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Marking 170 years of the Sisters of Charity in Tasmania

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On the wharf in Hobart, on October 14,  2017 Congregational Leader Sr Clare Nolan welcomed Sisters to a Liturgy to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of three Sisters of Charity to Hobart in 1847. This is her welcome: 

 Welcome to Tassie everyone! So good to see you all. Today we gather to give thanks to God for three courageous Sisters of Charity: Mother Mary John Cahill, Sr Mary De Sales O’Brien and Sr Xavier Williams, who stepped onto this Wharf to begin their ministry of love in Hobart 170 years ago.

On the occasion of the centenary of the Sisters arriving in Tasmania, Archbishop Simonds referred to these Sisters as “intrepid volunteers” and added “whose names are gratefully written on the pages of our history.”

As we gather here on the wharf where the Sisters were welcomed, let us take time to reflect on this part of our story and give praise to God for all that has been accomplished by our Sisters in caring for the people of Tasmania.

Today we stand on their shoulders and the shoulders of all Sisters of Charity after them, who worked tirelessly to bring the love, care and tenderness of Christ to all on this faraway land then called Van Diemen’s Land.

The tired sea voyagers stepped off the Louisa into smaller boats as it was not suitable for Louisa to come close to the wharf. A great crowd had assembled to meet them. And here we are today in that same place remembering and honouring that precious moment in our history.

Let us just close our eyes for a moment and imagine that moment as we sit on this same wharf today.

A very different atmosphere prevails today. What do you think they were feeling?

What do you think they might have been saying to each other as they walked up Macquarie St to St Joseph’s Church for their welcome?

It would have been a cold, chilly June morning but the “heart-shaped Island gathered into a warm embrace” for these three magnificent women.

Those three Sisters would have recalled the severe trials of Mary Aikenhead in establishing our Congregation and I believe they would have gone forward and stepped onto this wharf in a spirit of the deep faith which animated Mary Aikenhead. Two Congregations now existed.

In 1888, 41 years after arriving to these shores, the Golden Jubilee of the Congregation was celebrated. Negotiations began in that year, to amalgamate Tasmania with the Mother House at Potts Point NSW. On that occasion at the Pontifical High Mass, His Eminence Dr Byrne, Bishop of Bathurst spoke of the trials of these early Sisters:

“And wither did they come? Australia, now so fair, was in those days a land of woe, with little save its miseries to attract the religious pilgrim to its shores….precious indeed is the apostolate of charity which is given to you. Cherish it and prize it above all treasures which this world can give, for it is the privilege of great price.”

Bishop Robert Willson, two years after their arrival in Tasmania could still write to Mary Aikenhead about his Sisters of Charity: he said “… it was impossible to put into words the comfort he and his flock derived from their labours.”

At the Centenary celebrations Archbishop Justin Simonds said: “On the feast of the Visitation 1847 Our Lady made a gracious visitation to the struggling Church in Van Diemen’s Land, sending as a token of her clemency three consecrated women with the spirit and habit of the Religious Sisters of Charity.”

From the seeds sown in 1847, the life and mission of the Sisters of Charity to bring the love, tenderness, and concern of Christ to all, grew and grew.

Children continue to be educated, the sick and dying were cared for through St Vincent’s Launceston, orphans were housed and loved through St Joseph’s Orphanage, Aikenhead House and St Joseph’s Child Care, the prisoners were visited and the need for specialist grief and trauma counselling was met through Sisters of Charity Outreach Devonport; the Gospel imperative to serve the poor has been made real by one of our Sisters “journeying” through the Scriptures with the people and other Sisters providing spiritual care through Retreats and visitation.

The mission continues through the presence of the Sisters who are faithful in their returning to visit Tasmania and to support and provide ongoing education to our lay men and women who now carry the mission of Jesus and the spirit of Mary Aikenhead forward. Sisters Cathy Meese, Helga Neidhart, and Anne Taylor support the bigger picture of Catholic Education in Tasmania by serving on Boards and mentoring personnel.

The presence of Mary Aikenhead Ministries ensures our works continue.

There are now two Pilgrimages a year to walk the footsteps of the three Sisters and the growth of the mission in Tasmania since 1847.

Sr Anne Turner remains the sole Sister of Charity resident in Tasmania and carries the lamplight of those three Sisters. Sr Josephine Cannell, 19 weeks off being a hundred, born and bred in Tasmania, continues to carry our story and remind us of it. In faith we can say all will be well.

And what of our future in Tasmania? We leave that for the Providence of God.

So let’s rejoice in this moment we are remembering here today. God’s Spirit and Mary Aikenhead’s spirit are still “a-movin” all over the world (as the song goes) – yes, even as far away as the Apple Isle of Tasmania. As Mary Aikenhead would exclaim in praise: Amen! Amen!

Image 1: The original three Sisters who went to Hobart

Image 2: Sisters at the Liturgy on Hobart dock

Image 3: Sr Cate O’Brien lights the candle

Image 4: Sisters on the dock in Hobart

Image 5: Sisters at the grave of the pioneer Sisters in Cornelian Bay

Images 2 – 5 by Srs Margaret Fitzgerald and Genny Walsh

Visit our photo galleries for more images of the celebrations in Hobart.

THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
What we do ought to be done well.

The Sisters of Charity acknowledge the First Peoples and traditional custodians of this land where we live. We respect, value and honour their history, culture and spirituality. We are committed to standing in solidarity and to actively working for justice, peace and harmony in this land.

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