A special Mass was held on the Feast of the Assumption to honour a Sydney saint in waiting who had a profound devotion to Our Lady at the church where she was likely first inspired to say “Yes” to God and commit her life to serving the disadvantaged.
The Parish Priest of the Catholic Community of Sydney City South, Fr Paul Smithers, celebrated a Mass on Sunday 15 August at the church which Servant of God Eileen O’Connor attended as a young child, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Waterloo, as part of broader commemorations throughout 2021 to mark the centenary of Eileen’s death.
Eileen was also a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel primary school, adjacent to the church.
The Feast of the Assumption Mass was livestreamed on the parish Facebook page to hundreds for an occasion which would normally have packed the Waterloo church, had it not been for COVID-19 restrictions.
As co-founder of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in 1913, alongside missionary priest, Fr Edward McGrath, Eileen O’Connor helped establish a religious order based at Coogee, committed to nursing the sick poor in their own homes at a time when there was no free government healthcare scheme as there is today.
Eileen knew the struggles of the sick poor first hand herself, after she was crippled by a fall at the age of three. She died at the young age of 28 after spending most of her life confined to a wheelchair.
In his homily, Fr Smithers spoke of Eileen’s profound devotion to Mary, who like Eileen, was inspired to care for the vulnerable. “It’s said that Our Lady appeared to Eileen in her room at Coogee and I have no doubt that Our Lady did do so in order to inspire such greatness in someone so vulnerable”, Fr Smithers explained.
“Our Lord reminds us that He will bring strength to those who are weak and lift up those who are bowed down. So it’s no wonder then that Our Lady would appear to this crippled, weak woman, Eileen, to lift her up and make her great, not so much for herself, but also for the glory of God.
Eileen’s legacy continues today through ongoing ministries in Coogee, Newcastle and Minto and through the Brown Nurses, an independent organisation which provides in-home care and support to the most disadvantaged and marginalised in inner Sydney.
Eileen O’Connor’s cause for canonisation was officially launched in February 2020 and anyone with “useful information” is invited to come forward to assist Church authorities.
Sr Margaret Mary Birgan oln from Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor said Eileen would have been proud to have been honoured on the Feast of the Assumption at a church she had a great affection for.
“Eileen could well have learned through her struggles that if she had some road to follow for Christ, His Mother would show it to her”
“Eileen and her sister, Mary, attended the nearby Sisters of Mercy convent school, while her brothers, Charles and Francis, attended the local Patrician Brothers school and on Sundays, the family attended Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Waterloo”, Sr Margaret Mary said.
“Eileen could barely walk, but she was determined to get to school and up the hill to Mass when she was well enough. Often her brothers and friends had to carry her. Eileen could well have learned through her struggles that if she had some road to follow for Christ, His Mother would show it to her”.
Dr Jocelyn Hedley works for the Historical Commission for the Archdiocese of Sydney, which is compiling evidence to support Eileen’s cause for Canonisation. She has written several books on Eileen’s life and believes the Feast of the Assumption was fitting to honour her.
“So very many of Eileen’s spiritual writings express her desire to increase in love for Our Lady such that she would, in turn, increase in love for Our Lord”, Dr Hedley said.
“She very much believed that the work of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor had in fact been commissioned by the Blessed Virgin, which naturally inspired in Eileen a great love and fervour for the work among the sick poor.”
The Waterloo Mass is one of a number of special events being held throughout 2021 to mark Servant of God Eileen O’Connor’s centenary of death. The next Mass will take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newcastle on Sunday 26 September at 9.30am, celebrated by Bishop Bill Wright. Attendance in person will be subject to COVID-19 restrictions.
More information can be found at eileenoconnor.com.au