Celebration of MFIC Sisters 90 years in Australia
14 JANUARY 2020 | GENERAL INTEREST
The second of January 1930 marked the day that our Sisters first stepped onto Australian soil. Just over two weeks later on 16th January they stepped onto the Queensland earth for the first time. Unbelievably, 10 days later they opened St Anthony’s Primary School in Kedron. One newspaper report recently from 1930 that said three “Sisters of Mercy” were on the SS Sonoma. However,another paper, the Daily Telegraph under the heading “Shipping Intelligence” from the 3rd January 1930 correctly listed the names of the Sisters aboard the SS Sonoma. Also available online is the piece from the Brisbane Courier from 16 January 1930 which speaks of the arrival of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters.
As members of a Missionary congregation many of us have packed up and left Australia for a foreign land. We have known the excitement and sadness of farewells and the trepidation of setting out into the unknown. It is not hard to imagine the thoughts and feelings that Srs M Agnella and Dympna felt when they accepted the transfer to a land so far away which they knew so very little about. They were young women and young in Religious Professon: Agnella just 21 and Dympna 35. Dympna has already adjusted to a new country and accepted the challenging mission in Savannah, Georgia. Agnella too had had to readjust to a new country as well as to the Italian culture of the boys and girls in her classes.
We can imagine Agnella and the first Sisters stepping off the boat in Sydney, full of so many conflicting emotions. Everything would have been different – the language and accents, the landscape, the intensity of light, and the people. Then to step down two weeks later into a second unfamiliar place in Queensland, dressed in the heavy cloth and multiple layers of the Franciscan habit, where the heat must have been so overpowering. The Brisbane Courier reported that the temperature that day was forecast to be 89 degrees Farenheit (31.6 C.) with 67% humidity.
They were supported by the friendship of Fr T Malony whom they met on the boat and who showed them such kindness. His support was to be the forerunner of decades of generous support from others along the way and it has been a significant factor in the success of the Sisters over these 90 years. Agnella’s book lists some of the many individuals who stepped up to make them welcome. The names are so familiar to us: Hogan, Maguire, Gallagher, White, Kennedy, Wren, Pressey, Scanlon, McCafferty, O’Hagan and others. Later came other great and generous supporters like Mr Thom and Mr Hughes!
It is hard to imagine the early days when the Sisters would not have possessed many of the things that they would normally have taken for granted. Money was so very scarce. The experience of summer heat in the long habits and layered veils must have tested them greatly. The anxiety of beginning a new school within a different educational system so soon after their arrival, albeit with the assistance of the Sisters of St Joseph and Sisters of Mercy, must have been great. During their first days in Brisbane Mons Molony drove the Sisters to All Hallows to visit the Sisters of Mercy. Imagine their surprise when they realised that they had only recently met five of the younger Sisters of Mercy in Ireland.
Their courage and faith and perseverance along with the ongoing and very generous support of so many is at the heart of the celebration of our 90 years in Kedron this year.
We know that our story did not end with Agnella and Dympna, nor with Srs M Padua, Rosina, Jarlath, Majella, Isadore and the many Irish Sisters who came to Australia from afar in the first years, nor the Australian women who came later, but it continued with all who joined us across the span of years.
The story of our great mission outreach did not end with the first outreach to Papua New Guinea, a mission to which we gave in excess of 500 years of missionary service. Our mission included the Sisters, who like Agnella and Dympna, set out in the spirit of Elizabeth Hayes for the foreign lands of England, Ireland, Egypt, Italy, Egypt, Bolivia, Thailand, China, and Tchad. It includes the Sisters who set out for the isolated indigenous communities of Dajarra, Fitzroy Crossing, Bathurst Island, Tennant Creek and Woorabinda. These isolated mission centres allowed the Sisters to form strong ties of friendship and affection with so many people from such a wide array of cultures and circumstances. We should not forget, the very severe conditions that faced many of them as they settled into those remote places.
The story of our mission embraces those of our members who set out in ones and twos for new missions in Morwell, Sydney, Port Agusta, Dysart, Emerald, Silkwood, Cairns, Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Kingaroy, Caboolture, Kingscliff, Pottsville, Goondiwindi, Cunnamulla,Coomera, Kingston and Marsden, Goodna, and beyond.
These 90 years we celebrate have been years marked by mission, adventure, challenge, commitment and faith. Our challenge now is to decide how we can continue to live our mission in the here and now given our resources and our circumstances. To do this we need to spend time in deep contemplation of our identity, that charism which is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the world of today.
We celebrate 90 years of a wonderful story that is now past, and we look forward to writing the next chapters with our lives.