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Student returns to her alma mater as a Sister

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, as one former Notre Dame student has found

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Sister Mary Lily on the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame Australia. The former arts law student is now part of the chaplaincy team. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Sarah comes home after a whirlwind conversion

If a word can sum up the last few years for Sr Mary Lily, it might be ‘mercy’.

Until recently she was known as Sarah Lovegrove, a law and arts student at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney.

Now a novice with the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, the 24-year-old has returned to her hometown and her old uni, where her vocation began to take shape, to work in its chaplaincy team.

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It’s been a whirlwind journey from student days at the Broadway campus, travelling in the UK and Europe, entering the convent in the US and now back again.

Others at university lit a spark

Sr Mary Lily said the friendship and kindness she experienced from Catholics at uni, and the chaplaincy team led her on a journey to discover more about her faith and what it means to be known and loved by God.

Growing up in a loving family in the Penrith area, the “kind of on-and-off again” churchgoer was surprised to find a good number of students at Notre Dame regularly attended its beautiful 19th century church.

“They seemed so confident in their faith, and I definitely wasn’t,” she said, adding that by her second year, she realised she was unhappy with her life.

Then-Sarah Lovegrove at a Theology on Tap event in Sydney. PHOTO: Supplied

Looking for meaning

“Superficially everything was fine but I wasn’t satisfied with living on a superficial level,” she said.

“After one weekend out with a group of friends I thought, in two days the semester starts and I’m going to go to Mass again.

“I wanted to find God, and I wanted to find happiness.”

Then-chaplain Fr James Baxter OP and, later Sr Mary Benedicta RSM and other Sisters of Mercy patiently answered all her questions and encouraged her to go to Mass and begin a regular routine of prayer and the sacraments, including her first confession since she was a child, “that was a very beautiful, rare grace…I cried and cried”.

Encounter with Sisters of Mercy

“I was learning about the faith and meeting these beautiful young Catholics at Notre Dame, who just cared for one another in a way I had never experienced with other students. It was so touching and I just truly uplifted and thought that this is what I was longing for.”

The institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, was founded in 1973. It is grounded in the Mercy spirituality and tradition of the institute as it was founded by Venerable Catherine McAuley in Ireland in the early 1800s. A Come and See weekend at their Camperdown convent, and reading Catherine McAuley’s writings confirmed for Sarah that she wanted to share their life and learn how to live their Mercy vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service.

“I had a growing desire to love God and to serve him and at the same time just really admired the sisters and wanted to like them,” she said.

Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Sr Maria Jose, Sr Mary Lily and Sr Maliya are all alumni from Notre Dame University Australia. PHOTO: Supplied

Not the only one …

Two other Notre Dame graduates, Sister Maliya and Sister Maria Jose, have also been assigned to the Camperdown convent.

Sr Mary Lily returned to Sydney in lockdown last month and is still waiting to see her parents, sister and brother when the restrictions ease, but her work at the chaplaincy doesn’t have to wait at least. This month she’s launching a regular online rosary and an interview series about vocations called The Call to Trust.

She knows from experience the incredible difference a daily habit of prayer made, especially at times of stress.

“I found it very fruitful when I was a student to take some time to be with the Lord, even if it meant going from the library to the church to pray a rosary then go back to study,” she said.

“That time to recentre, recollect and then return to my study I found very helpful. So I hope to encourage the students to experience that also, especially through the lockdown and pandemic restrictions.”


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