Srs. Maria Comerford & Rose O’Brien at the unveiling of the Sculpture of the Venerable Catherine McAuley on 11th November 2019
On October 9th, 1888, nine Sisters, under the leadership of Mother Clare Dunphy, left Convent of Mercy, Callan to begin a foundation in Parramatta, Sydney. They were responding to an invitation from Archbishop Patrick Moran, who as Bishop of Ossory had been responsible for the foundation of the convent in Callan from Athy 16 years earlier.
This year the Sisters celebrated their 130th anniversary and invited two Sisters from the Kilkenny cluster to go and join in the celebrations. We, Rose O’Brien and Maria Comerford, were the lucky ones whose names were drawn from the hat so on November 6th we set off for Parramatta. The journey took 30 hours from door to door but the pioneer Sisters spent six weeks on a ship so we were not complaining.
Srs. Rose & Maria & Koala
It took a few days for our sleep and eat clocks to adjust to Australian time and after that, we were off! The Sisters involved us in every aspect of their celebrations, from a remembrance of their departed Sisters in the cemetery on November 10th to the final Mass of Celebration on December 8th. In between, we learned of the hardships of the early days and of the wonderful energy and dedication of the sisters. As the city expanded so did the work of the sisters as they cared for the educational and social needs of a burgeoning immigrant population. We visited many of their present day ministry sites. The original convent in Parramatta is now the administrative centre of the Parramatta Community and beside it stands Our Lady of Mercy College. The memory of the early Sisters is very much honoured in both community and college. On November 11th, the new sculpture of Venerable Catherine McAuley similar to that unveiled in Baggot Street in September was unveiled in the college grounds. There are now three Irish-born Sisters in the Parramatta community, Anna and Johanna Conway from Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny and Catherine Harris from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.
Celtic design in the crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney
It wasn’t all work! We saw the sights of Sydney – the harbour, the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, St. Mary’s Cathedral, the statue of Queen Victoria presented by the government of Ireland and, not to be outdone, a piece of stone from Blarney Castle presented by the Lord Mayor of Cork! The Sisters took us to Bondi Beach and by ferry to Manly. We visited the Hunter Valley, famous for its wine, and also spent a morning in Featherdale Reserve making the acquaintance of the unique birds and animals of Australia.
Our abiding memory will be of the kindness and hospitality of the Sisters and of their obvious care and concern for each other. Many, but not all, have Irish among their ancestry and we both found contacts with our home parishes here in Ireland. We felt very much at home in our expanded Mercy family.
We are very grateful to all who made this experience possible for us, Sr. Mary Louise Petro and the leadership Team in Parramatta, Sr. Eileen O’Flynn and team in Cork and our fellow cluster members who covered for us while we were away.