A century after she died, Sydney’s homegrown order, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, gathered on Sunday to mark the passing into eternal life of their foundress, Servant of God Eileen O’Connor.
Both the Sisters and many Catholics are hoping the Servant of God will become Australia’s next official saint after her cause was officially opened by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in February 2020.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the centennial was subject to restrictions which ruled out the traditional prayers at her tomb at the Sisters’ convent in Coogee.
The Mass at St Brigid’s Parish in Coogee was celebrated by Bishop Terry Brady, Broken Bay emeritus Bishop David Walker, Fr Phillip Hicks MSC and other clergy.
“Eileen’s great devotion to the poorest of the poor continues to this day with the Sisters and the Brown Nurses. No matter where we are, her work will continue.”
Sr Clare Nolan RSC, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity and for Eileen’s Nurses for the Poor told The Catholic Weekly that although many could not attend because of a pandemic the occasion was still a major success.
“It was just a wonderful day – lots of people couldn’t come because of COVID but the sisters were just so very pleased with Bishop Brady and Bishop Walker. It was a privilege for a lot of us to be there,” she said.
“Eileen’s great devotion to the poorest of the poor continues to this day with the Sisters and the Brown Nurses. No matter where we are, her work will continue,” said Sr Nolan.
A special commemorative coin marking the occasion was struck and will be distributed throughout the year.
Sr Margaret Mary Birgin from Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor told The Catholic Weekly she wished more people could have been able to be present.
“The hardest thing for me to come to terms with was that the [Sisters’] home was not open to the faithful that was really hard because of the significance of the day as a day of prayer,” she said.
“This year unfortunately was the first year the gates have been closed for this significant occasion.
“We have more Masses for Eileen in July and October to celebrate the centenary.”
“Every year we open up the convent and we have a procession of pilgrims and we have Mass and we have prayers at her tomb.”
Despite the restrictions, Sr Margaret-Mary said future Masses celebrating Eileen’s life will to be held throughout the year.
“We have more Masses for Eileen in July and October to celebrate the centenary,” she said.
“We will have celebrations throughout the year in Newcastle so there’ll be several functions in 2021 to celebrate.”
Born in Melbourne in 1892, Eileen Rosaline O’Connor suffered a broken spine at the age of three and lived in constant nerve pain from what was later diagnosed as tuberculous osteomyelitis.
She co-founded Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor with local priest Father Edward McGrath MSC in 1913 to care for the sick and dying poor in their homes. The Nurses are now administered by the Sisters of Charity.
Lovingly known as ‘Little Mother’, she measured only 115cm tall when she died aged 28 in 1921.
For more information about Eileen O’Connor’s life and her cause visit www.eileenoconnor.com.au