Sisters of St Joseph celebrate 150 years of order

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The Sisters of St Joseph last month celebrated the anniversary of their foundation, 150 years to the day when Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods first brought their unlikely dream to reality

In communion with their families, friends, co-workers and colleagues, all over Australia and the world, the Sisters gathered around the table of the Eucharist to offer their thanks and to celebrate God’s goodness to them and their world over 150 years.

In cathedrals and parish churches, in diocesan groups and tiny communities, on the edges of the Australian desert, the South American Andes, the Timorese rainforests and the Celtic hills and valleys, they gathered with their people, humbled and grateful for all they had been given.

The Sydney-based Sisters and their companions gathered in St Mary’s Cathedral.

As representatives of the Knights of the Southern Cross carried in the World Youth Day cross, crafted from the wood of Penola’s original stable, many of the Sisters found themselves caught in two worlds: so very happy that 150 years on Julian and Mary and all they stood for were now welcomed into the Mother Church of the nation, but fearful nonetheless lest they lose their homeland in the hearts of the small and the humble, the ordinary people of God’s world – people of any church or none!

Any fears though were soon dulled as the singing began:

Let our praise now fill this joyful place as loudly we proclaim,
that in Mary’s life we see the faith that glorifies your name.

The readings reminded all again of the fidelity and graciousness of our God, and the prayers resounded deeply in every Josephite heart for all of creation – our people, our lands and communities, our youth, our alienated, and for those who enjoy little welcome in our nations and our institutions.

It was Bishop Terry Brady, auxiliary bishop of Sydney, though who, in his homily, quietened the large crowd. He spoke of his experience the previous Sunday as he sat down to prepare his words for the occasion – and was deeply conscious of the presence of Julian there with him in his Balmain presbytery, sharing his passion, priest-to-priest!

What he spoke to the people was indeed touching: Be grateful that God’s Spirit still walks among us in women and men touched by Mary’s faith-filled love for all God’s people.

Be grateful, that 150 years on, people all over Australia and the world still hear the heartbeat of God in their own Josephite hearts, and get to work on what others may not be able to do!

Many felt that Julian and Mary had given them a very personal word of hope and encouragement through Bishop Terry, a word that must stay with us all in our moment of history.

One hundred and fifty years on it can seem that our time is one where the noble institutions of church, politics, economics, even law, are suddenly unequal to the challenges of our day.

Maybe Julian and Mary were telling us that we aren’t finished yet.

Where institutions may fail, God’s spirit is alive and speaking to our hearts, no matter how insignificant or unimportant we may seem. It is our call to listen – and to get on with God’s work in our world.

In a message, Congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh challenged those gathered to continue their responses to the needs of this time: the families in detention centres and refugee camps, those without educational opportunities in Timor Leste and Peru, those in rural communities as they struggle with drought, flood, fire and uncertain markets, those seeking to be treated with compassion and dignity, and those dealing with the grief, loss and heartaches of daily life.

She pleaded with all to enable the heartbeat of God’s love to flow freely through our world.

At the conclusion of the Mass as the Sisters processed out of the Cathedral, the applause rang through the rafters – and all gathered knew that, even in such grand surroundings, we were among our own and in our own heartland.

Through the smiles and the tears on all those faces, the love of God was shining through, and would be for the next 150 years.