Sisters reflect on the opening of the Heritage CentrePrint
Sr Leone Wittmack: Having lived in our Convent at No 1 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point for several years, I was amazed to see the transformation of our Convent into a stunning and informative Heritage Centre outlining our proud history since our arrival in Australia in 1838.
It is a showcase of all the works we have been involved in not only here in Australia but our overseas mission as well. Usually when you visit heritage centres, you are given a feast of information of the history of an organisation or group.
The thing that delighted me about our Heritage Centre is the focus that has been given to our current ministries.
Walking into our Heritage Centre, the first thing you are greeted with is the wonderful painting by Indigenous artist, Lisa Buxton, depicting our relationship with our First Australians and the work of the Sisters shown from an Aboriginal perspective.
As I currently work in the Northern Territory and am now familiar with authentic Aboriginal art, this painting made my heart sing.
This heritage centre is very modern with opportunities for interactive viewing as well as a theatre for movies and other displays.
The other important thing about this centre is that houses our Archives. Our Archives are extremely important not only to us as Sisters of Charity but to historians and others who often request information and artifacts from our Archives for research and historical displays.
This access I am sure will now be easier not only for our staff who work there but for those requesting the information.
Our Heritage centre and Archives are certainly a great testament to the Sisters of Charity and our work with the poor and disadvantaged since 1838.
It also shows how the vision of the Sisters have enabled the governance of our ministries to thrive into the future through the Trustees of Mary Aikenhead Ministries. I am sure it will be visited often by the staff and students from the hospitals, schools and colleges now under the governance of the Trustees, giving them the opportunity to learn about the history and roots of the institutions where they now work.
However, it is also important to remember that our mission and ministry continues. It has always been, and will continue to be, the work and face of Jesus today.
It is God’s work, and the spirit of Mary Aikenhead is truly seen through the Sisters today and we continue to take up her challenge to us to walk with and advocate for people who have only faint or no voices in our society and “to give to the poor what the rich can afford with money.”
I would like to urge everyone, if you are visiting Sydney to make your way to No 1 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point to the Sisters of Charity Heritage Centre and be taken on a journey with the Sisters and be inspired at what can be done when 5 women from Ireland and England have the courage to get on a ship, to leave their countries to do God’s work in another land, transmitting the spirit of Mary Aikenhead, our Foundress, from generation to generation.
Images: The art work at the entrance to the Heritage Centre, Journey of Spirit Coming Together; the artist, Linda Buxton; Srs Leone and Cate O’Brien (Pictures by Tim Bauer)
Sr Linda Ferrington rsc (pictured) : The exhibition at the Heritage Centre provides a space for visitors to see, listen and hear the Mission of the Sisters of Charity of Australian in a creative, imaginative and comprehensive manner. The exhibits tell the enfolding story of passion and diversity of the Sisters of Charity as they have responded to the emerging needs of the poor within Australia and across the globe for 180 years. The stories highlight the centrality of relationships, the value of Colleagues and the reciprocity that serving the poor in a myriad of ways has enriched individual Sisters of Charity and the Congregation as a whole.
Sr Margaret Fitzgerald rsc: The exhibition is marvelous! I am simply overwhelmed by what has been produced in the space. It is a living, historical experience of the Congregation through the years. I really felt part of it.
Sr Maureen Walters rsc: I found it extremely moving, in a way I had not expected it to be. I am immersed in the story of the Sisters of Charity of Australia in the present, but to understand through the exhibition what the early Sisters – just ordinary women, really – had been able to achieve was a very emotional experience for me.
Sr Helen Clarke rsc: An exciting initiative that brings together pieces of our history since our original foundation and our very own Australian story. The exhibits are very user-friendly and attractively presented.
The Heritage Centre complements well the Irish Sisters’ Harold’s Cross Heritage Centre and brings to life a further stage of our Congregational story. Well done to all who had a hand in its development!
Sr Elizabeth Costigan rsc (pictured): My first reaction as I visited the Heritage Centre was “Wow!” During the past couple of years, I had wondered how an ordinary house could be transformed into a museum, archives, meeting place. So, after walking around the Centre I stood in wonder, with a sense of thanksgiving for the Sisters, architects, builders, curator, designers, and many more who brought the dream of the Congregation to a reality.
Sr Margaret Scully rsc: I could never have imagined the dream would have become such a reality! Yes, it was the detailed planning of each area; the attractive setting out of each aspect of our life and ministry in Australia and, again, the detail applied to each. The feeling at the time was that I was walking our story, some of which I had been part and some of which had become part of me. I felt proud to be a Sister of Charity and to have in some small way contributed to that story. May many be touched and inspired not only by what is seen but also by what it represents in terms of courage, vision, self-sacrifice, and resourcefulness.
Sr Regina Millard rsc: I travelled from Melbourne to Sydney to be with our Sisters, staff , friends and guests for the opening of our Heritage Centre and Archives. It was a milestone in our Congregation. The Heritage Centre is a place to give all who visit there a look inside our Congregation and a way of transmitting the spirit of our holy institute as Mary Aikenhead asks of us, we her daughters. All to the glory of God!
Sr Helga Neidhart rsc: The Heritage Centre – my reaction? In a word, ‘gob-smacked’!
Putting my words of appreciation on paper is difficult. The Congregation has been focused on the centre for some years now – years of visioning, gathering ideas and artefacts, not to mention discussion and complex decision making. As the time for the actual opening approached, excitement and curiosity mounted.
The Opening ceremony commenced in the Potts Point Chapel, where a capacity congregation had assembled for a meaningful and creative liturgy. The occasion was honoured by the presence of the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, who spoke warmly and personally about the ministry of our sisters.
The ‘converted’ convent at No 1 Rockwall Crescent was a miracle in itself! It is always much easier to build from scratch, than to convert an existing space, so here was a further challenge! However complex the process, the result is magnificent.
The Centre, however, is much more than a stunning building. It houses a veritable treasure – the record of 200 years of our ministry as Sisters of Charity, the first religious women to take vows in Australia.
The Heritage Centre and Archives is a generous gift to the Australian church, to researchers and anyone interested in colonial history – it is a genuine example of contemporary ‘best practice’. We can be proud to promote it.
Sr Anne Turner rsc (pictured): I experienced immense pride when I attended the Blessing and Opening of our new Heritage Centre. It gave me great pleasure to see the excitement and joy on the faces of those present as they discovered images of themselves and Sisters they had known, loved and ministered with in years past. So many memories, so many shared experiences, so many loved and respected companions, mentors and friends, many now resting from their labours in Heaven, brought to life once again by means of historic objects, photos, stories, images and technology! What an amazing gift to us all!
As I came away from the Heritage Centre, I found that I was profoundly moved by the story of our Sisters and their endless efforts to bring the love of Christ into the lives of the poor, the sick, the lonely, the marginalised, those in prison and the abused. They simply saw a need and did everything they could to meet and fill that need.
Hopefully, by adopting Mary Aikenhead’s motto, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”, and inspired by our Congregational motto, “The love of Christ impels us,” we can together write the next chapter of the story of the Sisters of Charity of Australia.
Sr Genevieve Walsh rsc: The Heritage Centre is brilliant, an inspiration and a grand tribute to Mary Aikenhead and all her Australian Daughters past and present. Taking photos at the opening was such a privilege because so many people were so proud to be there, to be photographed and being part of the history of the day.