Sr Deirdre Hickey: A multi-faceted ministryPrint
For 25 years, Sr Deirdre Hickey took care of Hospitality House, in Darlinghurst, with former Congregational Leader, Sr Clare Nolan. The pair ended that ministry after a quarter of a century in May 2021.
This is her story:
It is a ministry which energises her, and gives an occupancy and customer satisfaction rate, and return clientele, which would be the envy of any hospitality professional.
The house – or rather, the pair of terraces – on the corner of Burton Street near St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, was not the place to which Sr Deirdre had discerned her ministry might deliver her.
After working on the Congregational Council for six years with Sr Clare, the pair moved into the houses in West Street, briefly. And then they went on a six-month sabbatical around Australia.
Prayer and consultation, and a deep respect and affection for the women of the Solomon Islands, brought them to the thought that they might have a ministry there. The Congregational Leader of the time, Sr Annette Cunliffe, had another idea. She proposed to both Sr Deirdre and Sr Clare that they take on Sisters of Charity Outreach and, at the same time, continue to live and work in Hospitality House.
There, Sr Deirdre, who had wanted to be a Sister of Charity and a nurse from her teens, found an outlet for the passion for nursing put on hold when she trained as a teacher. “God had an idea for me that I couldn’t have guessed at,” said Sr Deirdre at the dining table of Hospitality House.
Honouring the name of the house, she had prepared morning tea, laying out the pretty cups and matching plates, cheeses, savoury and sweet biscuits, and tea served from a tea pot wrapped in a tea cosy as bright as Sr Deirdre herself.
Two of the current residents were in the kitchen, comfortably talking over their own cups of tea and plans for the day. They are two of five or six residents – mostly from the country – received by the Sisters at any one time. For many, it is a God-send to have this space, so close to the hospital, and the loving support and unobtrusive care from the Sisters.
At Hospitality House, Sr Deirdre cares for souls – some of whom are stressed by the long-term care of seriously ill family members, and stricken sometimes by their deaths. Just what their religious affiliations are, she never asks. Everyone is welcome at Hospitality House – as long as they are women.
But hers is a 24/7, multi-discipline role, ranging from counsellor, to hospital visitor (it is not uncommon for the Sisters to accompany a resident to the hospital if they are called in the middle of the night), sometimes a patient advocate, and occasionally tour guide. She is also an invaluable support to Sr Clare in her role as Congregational Leader.
Her medical knowledge has also sharpened considerably during the past 21 years. “Clare even gave me a copy of Gray’s Anatomy one Christmas… and sometimes she borrows it herself!”
Living in community at Hospitality House could be a challenge to many of us, but to Sr Deirdre the secret to it is flexibility. “Clare and I are like-minded, and able to adapt quickly,” Sr Deirdre said.
They have created a home away from home for many – Sr Deirdre was delighted to learn the morning we met that a favourite Hospitality House guest was returning that day.
“Sometimes, it can be intense, walking with them. But it is also enriching to meet our guests and to get to know their stories.
“Many of them have commented that there is something here in this house, a tranquillity and a refuge for them during a time which is not tranquil and when they need a refuge. They know they are with committed religious women.”
Sr Deirdre, educated at Catholic Ladies College in Melbourne, knew she wanted to be a Sister of Charity when she was 16, and entered the congregation in February 1953, just short of her 18th birthday.
“I call myself a child bride,” she said.
She didn’t really shift from her resolve except once, early on, when she decided she couldn’t stand being a music teacher for her ministry and asked to go home. Again, when she was in her late 30s, early 40s, she wondered about whether she might leave the Sisters, and pursue another life.
“But my community helped. There were always Sisters who had been through what I was going through, who could understand and support. And there was always prayer.”
Going back to the start of her life with the Sisters, Sr Deirdre remembered the impression they had had on her when she was in her teens.
There was something about the Sisters she saw as she went to school – dedicated, “wonderful women” who were full of common sense, down to earth, loved what they did, had a sense of community, who always seemed cheerful and happy, and had a roll up their sleeves attitude – that helped Sr Deirdre discern her vocation.
She might as well have been describing herself.