in 1989 Sr. Helena O’Donoghue remarked:
Given the present day circumstances and trends it is unlikely that the Sisters will see a second hundred years in Killaloe. In fact the years may be numbered already. But it is our purpose to remain in Killaloe as long as we can. God will then provide other ways. So, let us rejoice in this centenary, wish the present sisters God’s blessing in abundance and place our trust in Him for the future as we engage in making our society a better place.
Witness to Good News
We hear a lot these days about being a witness. What does it mean to be a witness? I am witness not simply if I see something, not simply if I affirm that something is true. I am witness if I do both: if I testify to something I have myself experienced. This is what the Sisters of Mercy have been doing over those years, witnessing to the good news of the Gospel.
Putting Flesh on the Word of God
The spirit of the call of Jeremiah in the first reading and the call by Jesus of the disciples in the Gospel was the springboard that encouraged so many to live the call of putting flesh in the Works of Mercy following the inspiration of their foundress Mother McCauley. Most of their work was a living out of the thanksgiving of the second reading this evening from St. Paul.
So many of whom have come into contact with the sisters over the 129 years have got very definite signs that they have experienced what they are proclaiming. They have moved hearts in that they have remained in close contact with the Lord, they have been fired by his presence and have experienced his presence in themselves, and in the Eucharist which was central to their lives. For over a century and a third the people of this town have been moved by their faith.
No more than any walk of life, however, not everyone was perfect and not all had a positive experience of the sisters or indeed the broader Church, due to actions of a very small number or few. This has got a lot of coverage in recent years, but in the light of all I have been reflecting on and in your experience here in Killaloe I am hopeful and confident that history will clearly show that the overall contribution of the sisters was immense and most positive.
Education in Mission of Mercy Sisters in Killaloe
Education has been synonymous with Mercy Sisters. This began in the aftermath of the Great Famine. Their contribution in this is monumental and something which those who speak and write about education today might well research if they wish to get an informed view. As well as the basics of traditional education students were trained in the art of ‘home management’ and developed skills like lace-making, crochet and knitting.
Far Reaching effect of Education
The students of the Killaloe area received an education which enabled them to take their place in societies here in Ireland or across the world. Here they became convinced of the value of education, developed skills and acquired family values which would enable them to become parents of tomorrow and the ones who would be responsible for building the society of the future. This was all part of the outlook of the Sisters of Mercy and their ministry. The Sisters were all too conscious of the steady sinister haemorrhage of emigration from the area. Many those leaving were almost without education and frighteningly vulnerable as a result. The challenge facing the Sisters of Mercy might have broken a smaller people, but the Sisters who responded to the challenge were giant-hearted indeed. They confronted the harsh world and they did so with the physical, intellectual and above all spiritual tenacity which produced results. The price was one which they paid in terms of back-breaking work and endless worry.
Service in the community and throughout the diocese
The Sisters here in Killaloe did not confine their ministry to the classroom. Their work was woven into the very fabric of our society. Indeed such was the zeal and witness they provided that requests from priests and parishes were coming regularly to the Reverend Mother to open convents and schools in other towns in our diocese
Their work in this regard was heroic and monumental. In so many ways they made others aware of the importance of education.
Pastoral and Spiritual engagement
The quiet work which they did in pastoral outreach and the confidential way in which they supported struggling families is known only to the Sisters themselves and the families they helped. People who were burdened by troubles of one kind or another approached the Sisters for prayer and for help. These people were enormously comforted and strengthened by their visits. The Sisters had a special care for those who were poor or sick and in need. That care was provided courageously, with great courtesy and discretion. In my dealings with the sisters in other parts of the country I was privileged to witness the deep spirituality, the lives of quiet prayer and devotion that inspired and underpinned it all. I have been edified and enriched by it and will be forever grateful for it. I know that I am reflecting the sentiments of the whole community here when I state this.
Ministries and Pastoral assistance in Parish of Killaloe
Here in the parish they have been involved in so many areas with various committees in different ministries, with the pastoral council. They have kept the lamp of love and faith burning brightly as they served God and the people of God unceasingly.
Coping with change – yet the constancy of commitment and loyalty
There have been many elements of change in their life and in the community to which they ministered during those years. But the more things change the more they remain the same. One of the elements of sameness that has sustained them in their ministry was their deep relationship to Christ as their centre. The word “commitment” could never capture the intellectual conviction and emotional ties which was characteristic of their lives. It involved loyalty, identification and participation; it was passionate with plenty of heart as well as head. It enabled them to reach out in faith to others and to the development of the society.
Outstanding witness to Commitment
Today many people ask if it is possible to havelife long commitment to anything whether that be a job or marriage or a vocation. Many see commitment as particularly difficult, if not impossible. By contrast, by their lives, the Sisters have not only witnessed this life long faith commitment, but they imparted and provided Christian witness for all to see.
Working for Transformation
Here in Killaloe the Mercy Sisters were committed to the transformation of the people of the area and the Society. When you work for the betterment of the world and human society in such a way, you are promoting the kingdom of God and becoming witnesses outstanding in holiness, living witnesses to God’s unchanging love. As the Preface of the Mass reminds us “they inspire us by their heroic lives, and help us find our constant prayers to be the living signs of God’s saving power”.
Conclusion, Thanks and Blessing
When the history of the Mercy Sisters comes to be written I feel confident that the enormous good done by them and done quietly, secretly, unselfishly, generously and constantly, by so many devoted and dedicated Sisters will be highlighted. On behalf of the people of Killaloe, the religious and the priests, I say a deeply felt and sincere thank you to the Sisters of Mercy. We thank you for the wonderful grace of your presence in the town for 129 years. We thank God for the families of the Sisters of Mercy who inspired their vocations and we thank God for all those whose lives were touched, healed and enriched by your presence, your prayer and your care. Killaloe town will be the poorer for your going, but the richer for your having been here. Farewell and good bye to Sisters Noreen, Attracta and Teresa. May God reward you for your goodness and may he abundantly shower his blessing on you in the future.