The dream realised: A Heritage Centre for the Sisters of CharityPrint
The Sisters of Charity had dreamed a dream that would help them to tell their story and keep the stories of the Sisters and their ministries alive. That dream was embodied in a Heritage Centre.
Some years ago, we had been planning the 175th anniversary celebrations for 2014, when an idea came up from the Sisters – was it time for the heritage centre dream to become a reality?
The Religious Sisters of Charity of Ireland had already opened their Mary Aikenhead Heritage Centre in June, 2001, and many of us had visited the Centre in Dublin’s Harold’s Cross, so we knew what was possible.
The dream was kindled – the Sisters in Australia could also celebrate the heritage of the Congregation. Why not have a Heritage Centre in Sydney, where the first five Sisters of Charity had arrived from Ireland on New Year’s Eve, 1838?
Getting such a project up and running and completed would be a very big undertaking.
Fortunately, the Congregation already had a convent on the threshold of St Vincent’s College, Potts Point, very near the location upon which the early Sisters had set up their first hospital in the colony of Sydney.
The plan was to re-purpose the convent into a centre which would provide space to exhibit and demonstrate the history and the charism of the Sisters, and to see both Sisters and co-workers honoured for the way they embodied the love, tenderness, and concern of Christ for all.
By 2015, the project was approved. A working party turned into the Heritage Centre Committee, led by architect Robert Cahill. That committee ran in conjunction with the Sisters’ Committee overseeing the project. It was headed by Sr Suzette Clark, with Srs Annette Cunliffe and Laureen Dixon, who have worked together since the beginning of the project, with Curator Jennifer Forest who would help create the historical, creative, interactive, and, I hope, transformative, experience.
A special thank you must go to our Sisters for their unflagging support of the project. State Meetings were held in February 2016 at which Sisters met Curator Jennifer, and were invited to give suggestions and ideas. Their interest and support of this project continues. A great many Sisters have worked on this project during its path to completion, and I am grateful to them all.
It has taken years of planning and execution to bring the Heritage Centre, to be opened by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP on June 6, into being.
That date holds a special place in the history of the Sisters of Charity around the world. It is the anniversary of the day in 1802 when Venerable Mary Aikenhead, our Foundress, was received into the Church, and the day she commenced her own novitiate in 1812.
The Heritage Centre’s exhibition has been designed and equipped to provide a special experience for all visitors and will:
- Provide an experience of the story of the Sisters of Charity through a range of interpretative techniques which describe past events and experiences and which appeal to the different ways in which individuals receive and process information
- Showcase historic objects with words, images and technology which tell and support the story
- Have available different media to allow visitors to interpret the story utilising their varied skills and interpretative approaches.
- inform visitors of significant aspects of the Sisters’ service to the community, particularly their commitment to the service of the poor, impelled by the love of Christ. Its aim is to challenge visitors to similarly carry forth this spirit into their everyday lives.
The Heritage Centre will also house the Congregational Archives on the first floor. The Archives is custodian of the records and museum collection on behalf of the Sisters of Charity, and will continue to provide access to relevant records and objects to those undertaking research.
The Archives supports the story telling and exhibition through the provision of relevant research, information, documents and objects, particularly in relation to changes over time in the Heritage Centre exhibition.
Above all, the Centre had been designed as a place of hospitality and information. It will also be a meeting place. A meeting room and contemplative spaces, including the St Vincent’s Chapel and the linking courtyard from the centre to the Chapel, provide an environment not only for education and information but also for peace and reflection.
I invite you all to come to the Heritage Centre in due course. We will be delighted to welcome you, and for you to experience the charism and the ministries of the Sisters of Charity of Australia.
- Clare Nolan rsc, Congregational Leader