Following the sacred path: Two pilgrims to Ireland 2019


What an honour to follow in the footsteps of Mary Aikenhead, writes NSW Health Care Co-Ordinator, Marian Rudge (pictured).

In the northern Spring this year, 20 pilgrims, including our leader, Sister Linda Ferrington rsc, gathered in Dublin to begin a journey to trace the footsteps of our foundress, Mother Mary Aikenhead.

The pilgrimage took us from Dublin to Cork to Galway, Foxford in Co. Mayo, and finally to Glendalough in Co. Wicklow for two days of reflection.

Sr Mary Christian, Congregational Leader of the Irish Sisters of Charity, hosted our opening reflection and first evening meal in Sandymount, Dublin. We were delighted to have our own Congregational Leader,  Sister Clare, share this special time with us, as well as many other lovely Irish Sisters. We were greeted throughout our journey by the Irish Sister’s warmth, hospitality and enthusiasm for us as pilgrims from far away in Australia.

A visit to the Heritage Centre in Harold’s Cross was a highlight of the pilgrimage for me.  Mary Akenhead’s life story and the very beginnings of the Religious Sisters of Charity was clearly depicted through a diorama. We stood in the very rooms where Mary Aikenhead lived and died, and this gave us a real sense of the presence of the foundress and of her difficult and painful last years of incapacity.


Our visit to St Vincent’s School in Cork was impressive. The enthusiastic, dedicated principal spoke to us about her programs for their disadvantaged pupils and their success in fully integrating some of the children with autism into mainstream classes. This was done with little or no government funding.

Dun Laoghaire Harbor was cold, windy and bleak on our visit. This was where the first five Sisters departed from on their three-month long journey to the other side of the world–Australia. It must have been extremely difficult for Mary Aikenhead to say goodbye to these five brave Sisters, knowing she would probably never see them again.


Next we visited The Sanctuary established by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy as a place of refuge and an oasis in the urban noise, a place for solitude, connection, growth, and healing. Sr Stan and her team, for the past 30 years, have been creating beautiful spaces and gardens providing an oasis of tranquility for all today.

We journeyed on towards Galway and were taken on a tour of the Foxford Mill.  The Foxford Woollen Mill was first established by Mother Agnes Morragh Bernard in 1892 in response to an enormous need in the Foxford community. There simply was no work and the poverty must have been heartbreaking. The establishment of the Mill enabled the local community to be trained and gain meaningful employment.

The foresight of Mother Agnes in the face of adversity, shows both vision and determination. The people we met in Foxford were so grateful to Mother and so proud of their now prosperous community. Refuelled at the Mill Café and carrying bags of woollen blankets, rugs and garments, we headed back to Dublin.


Next stop was Donnybrook, the burial site of Mary Aikenhead and many other Irish Sisters. It was a very sobering experience to be in this place of remembrance, standing among those who had walked in the footsteps of Mary Aikenhead. We each prayed and placed a rose on Mary Aikenhead’s grave-site and then spent time viewing the names of the many other Irish Sisters buried under these black crosses and gave thanks for their courage and love.

Our final two days of our journey were spent in Co. Wicklow at the beautiful monastic site of Glendalough. This historic site, whose name translates to “valley of the two lakes” consists of the 6th century monastery founded by St Kevin.

On a clear, sunny, brisk morning, the pilgrims stood together for Mass among the ruins of St Saviour’s church. Father Michael led us in prayer at the lake and then took us high into the hills as he recited poetry along the way.  He stopped long enough to let us admire the immense beauty of our surrounds.

Glendalough is a very special place and a beautiful location in which we were able to reflect on our journey and the friendships we have made.

The pilgrimage brought into sharp focus Mary Akenhead’s vision and her faith in God in tackling the social issues of the times in terms of “service to the poor.”


–     By Sister Linda Ferrington rsc, Trustee of Mary Aikenhead Ministries

Mary Aikenhead Ministries undertakes an annual pilgrimage to Ireland where, as pilgrims, we are captured and strengthened by the stories and reflections of the everyday actions of that brave group of women, the Sisters of Charity.

A pilgrimage is so much more than a trip or an excursion; it is designed to speak to the heart of each pilgrim, as we engage with the sacredness of people and places and then see these experiences through the light of one’s own life story.

Ireland is such an extraordinary place, where many world-changing ministries were born. The story of Mary Aikenhead as a young woman, prayerfully and courageously working out this calling upon her life, provides inspiration and courage for all the MAM ministries; hospitals, schools, and places in which we work and serve these days and I’m inspired that these started from such humble beginnings.

The journey begins in Dublin where we experience the beginning of prison ministry at Kilmainham Gaol, move onto the Archives, and experience the gracious hospitality of Sr Mary Christian and the Sisters of Charity which is a characteristic of our journey.

The engagement with the story comes alive in the Heritage Centre and the moving celebration of the first five Sisters departing Dun Loaghaire pier on their voyage to Australia.

Focus Housing and Sister Stan’s presentation highlights the systematic response to the needs of the poor and vulnerable Ireland today. Sister Sheila’s exploration of the Sanctuary brings us to stillness in meditation and the need for a quiet space in the midst of our ministry contexts.

Cork tells the story of Mary Aikenhead’s early life and the education of young women is still prominent in the Primary and Secondary School. Next comes the extraordinary hospitality of the Cork community where stories are exchanged and vision for the mission is celebrated.

We then move on to the amazing story of Mother Arsenius and the foundation of the Foxford Woollen Mills and this resonates with the current call to be imaginative and creative in the response. We return to Dublin for the profound liturgy at Donnybrook at Mary Aikenhead’s grave and then on to Glendalough for a walking Eucharist through the monastic city.

This provides the time and space for reflection and the drawing together of all God has desired for us in the final ritual.

With each pilgrimage, we look forward to hearing of the pilgrim’s discoveries of the young, strong Mary Aikenhead who had a passion to respond to the needs of the poor and the extraordinary woman she became in establishing a legacy that has taken shape across the world.

I always anticipate the many ways we will discover new companions as pilgrims, as we find ourselves gathered in awe, silence, reflection, as individuals and enriched as a group within the context of good Irish hospitality, laughter, enjoyment, and the sacredness of the land. I relished the opportunity to co-lead the 2019 Irish Pilgrimage with my effervescent and spirited colleague, Lisa McDonald.

Images: 1, Marian Rudge; 2, the pilgrim group, with Sr Linda (far left), Congregational Leader Sr Clare Nolan (front centre), and Marian (second from right, rear); 3 and 4, the sublime peace and beauty of Glendalough in Co. Wicklow; 5, Sr Stan’s sanctuary in Dublin; 6 and 7, Foxford, Co. Mayo; 8, the Sisters’ graveyard in Donnybrook, Co. Dublin; 9, Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ logo; 10, Sr Linda Ferrington
When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
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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