Accompanied and Held
Founders Chapel dedicated in Parramatta
Sunday, 18th April, 2021 held great significance for us, the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, as well as for our Centre’s Administration Staff, representative of some of our ministries and sponsored works, and the Sisters of Mercy Callan, Co. Kilkenny Ireland Community joined via video. This date marked the dedication of a Founders Chapel - a ‘small chapel within a chapel’ - created in one of the precepts within the Mother Mary Clare Dunphy Chapel which was formally consecrated and opened in 1939.
Panels and Photographs for Founders
It all started with the ‘dream’ of one of our Irish sisters, Johanna Conway from Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny. Her hope was to have the precept which contained the tomb of Mother Mary Clare, Superior of the Congregation’s founding community from Callan, dedicated as a place for quiet and prayer. The precept also displays a beautiful stain-glass window which honours the nine pioneer sisters, as well as an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour gifted during the sisters’ ocean voyage on the Cuzco bound for Australia in 1888.
Johanna’s ‘dream’ of dedicating the precept became a reality through the initiative of Sr Mary-Louise Petro, Congregation Leader who, with the backing of the Leadership Team, commissioned one of our sisters, Rosemary Crumlin, a recognised artist and religious art curator, to progress the concept of an art piece for the wall. Rosemary became Project Advisor and Coordinator, and subsequently invited an artist friend, Anthony Russo, to create a work that would capture the courage and steadfastness of our nine founding sisters’ journey from Ireland.
The result is stunning: a set of five brass panels engraved with the continuing outline of the movement of the Cuzco on the ocean waves and inscriptions of the names and ages of the nine courageous founding women.
The Ceremony itself held poignant as well as inspirational and humorous moments. Following a warm welcome by Mary-Louise, and an Acknowledgement of Country by Sr Maria Lawton, Vicar, Sr Marg Hinchey commenced the commentary which would accompany each movement of the celebration. The haunting music of the Deer’s Cry, played on cello by Patrick Dexter, created an emotive backdrop to a procession of archival items which had accompanied the sisters on their journey in 1888. An accompanying commentary for a letter of invitation from Cardinal Patrick Moran, a chalice from Kilkenny, a Sacred Music Book and a beautifully scripted Diary, was read by Sr Joan Keogh.
Our three Irish sisters, Anna and Johanna Conway from Mullinavat, Co. Kilkenny and Catherine Harris, from Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford shared touching glimpses into the backgrounds of the founding ‘Spirit Mothers’. These short biographies also offered insights into the giftedness these nine young women brought to the creation of the new Foundation. The powerful, emotive lyrics and melody of ‘Standing on the Shoulders’ which followed the reading of the biographies visibly touched the hearts of those present.
L-R: Sr Johanna Conway, Sr Catherine Harris, Sr Anna Conway
A reading of Diary excerpts read by Sisters Antoinette Doyle and Joyce Vella evoked audible and visible responses, expressing the depth of appreciation of what these young Irish women had experienced some 133 years ago: the ‘rocky’ times with seasickness, the inability to leave the ship at any time, the spontaneous moments of joy and fun, and the envisaged underlying homesickness.
Accompanied and Held, a litany composed and read by Sr Valda Dickinson, captured appreciation and awe for the elements of creation which had accompanied and held the nine women: the sacred body of the universe, the waters of the great oceans, the sun, moon, stars and overhead canopy of sky and clouds, changing tides, winds, waves and currents, aquatic creates, birds, grains and fruits of the earth, sighting of the Southern Cross and the Australian Coastline, their voyage encompassing all of the larger story of Earth and Universe.
The final movement of the Ceremony held the formal blessing of the panels by Mary-Louise and Rosemary using a small branch from an Australian eucalyptus tree and a blend of Easter water, water from Baggott Street and the Parramatta River. The blessing was a fitting culmination, filled with deep emotion and solemnity, and the final song, Ave Maria, an acknowledgement of Mary as a river of mercy, sent its strains reverberating around the Chapel and into the ‘small chapel within a chapel’.
Words of appreciation received from the Callan sisters and all present at the Ceremony have expressed a deeper sense of inclusion in the Mercy story, a stronger connection with Mercy across borders, a richer appreciation of our founders’ courage and steadfastness, and a more profound commitment to the Mercy mission.
The concluding words inscribed on the Dedication plaque of the Founders Chapel hold an ongoing invitation to all who enter this sacred space: Welcome to this little place of the heart – a place to wait and be still. (Rosemary Crumlin)
Founders Chapel Plaque