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Oceans apart but together in spirit

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They may not have been able to gather in person but the Sisters of Mercy in Argentina and South Australia were joined in spirit as they paid homage to the pioneering women who established a presence in Adelaide, Mt Gambier and Coolgardie 140 years ago.

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Plans for several Argentine Sisters to visit Adelaide for the jubilee celebrations were thwarted by the pandemic but the important ministry that the founding Sisters carried out, and their legacy today, was remembered by visits to their graves in four locations on the same day.

There were 24 Sisters who arrived in Adelaide on May 3 1880 at the invitation of Bishop Reynolds who planned for them to go to the South East to open schools and visit the gaol and hospital. Arriving earlier than expected, Mary MacKillop kindly offered them accommodation and one of her best schools (Russell St).

On the morning of Sunday May 3 2020, flowers were laid on the graves of each of the 24 Sisters, including the five founding Sisters buried in Mt Gambier and Mother Antonia McKay who set up a foundation in 1898 in Coolgardie, WA, at the bequest of the Perth bishop.

Fr Stephen Gorddard travelled from Kalgoorlie to Coolgardie to lay flowers on Mother Antonia’s grave.

The Sisters’ graves at Mt Gambier.

In Buenos Aires, Sr Moira Flynn laid flowers at the graves of the six Sisters who returned there in 1890. In Adelaide, over the course of the day about 18 Sisters visited the heritage graves in West Terrace Cemetery where the remaining 12 are buried, to lay flowers and say a prayer.

Sr Mary-Anne Duigan RSM described the occasion as “very moving”.

“It was quiet and dignified, standing in silence for a moment remembering these valiant women,” she said. “We recognised their names etched on the monuments, laid to rest with many others who have gone before us.”

Sr Moira Flynn at the final resting place of the founding Sisters in the grounds of St Ethnea College, Buenos Aires.

Sr Mary-Anne said that for 12 days leading up to May 3 the Sisters published a profile of two of the original founding Sisters.

“We got to know their names and something of their story,” she said. “We even found photos of some of these amazing women.”

The Sisters also made a video to tell the story of how they came to be in SA and the connection that they have maintained with the Sisters who returned to Argentina.

Sr Mary-Anne said there were many phone calls and emails between Adelaide and Argentina in the lead up to May 3 and the Argentine Sisters sent beautiful greetings on the day.

In the 19th century some Irish-born and Argentine Mercy Sisters were forced to leave Argentina due the political unrest in Buenos Aires and the influence of the Freemasons coming from Europe.

“The mystery of the Mercy history weaving its way through leaving Argentina and establishing a foundation in Adelaide brings us together today celebrating our deep roots,” wrote the Argentine Mercy Sisters.

“We are extremely grateful to these Irish and Argentine women who, led by the Spirit, ended in Australia and 10 years later returned to Argentina.

“In their name and ours we would have loved to be there in person as it was planned, but since the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t allow us we want you to know that we are with you at heart and in our prayers, hoping that we can make it in May 2021.”

Fr Stephen Gorddard at Mother Antonia McKay’s grave at Coolgardie, WA.

 

 

 

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