“We come to give thanks”

As part of the ongoing celebration of the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the Dominican Sisters in Maitland on 10 September, 1867, Bishop Bill, assisted by Frs Anthony Walsh OP, Paul O’Neill and Maurie Cahill, presided at Mass at St John’s Chapel on 12 September.

“You are home now at last.”

These words of Bishop James Murray, quoted by Bishop Bill, to the newly arrived Sisters remain true, and while the Mass and lunch for Sisters, Tertiaries and Associates was a smaller occasion than some of the many celebrations, it was not lacking in enthusiasm or warmth. As congregational leader Sr Judith Lawson said, “We have enjoyed today with hearts full of gladness.”

Bishop Bill admitted that it was “…intimidating…I could speak of Dominic or of the Sisters to an audience that knows more of both than I do. Indulge me!

“Dominic drew the people back from a heresy that said the world was sharply divided. He was a celebrated preacher because he preached to the people where they were, not seeking to dominate but to be with the people.”

In terms of Bishop Murray’s invitation to the Sisters to come from Ireland, Bishop Bill said, “He had it cooked up before he left Ireland. He was no sooner here in Maitland than he’s writing back…there was concern about young Catholic ladies going to Protestant schools. His solution was to bring out a class act – the Dominican Sisters!”   

 Having experienced two floods, Bishop Murray had predicted that Maitland would not prosper, but as Bishop Bill reminded his congregation, “Maitlanders were made of sterner stuff!” After Mass, he urged those not familiar with Maitland to walk up on to the levee bank to see the Hunter River which is so critical to the region.

Bishop Bill was warm in his thanks to the Sisters for their enormous contribution to the diocese and for their fidelity to the Dominican charism. Like all of us privileged to be present, “Bishop Murray would be satisfied.”

The lunch that followed Mass was an opportunity to continue the stories and to hear a little more of the pioneer Sisters from congregational archivist, Sr Elizabeth Hellwig OP. Of the long voyage on the “Martha Birnie” from Dun Laoghaire to Sydney, it was said, “The champagne lifted our spirits and sometimes dulled the pain.”

And on arrival, “We loved Australia, just for being there.”

The Sisters of St Dominic too are loved, just for being there.

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is a member of the Raymond Terrace Parish and a freelance writer with a particular interest in church matters.

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