The Heritage Centre: In review, and a previewPrint
Heritage Centre manager, Rachel Mensforth, writes:
Since taking up my role in the Heritage Centre in April 2019, I am often asked what my job entails. Or, the other question asked with regularity pertains to the Heritage Centre itself: “What is the Sisters of Charity Heritage Centre.”
In both cases, the answer is ever evolving. Today, I would answer that my job is to ensure that the centre reflects the Sister’s history and legacy, their pioneering spirit, contemporary mission and charism. Some days, I spend my time focusing on processes and procedures, bedding down operations and thinking about day-to-day functions. On other days, I am contemplating how our future planning encompasses and retains the overall vision of the centre as a place of story, hospitality and reflection.
This vision resonates in the furniture chosen, the artwork that dons the walls on each level and the way in which each visitor is welcomed. Ultimately, my responsibility is to develop opportunities for visitors to experience the centre in a transformative way. This may be within the exhibition space or sitting quietly in the reflective courtyard. The Sisters of Charity Heritage Centre is about relationships and people and every visitor will form their own connection to this incredible place.
We have welcomed an array of visitors since our opening on June 6 last year. Many ex-students from Sisters of Charity schools have called in to reminisce and share memories. I was most enthralled to hear of one that included the 1964 Sydney tour of the Beatles. When the girls attempted to fib their way through their tardy arrival at school, they were subsequently advised by the Sisters that they had been spotted on the television waving at the band on Macleay Street!
The Sisters are not forgotten for advocating safe injecting rooms, or their work with AIDS patients. One visitor remarked that the Sisters are true female pioneers and that the Heritage Centre represents the collective power of women. Every visit, every story, forms the narrative and identity of the centre.
This begins at the door, with the ‘Journey of Spirit Coming Together’ by artists Lisa Buxton and Julieanne Manson. It speaks of Aboriginal peoples’ culture, of faith and the relationship between the Sisters, the land and its traditional custodians. On a personal note, now when I gaze at the stars (I am an avid daydreamer), I no longer see the Milky Way but instead I see The Emu in the Sky.
Throughout August and September 2019, we welcomed year 7 Religious Education students from St Vincent’s College. Over 100 students experienced the exhibition and examined the centre’s artwork under the supervision of their teachers and Sister Anne Taylor. In September we welcomed Bethlehem College for their staff Spirituality Day, accompanied in their activities by Sister Margaret Beirne. That same month, we also hosted a visit from St Vincent’s Health Mission Leaders, as well as several visiting Sisters and the 2019 Twilight Gathering.
October, November and December were eventful, providing occasions to host events for the Sisters of Charity Foundation and deliver tours for Open Support, Mission Leaders and Pastoral Care staff from affiliated health and education organisations. At the beginning of December, we welcomed our Engagement, Learning and Program Developer, Allison O’Sullivan. Throughout 2020 Allison will initiate our curriculum linked student learning programs, create adult tours and work with our volunteer Sisters in training and developing their roles. We are blessed to have a dedicated group of Sisters working with the centre.
This is the Heritage Centre – or a snapshot at least. It is a burgeoning space imbued with history and message, continuing a legacy that began with five pioneering Sisters in 1838. I am inspired daily and greatly humbled to be part of its unfolding narrative.