The picture above is of Sister Patricius Quine, the last Mercy Sister to have lived in Strokestown, presenting Mr John Allen, the Chairperson of the Pastoral Council with a Mercy Cross. Their smiles show the good relationship always enjoyed between the Mercy Community and the generations of townspeople over one hundred and twenty-two years. The large wooden cross itself had been made by a past pupil. This is now proudly displayed on the wall of the church. The Sisters were welcomed to the local community from their first arrival and there was always a sense of reciprocity between them.
The occasion of the departure was beautifully marked by a meaningful liturgy on Friday, December 6th last. The final two pages of the well-produced booklet, tell the story of dedication, innovation and a Mercy Spirit well lived. The photograph seen above shows some of those who ministered here through the years, with Sister Caitlín Conneely (Provincial) and Bishop Christy Jones (main celebrant), in the foreground. They were in good company, since the people of the parish and wider school catchment area were present in great number. The bishop’s homily centred on the story of the early days of the first sisters, in the context of the terrible poverty experienced at the time in the area.
Many speeches of appreciation were given on the night to give thanks for the multi-dimensional work of the Sisters. They concentrated particularly on the field of education with Our Lady’s Primary School opening in 1891, with both religious and non-religious staff. There was to be a religious as principal until 1987, when Sister Madeleine Morris was replaced by Mrs Joan Kennedy. Such a transition was also a first for the Diocese of Elphin.
The great life experienced in Mercy education in Strokestown can be glimpsed in the photograph seen below. Here, staff put on a Percy French musical and give every sign of enjoying the show greatly. Secondary school education began in 1955, with the first pupils sitting the Intermediate examination two years later. A big change came about in 1967, when Scoil Mhuire, a private secondary school with Principal Mrs Mary Carlos, amalgamated with the Mercy secondary top. A new co-educational secondary school was the result. Sister Stephanie Breslin was the last Mercy principal of the school.
The next photograph brings us back in time with regard to apparel. However, the three pictured here: Mary McGovern, Rosalia Murray RIP and Rosaleen Redican, were looking towards future changes. Indeed, Mercy has seen many changes in dress through the years. A slide show of different photographs was shown on the night of the final farewell and this tracked the many transitions to our present day manner of dress.
Novitiate companions, Marian Dolan, Bernadette McDonnell, Mary Forde and Therese Stritch, are seen outside the convent below. Marian was to move forth geographically when she ventured to Kenya in 1972, where she ministered as a Surgeon in the remote and needy hospital of Mutomo, and has only returned to Ireland recently. While Bernadette and Mary kept the home fires burning, Therese also went to Kenya in 1973 and now ministers in the Turkana desert.
Two of the pioneers to the mission in San Diego in 1957 left from Strokestown: Sisters Margaret Killian and Celestine, who is still there. They were followed by many others over the years. Other Sisters went to Kenya, to South Africa, to Rwanda and to England. A total of twenty Sisters returned from mission to live in community in Strokestown. There are too many of these brave pioneering women to name in this short piece, but their tireless dedication to the Mercy charism stands in its own right. Strokestown can be proud that, not only did it show such selfless giving on its own turf but that it shared generously across the globe.
This outreach was to have quite an effect on the students of the schools, many of them having been involved in the Concern Fast over decades. They contributed to disaster appeals and have always supported Mercy missions in Kenya and Rwanda.
Life was well balanced with maritime excursions! Here we see Sisters Stephanie Breslin, Mary Forde and Bridget Feeney (RIP), as they re-gather their energies. Through the many photographs, the vibrant spirit of the different Sisters is apparent. As well as being involved in the provision of education, Sisters have been part of many different youth activities. Debating, sport, recreational and personal development activities are among their accolades. Sisters have been part of Macra na Feirme, Foróige, as well as regular dances and discos in the school halls.
A sense of the life among the Sisters may be glimpsed in the photograph below. They are: Front Row – Mary Carty, Stephanie Breslin, Marian O’Connor, Mary Walsh and Kathleen McQuaid RIP; Centre – Helen Bosquette, Rosaleen Rushe and Mary Forde; Back Row – Gerardine Kelly and Anna Duignan. Strokestown was obviously a great gathering place through the years.
Mary Forde, Mary Walsh and Stephanie Breslin are enjoying the celebrations on the night of the Final Farewell, as seen below. The Strokestown community through parish and schools have been long-standing supporters of missions outside of Ireland, so it was no wonder that Mary Walsh was one of the volunteers to go to Rwanda in the International Mercy mission there, in the wake of the genocide.
Education was a big part of Mercy ministry in Strokestown. Patricius Quine, the last Sister to live in Strokestown is seen below at the centre of a staff gathering. Visitation of those in need has been another feature of Mercy presence in Strokestown. From the beginning, families from the school, the sick or those in any known need were visited. This was in true fulfillment of Catherine McAuley’s guiding principle that the street was to be the sisters’ cloister.
Maudwina Gaegan and Kathleen Handmore, two members of staff, are seen below with Patricius, giving us a better view of the valiant last survivor! They are living proof that the school complex was the hub of the town over the years. Now that the Sisters themselves have moved residence from the town, it is up to the whole community to enflesh the Mercy ethos. It is clear that this passing on of the baton has been done in style!
A job well done!
Mary Walsh rsm & Suzanne Ryder rsm