July 05, 2011

Brisbane pilgrimage to Mercy International Centre

Srs. Sandra and Mary with Catherine McAuley roses

This year is a special year for the Sisters of Mercy in Brisbane as they celebrate the 150th anniversary of their founding. One of the events to mark the occasion was a ten-day pilgrimage to Ireland by 24 of the community. On Saturday, June 18 those twenty four Sisters gathered in Mercy International Centre to begin the pilgrimage. They were welcomed ‘home’ by Mary Reynolds and there followed a moving opening ritual during which each participant chose a shell as a symbol of the journey they were about to undertake and lit her pilgrimage candle.

A very rich programme of events has guided them on their pilgrim way. They started by becoming familiar with the places and spaces that were of special significance to Catherine and proceeded to visit the birth-place of Vincent Whitty in Wexford. Vincent it was who brought the Sisters of Mercy to Brisbane in 1861 and it is obvious that she is held in great affection by the Sisters.

Mr. Davis with Sylvia and Mary

On Wednesday morning June 22nd the Australian ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Bruce Davis, together with his wife and sister-in-law graced us with their presence. It was a touching moment when they arrived at the door of Mercy International Centre with a bouquet of beautiful Catherine McAuley roses from their garden in Killiney. It was an informal visit when the visitors mingled with the pilgrims and within a very short space of time connections had been established and mutual acquaintances had been had been listed! Sr. Sandra Lupi, Congregational Leader of the Brisbane community made a presentation to the ambassador to mark the celebrations this year and he was invited to visit them in Brisbane in September. Mr. Davis presented the Sisters with the book Saints, Sinners and Settlers – a book that honours the contribution of Irish people to the development of Australia.

Other highlights of the pilgrimage included visits to Glendalough, Clonmacnoise and Kildare – sites of pilgrimage that go back to the early days of Christianity in Ireland.

Mary signs the official transfer document

They also visited places associated with the story of Mercy in Brisbane as they paid due respect to those valiant women who left hearth and home to bring the compassion of God to others. It was a poignant moment when the red soil from their Australian burial ground was scattered over the grave of Sr. Albertus Flahive who is buried in Goldenbridge, Dublin. She died in Athens airport on her way home to Ireland for the first time after 41 years.

Moments of Mercy hospitality abounded throughout this pilgrimage: in the Mater Hospital and in the Convent of Mercy, Longford both of which also celebrate 150 years of their founding. The pilgrims were undaunted by long bus journeys as they made their way through the length and breadth of Ireland. On the last full day of their pilgrimage they went all the way to Clonakilty and Timoleague in West Cork to revisit the chapter of their story that took place there where a juniorate and novitiate were established for a time.

Mary displays the photos while Anne speaks about them

The Brisbane Sisters also extended hospitality as they gathered in friends, companions, and family members for a morning of rich sharing – stories, food and companionship. They generously donated some of their precious treasures to the Mercy International Association: original letters between Sister Vincent Whitty and Sister Cecelia Marmion which reveal both great detail and deep emotion surrounding the death of their beloved Catherine McAuley and an album of original photographs dating back to the early days of the Mater Hospital, Dublin.

They were sent forth from the beautiful chapel in Baggot Street from the final Eucharist of thanksgiving with joy in their hearts and a deep sense of gratitude for all that the goodness of our generous and loving God has bestowed on them. Their presence has indeed been a true blessing for those of us privileged to accompany them on this journey.

A ‘thank you’ note from one of the pilgrim captures the joy of the days at Baggot Street:

To all at Mercy International Centre
Thanks for all you do here – you have surely shown me the face of Catherine – the face of Mercy ... through word and ritual.
Your cheerful greetings each morning,
Your welcoming presence on each return from a journey!
You have nourished both soul and body.
Thank you for being carers and custodians of the story.
I have loved my stay here.
God’s blessing and mercy always.

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