Catherine McAuley’s story on stage

Students Abby Gibson and Justin Boustani with Blue Whale Thetre Group actors (from left) Joanne Coleman, Roger Adam Smith and Jade Alex.
Students Abby Gibson and Justin Boustani with Blue Whale Thetre Group actors (from left) Joanne Coleman, Roger Adam Smith and Jade Alex.

Sydney Catholic students delved more deeply into the life and values of Catherine McAuley with the debut of a play commissioned by St Charles primary school, Ryde, and created by Blue Whale Theatre Group.

Students from Kindergarten to Year 6 attended the performance of A Bright Light in the Darkness on 21 October, and were invited to ask questions of the main character after each of the play’s three segments. The play will become a resource for schools to better acquaint their students with the life of the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy from Dublin, Ireland. It will tour from February 2016.

Religious education co-ordinator Michelle Keatinge said the play was part of the school’s journey to rediscover the Mercy values its vision is based on.

“Theatre groups are always fantastic, and as a teacher we’d sometimes come dressed up as somebody and the children would ask questions,” she said. “I thought wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had someone, or a group, who would depict the life of Catherine McAuley in a simple way. The email I sent ended up in Blue Whale Theatre Group’s hands.”

The play’s dialogue was informed by the book of Catherine’s life written by Anne Reid and previewed by about 10 Mercy nuns before it was shown to students. “It was so delightful to get the tick of approval from them,” Mrs Keatinge said. “I really want the students to understand that Catherine McAuley was a woman who really wanted to serve people.

“She didn’t become a nun until she was 50. She used to love to sing and dance and that comes through in the play – that she was a real person, with real passions and real loves. She just wanted to serve the poor.”

The actors stepped into multiple parts to bring Catherine’s story to life. Jade Alex played Catherine McAuley at three different ages. Joanne Coleman played Catherine’s sister Mary, friend and co-worker Anna Marie Doyle, and the servant girl whose appeal for help inspired Catherine’s ‘House of Mercy’, where hundreds of women and children in need of help were educated and sheltered. Roger Adam Smith played the parts of Catherine’s father, family friend Mr Callaghan and Archbishop Murray.

Student Abby Gibson said: “It was fun because it really brought you into what the characters were doing.

“I thought it was surprising that Catherine kept on going, and kept believing in God and thinking ‘I can do this’ even though her family and friends had died. I learnt that she always treasured what she had learnt and what she had been given.”

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