Honouring Sydney’s Saint in waiting

More than ever, Eileen O’Connor is a model for us all in her deep spiritual life and her love for the poor and those living on the margins, Bishop tells potential saint’s sisters

Reading Time: 5 minutes
The coffin holding the remains of Servant of God Eileen O’Connor, which was displayed on 10 January at Coogee. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The coffin holding the remains of Servant of God Eileen O’Connor, which was displayed on 10 January at Coogee. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Servant of God Eileen O’Connor has been honoured with a special Mass on the anniversary of her death at the home where she spent much of her life, devoted to caring for the needs of the sick poor in Sydney in the early 20th century.

The Co-Founder of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, who died in 1921 at the young age of 28, took a major step forward towards becoming Australia’s second saint in 2020 when the official cause for her canonisation was launched at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady was the Principal Celebrant at the Mass at Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in Coogee on 10 January, with in person attendance restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eileen, more than ever, is one of those people at this point of time in our world and in our Church, who is a powerful role model in her deep spiritual life.”

Bishop Brady told those gathered, we can all draw great inspiration from Eileen, especially through her commitment to the disadvantaged.

“Eileen, more than ever, is one of those people at this point of time in our world and in our Church, who is a powerful role model in her deep spiritual life and her love for the poor and those on the margins”, he said.

“Eileen used to emphasise that the cause of a person’s poverty is not yours to question. The fact a person is poor is the reason you help”.

Principal Celebrant Bishop Terry Brady. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Principal Celebrant Bishop Terry Brady. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Hundreds of people watched the Mass which was livestreamed via the Eileen O’Connor website: www.eileenoconnor.com.au

Alongside Bishop Brady at the Mass was the Emeritus Bishop of Broken Bay, David Walker, who has been a great supporter of Eileen O’Connor’s cause for canonisation over a number of decades.

In his homily, Bishop Walker drew upon the Gospel reading from St Mark (1:14-20) on the kingdom of God to explain the significant role the human heart plays in the Christian faith.

“She emphasised to the Sisters that she would always look for God in human hearts and she particularly enjoyed finding God in the hearts of the poor.”

“To be a citizen of the kingdom, it didn’t mean that you had to be from a certain place, but that you had to have a heart that was willing to respond to the presence of God”, Bishop Walker said.

“That message was also central to the mission of Eileen O’Connor. She emphasised to the Sisters that she would always look for God in human hearts and she particularly enjoyed finding God in the hearts of the poor”.

“Eileen reminded us of the importance of imitating the heart of God in our own hearts. She said the heart without God is empty and it’s really in the heart that we have our relationship with God”, he added.

Sisters from Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor and the Sisters of Charity with Sydney clergy after the Mass. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
(Left to right: Sr Laureen Dixon rsc, Fr Quy Tran msc, Sr Gaye Reynolds rsc, Bishop Terry Brady, Sr Pauline Fogarty oln, Fr Anthony Robbie, Sr Gabriel Bast oln, Bishop Emeritus David Walker, Sr Kerry McDermott oln, Fr John Knight, Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln, Fr Paul Smithers). Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

“The challenge for us today is to make sure that we really are citizens of the kingdom by having a heart that is committed to doing the will of the Father”.

Concelebrating priests at the Mass included the Postulator for Eileen’s cause and Parish Priest of Bondi, Fr Anthony Robbie, the Parish Priest of Sydney City South, Fr Paul Smithers, the Parish Priest of Matraville, Fr John Knight and Fr Quy Tran MSC.

Sr Margaret Mary Birgan from Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, said 10 January has traditionally become Eileen’s Day and the Sisters greatly appreciate the growing support for her cause for canonisation.

“… we are eternally grateful to Eileen for being such a great example to us all of how we can serve the poor and disadvantaged in our daily lives.”

“While we couldn’t unfortunately welcome the public to this special Mass, as we normally would, it was wonderful to see many people honouring our saint in waiting Eileen via livestreaming”, Sr Margaret-Mary said.

“We know that reverence for Eileen is growing not only across Sydney, but around the world as well. As Bishop Brady and Emeritus Bishop Walker reminded us, we are eternally grateful to Eileen for being such a great example to us all of how we can serve the poor and disadvantaged in our daily lives,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

It’s this powerful example which continues to inspire Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor and the Brown Nurses over 100 years after Eileen’s death and will continue to do so”.

Frs John Knight and Paul Smithers pray before the coffin holding the remains of Servant of God Eileen O’Connor. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Frs John Knight and Paul Smithers pray before the coffin holding the remains of Servant of God Eileen O’Connor. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“No-one can take the good away that has been done by the faithful Nurses and laity who have sustained the work.”

“As Eileen wrote, ‘There’s no heart that cannot love, but let your hearts be like Our Lord’s, full of a wonderful love, and a pure love, that can gain everlasting life. Give Our Lord’s and Our Lady’s hearts when you give your own. Give it for ever and to help.’

Anyone with “useful information” is invited to come forward to assist Church authorities in Rome to consider Eileen’s cause.

“There’s no heart that cannot love, but let your hearts be like Our Lord’s, full of a wonderful love, and a pure love, that can gain everlasting life.”

Evidence received will be collated and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome by Fr Robbie.

Following that, the Congregation could recommend to the Pope that Eileen be proclaimed Venerable.

At the subsequent stage, Beatification, there would need to be evidence of a miracle through the intercession of Eileen for her to be declared “Blessed” and at the final stage of canonisation, evidence of two miracles after the person’s death for them to be declared a Saint.

Related

Mass to honour our Eileen

New memorial to our saint in waiting

Eileen, pray for us!