Theresa out from the shadows

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Dr Jocelyn Hedley with relatives of Sr Theresa McLaughlin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Dr Jocelyn Hedley with relatives of Sr Theresa McLaughlin. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

While Australia’s potential next saint, the founder of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor Eileen O’Connor, is becoming ever more widely known and loved, few know about her quiet and saintly companion, Theresa McLaughlin.

Known fondly as Cissie by all who loved her, she was the first member of the Brown Nurses and the woman who diligently guided them through difficult years after Eileen’s death.
Her story has been told in a new book, Hidden in the Shadow of Love, by historian and author Dr Jocelyn Hedley.

Bishop Tony Randazzo launched the book at Our Lady’s Home in Coogee on 28 September, attended by Fr Michael Goonan of St Paul’s Publications, Sisters of Charity congregational leader Sr Clare Nolan who also leads the Brown Nurses, Bishop David Walker, Bishop Terry Brady, and Good Samaritan Sister Elizabeth Delaney.

The bishop commended the book as a “treasure-trove of Sydney history”, a subtle spiritual biography and an inspiring work of mission in action.

“[Without Cissie] dare I say, Eileen would not have been able to accomplish much of her important work,” he said.

“[But in her] you find no boast and no airs. One simply finds faithful service, and sharing in the simple joys and challenges of the little band of sisters.”

Sr Margaret Mary Birgan OLN expressed the Nurses’ gratitude for Bishop Randazzo’s role in Eileen’s journey towards canonisation, and thanked the author for her “love, devotion and hard work” in telling Sister Theresa’s story, and before that, the 2011 biography of Eileen O’Connor in Here Begin the Work of Heaven.

Dr Jocelyn Hedley with Bishop Tony Randazzo. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“Theresa McLaughlin lived an extremely hidden life, as Jocelyn was to discover as she sifted through the archives,” Sr Margaret said.

“And it was from that hidden life the growth of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor bloomed.

“It was Theresa who cared for Eileen’s personal needs and held Eileen in her arms at the moment of her death. [She then] took the helm, and religiously wrote to Bishop Kelly year after year to bring Eileen’s body home to Our Lady’s Home in Coogee and it was Theresa who wrote to the various prelates to introduce Eileen’s road to sanctity.”

And now, day after day we are reminded how far and widely known is Eileen O’Connor and the Brown Nurses – Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor. Eileen herself is revealing her holiness in her own inimitable way.”

One of the guest of honours at the launch was Dr Andrew McLaughlin, the last surviving nephew of Sr Theresa McLaughlin, who told The Catholic Weekly that he remembers her as a saintly presence on his family’s monthly visits to Dudley Street when he was growing up.

“Aunty Cissie was very quiet, she didn’t say a lot. She was angelic, serene, very introspective,” he said. “She was extraordinarily good, gentle and deeply spiritual, almost unique.”

Dr Hedley told said that Sr Theresa McLaughlan was “extraordinarily faithful in the little things” and so could also be thought as sharing in the mission of the saint of the Little Flower St Therese of Lisieux.

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