Being present in St. Flannan’s Church, Killaloe on Friday 7th December, 2018 for the Mass to mark the Sisters of Mercy departure from the town, Tennyson’s lines surfaced through the mists of memory:
“The old order changeth yielding place to new
And God fulfils himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
It was an apt quotation for the occasion. The Sisters of Mercy were leaving Killaloe and returning to the mother house in Ennis. The wheel had turned full circle and what had begun on the 8th December, 1889 had now reached completion. Bishop Ryan’s dream had been realised and over a period of 129 years the works of Mercy had been faithfully carried out in the Parish. Now the Parish was ready for a fresh phase of the journey through the twentieth first century.
The story of the Sisters of Mercy in Killaloe is an interesting one which reflects the growing influence of the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. Bishop Power became Co-Adjutor Bishop of Killaloe in 1865. Having demolished his previous residence as Parish Priest he built what was known as the Bishop’s Palace on the same site. Bishop Ryan, a native of Killaloe, succeeded Dr. Power in 1871. It was his dream to have Sisters of Mercy in every parish of his diocese but sadly he died in 1889 before this dream could be realised. Dr. McRedmond, his successor, knowing of Bishop Ryan’s aspirations, chose to live in Ennis and made the former Bishop’s palace available as a Convent for the Sisters of Mercy.
Pupils of Killaloe Convent in 1910
On 8th December, 1889 the first five Sisters of Mercy came, as the annals say, by” coach and pair”. Srs. Mary Philomena Hogan. Austin Nolan, Ita von Troll, Ignatius Geary and Baptist Corry were the foundation Sisters. They came in keeping with Bishop Ryan’s wishes “to act as a permanent institution for the care of the sick and indigent and for the education of poor children”. These wishes the Sisters have been carrying out ever since until their recent departure. They educated the young in primary and secondary schools, they established cottage industries to augment meagre family incomes, they visited and cared for the sick, the lonely and the elderly and above all they identified with the Killaloe people.
During the final Mass and Ritual a wholehearted appreciation of the Sisters’ services was very evident. Tributes were paid to their dedicated work in education and to their support of the cultural life of the town. Their oneness with the daily lives of Killaloe people in their joys and tribulations was mentioned and through it all was an awareness of the Sisters’ commitment to handing on the Faith in the Parish which they were leaving on their return to Ennis. Their contribution lives on as the last five Sisters, Srs. Noreen O’Rourke, Attracta Duggan, Teresa McNamara, Nancy O’Farrell and Teresa O’Connell, return to the mother house. The parting atmosphere was one of reciprocal enrichment. The Sisters were leaving but were taking with them the good will of the Killaloe people and memories of happy times in that beautiful town beside the Shannon.
Being one of the 117 Sisters listed on the local newspapers as having served for a time in Killaloe, I came away that evening with, I admit, a sense of sadness at the passing of the old order but also with gratitude for the completeness of the work so generously undertaken down through the years. I anticipated the Lord’s commendation “Well done good and faithful servant …enter into the joy of thy Lord”. The Sisters had played a worthwhile and lasting part in Killaloe and all was now well with their coming and with their going. The next phase of life in the Parish was about to begin.
Kathleen Minogue rsm
South Central Province