The religious order founded by the woman who could one day be named as another Australian saint, will operate—as of 1 July this year—under the leadership of the Sisters of Charity.
On 1 July a special Mass and ceremony presided over by Bishop Anthony Randazzo was held to formalise this new arrangement between Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor and the Sisters of Charity.
Sisters from both congregations came together to witness the historic event, held in the chapel of the Convent of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in Dudley Street, Coogee, the same building in which Eileen O’Connor lived and worked until her death in 1921.
During the Ceremony of New Leadership Bishop Randazzo addressed Sr Margaret Mary Birgan, Congregational Leader of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, saying, “You and your sisters have formally decided at your Chapter to accept the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity of Australia as your new Congregational Leader, responsible for governance, administration and pastoral care.”
Addressing Sr Clare Nolan, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity, the Bishop said, “You and your Council have agreed to the request by Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor to become their Congregational Leader.”
He prayed that God would “bless this new relationship abundantly and bring about great graces for all concerned, for the glory of God and the good of the whole Church.” Sr Birgan and Sr Nolan then signed the official agreements.
In her address Sr Nolan said that the foundresses of both congregations—Eileen O’Connor and Mary Aikenhead—were women of great faith and trust.
“For more than 100 years, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor – known as the Brown Nurses – have lived the charism ‘For the poor’, and performed a unique ministry of healthcare, advocacy, and friendship for the poor and disadvantaged,” Sr Birgan said, in a statement prior to the 1 July ceremony. “At one stage our community boasted almost 40 religious sisters and novices, all trained or training as registered nurses. But now there are just 11 of us, and we have asked the Congregational Leader and Council of the Sisters of Charity to provide our governance, administration and pastoral care.”
Sr Nolan said, “The Sisters of Charity of Australia are privileged to be able to support Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, and we look forward to working closely with them to ensure the charism of Eileen O’Connor, and the legacy of the Brown Nurses, is carried into the future.”
While the Sisters of Charity were the first religious sisters to arrive in Australia in 1838, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor were founded in Coogee 75 years later, as a ministry to poor people in their own homes.
Founder Eileen O’Connor, who died at the age of 28, was disabled from childhood due to tuberculosis of the spine.
While Fr McGrath provided governance of the Brown Nurses, Eileen, who was mostly bed-ridden, was a spiritual mother and guide to the sisters.
She later took over full management of the religious order.
At one stage Eileen had threatened to sue the Sydney Archdiocese for defamation after Archbishop Michael Kelly had given credence to gossip about the nature of her relationship with Fr McGrath, something the Archbishop later reneged on.
Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor was made a religious congregation in 1953.
Seven years later Cardinal Norman Gilroy approved a prayer for Eileen’s beatification.
Suffering great physical pain throughout her life, Eileen was also considered a mystic and when her body was exhumed in 1936 it was found to be incorrupt.