Sr Jeannie Johnston writes from Australia about the events that took place there on the 19th and 20th January as the sisters and their colleagues joined with all who had gathered in Ringsend, Dublin to launch our 200th anniversary.
"The early dawn of January 20, 2015 took on a special significance for RSCs in Sydney, Shellharbour, Melbourne and Brisbane as they gathered in groups to celebrate via direct webcast from St Patrick’s Church, Ringsend, Dublin, the launch of a year of celebrations commemorating 200 years of the founding of the Religious Sisters of Charity in Ireland. Last year we celebrated our 175 years in Australia, this year it is a global celebration embracing the entire family of the Sisters of Charity in Ireland, England, Scotland, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, California and Australia.
Ringsend was chosen as the place for the launch of this year of celebration because it was a part of Dublin that was very dear to the heart of Mary Aikenhead and to the members of our Sister Congregation. It was at Ringsend where Mary Aikenhead opened a small hospital for the victims of the Cholera Epidemic that was raging in Ireland in 1815.
Sister Patricia Lenihan, a member of the General Leadership Team, had very kindly sent Sr Clare a copy of the Mass Text which was distributed throughout the Congregation to enable all of us to have full and active participation in this special Eucharistic celebration. On our part Sister Elizabeth Dodds had prepared a beautiful special Prayer for the Australian Sisters to use as part of their celebrations if they wished.
For weeks prior to this day, preparations had been underway to ensure that as many Sisters as possible would be able to watch the special webcast from Ireland. Computers and Projectors were checked and in some cases rooms were booked including a Board Room at one of our facilities. All was in readiness for the great occasion. An Internet search discovered that while St Patrick’s, Ringsend had the technological facilities for webcasting, it was the practice of the Parish not to archive any webcasts. This meant that viewing had to be direct or not at all. There would be no delayed webcast available on St Patrick’s Parish website. Phone calls were made between Ireland and our techno wizard, Bruce Stephens, to have a back-up plan in place whereby Bruce would record the celebratory launch and make it available on YouTube for all those Sisters who for various reasons could not make the direct webcast and also as a permanent record for our Sister Congregation.
The Community at Leinster Street, Paddington started off the Australian Celebrations with a Mary Aikenhead Birthday Celebration on January 19 using the special Prayer prepared and led by Sister Elizabeth Dodds followed by a joyful birthday party in honour of our Foundress. The next morning they joined in the direct celebrations from Ringsend.
At 40 West Street, Darlinghurst, Bruce Stephens helped set up the Computer and Projector the night before so that it would be all systems go for the 6.00 am direct webcast. Their next door neighbours from The Terraces, Sisters Clare Nolan and Deirdre Hickey, had been invited to join them for the early morning webcast. However, even the best laid plans of mice and men can go astray, there was a hiccup at the beginning of the webcast which necessitated a hurried phone call to Bruce Stephens. All was resolved and the place resounded with the enthusiastic responses and exuberant singing of the hymns. The conversation at breakfast was equally lively and joyful.
Down at Shellharbour on the south coast of NSW where she was holidaying, Margaret Guy rose early to connect her Wi-Fi and to have her iPad open at the Mass text so that she could join with the other RSCs in Australia and around the world as they celebrated this great occasion.
For the Sisters in Brisbane at Mt Olivet Convent, it seemed as if the days of 1st Call had returned as they rose at 4.15 am for the 5.00 am webcast in the Board Room of St Vincent’s Hospital, Kangaroo Point. Thankfully, Natalie Piper, Executive Assistant to the CEO of St Vincent’s Hospital, was there before them to check out the Board Room and to make sure that everything was just right. When the Sisters entered the room they were faced with the full screen view of the darkened interior of St Patrick’s Church, Ringsend, so everything was working. Natalie welcomed each Sister with a cup of Tea or Coffee so the early morning rising was softened a little. Matthew Kearney, Director of Pastoral Services at St Vincent’s Brisbane joined them for the webcast and Cheryle Royle, the CEO of St Vincent’s Hospital, also joined the Sisters for their Grand Feast Day style Breakfast of Ricotta Pancakes with caramelised bananas and Maple Syrup and / or honey, Scrambled Eggs with Bacon and Tomatoes, fresh Tropical Fruits with plain Yoghurt which followed the Prayer that had been prepared by Elizabeth Dodds.
The liturgy from Ireland was warm, inclusive and welcoming. There was no doubt that it was a Parish Family celebration as opposed to a Cathedral Solemnity. The informality of the extra special touches added by the Parish Priest, Father Ivan Tonge gave us a strong sense of being included in the celebration as participants instead of being mere observers gathered around a TV Screen in a far –off country. For those Sisters who had worked with our Irish Sisters in Africa, Ireland and the UK there was the special joy of being able to identify their friends and companions. Seeing the Australian Flag carried in procession at the beginning of Mass with the Irish, English, Scottish, Nigerian, Zambian, Malawian and United States Flags reinforced our sense of belonging to the Global Family of the Religious Sisters of Charity. The welcome extended to “our Sisters in Australia” by both Mary Christian, the Superior General of our Sister Congregation and by Sister Anne Curry, who spoke on behalf of the Organising Committee of the Ringsend Liturgical Celebration, was warm and genuinely sincere. We felt thankful and privileged to be part of the Sisters of Charity story and celebrations. The readings illustrating characteristics of Mary Aikenhead were powerful and as for the Irish Dancers dancing in the Gifts at the Offertory Procession, for a number of Sisters it revived memories of their own Irish Dancing childhood, dressed in green satin skirts, cloaks and scarves. The Liturgical Dance to “Let Me be your Servant’ was exquisite in its simplicity and reverence. At this Mass the closing song was especially composed for the celebration of the 200 Years of Service to the Poor impelled by the love of Christ. It was a great hit and we look forward to receiving the music.
We look forward to continuing the celebrations of this Bicentenary Year of the Founding of our Congregation and strengthening our links with the global community of the Sisters of Charity as united by the love of Christ as our impelling force we strive to build up the kingdom of God on earth."