More than six centuries of religious life by seven Sisters of Mercy and three Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart were celebrated on February 29.
In welcoming the jubilarians and guests to a Mass of celebration at Mercy Parklands in Auckland, Sr Sheryl James, RSM, said “we give thanks for a total of 675 years of religious life”.
The jubilarians were Josephite Sisters Louise O’Kane (80 years professed), Sr Colleen Story (65 years) and Marie McGreevy (65 years). The Mercy Sisters having jubilees were Srs Gwenda Williams (70 years), Paulinus Karl (70 years), Mary Molloy (70 years), Maureen O’Brien (65 years), Frances Stewart (65 years), Kate Franich (65 years) and Valerie Gunnion (60 years). All were at the Mass except Sr Mary Molloy, who was not well enough to attend.
Sr Sheryl said it was a real privilege to celebrate and honour “these amazing women who have given service to God”.
“Each jubilarian sister [of those who live at Mercy Parklands] holds a special place in the heart of our staff and the other residents,” she said.
Sr Sheryl noted that, when the question of the celebration of the jubilees came up, the jubilarians decided that they live together and therefore they wanted to celebrate as community — not separately as Mercies and Josephites.
Sr Sheryl thanked the Josephite Sisters present for choosing Mercy Parklands for their sisters, “so that they can continue their ministry, which I think is very important, of praying for the sick and enriching the lives of those they come in contact with each day”.
Responding later, Sr Jill McLoughlin, RSJ, recalled her congregation’s “painful decision” to close their rest home and hospital in Mission Bay last year. She expressed her gratitude that “our sisters have been able to come here” and that one was able to go to St Catherine’s in Ponsonby.
Sr Sheryl said that “over the last few days, I have had this image of two women enjoying each other’s company and having a good cup of tea and sharing stories of you all. Perhaps this image is of Catherine McAuley and [St] Mary MacKillop? I am sure they are smiling on us as we celebrate these wahine tapu, the holy women, who today join together and allow us to celebrate how they have touched [the] lives of many people in New Zealand”.
Msgr Bernard Kiely, the main celebrant at the Mass, also mentioned Catherine McAuley and Mary MacKillop, noting that the latter was born just two months after the former had died.
“I wonder if, in heaven, the Lord was sort of rearranging things and wondering who will be the next one to take on the baton?” Msgr Kiely noted that these two women had a lot in common — being “brave, courageous, going against the tide, having huge battles, including, dare I say, with the hierarchy, and surviving”.
These women have seen great need and have responded wholeheartedly, he said.
“Imagine the meeting of those two women in heaven,” Msgr Kiely said, “the discussing of the dream, the difficulties and challenges that they faced and hopefully the great satisfaction that they were able to reflect on to see the vision continuing. Long may it last.”
He said he was “sort of in awe of the years we come to honour, the women and the dreams that they have shared of their founders by responding to the call”.
“I can only imagine the number of people in the Church who have been touched by the combined ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy. I pray you know our thanksgiving and our encouragement.”
At one point in the Mass, the names of deceased Mercy and Josephite sisters who would have celebrated 80, 70, 65 and 60 years professed this year were read out and candles were lit. In the foyer of the facility, a display board had photos and brief write-ups of the jubilarians’ lives as religious.