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Chapel centenary revives rich history


Mercy Sisters and members of the St Aloysius College (SAC) community gathered to honour the centenary of the Cunningham Memorial Chapel on October 20.

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Sr Mary-Anne Duigan and SAC archivist Carol Grantham proposed the idea of a celebration ritual to mark the culmination of the Chapel’s 2022-23 centenary year. The Chapel opened on November 21 1922.

The ritual was attended by more than 40 Sisters, current and former staff and old scholars.

The Cunningham Memorial Chapel holds great significance for many within the college community and beyond.

Sr Kathryn Travers, who documented the Chapel’s rich history, wrote: ‘The Chapel is here because of the generosity of the parents of Mother Cecilia Cunningham. After her parents’ death, Mother Cecilia and Mother Mary Clare, two of the original founding Sisters of Mercy who came to Adelaide from the Argentine (Argentina) in 1880, returned there in 1912 to claim Mother Cecilia’s considerable inheritance, gifted by her late parents.’

As Sr Travers documents, Mothers Cecilia and Clare were unable to return to Adelaide until early 1920 when the estate was finally settled, and their delayed return was also because the conflict of World War I made sea travel too dangerous. Sr Carmel Bourke, a former principal of SAC, was a boarder at that time and remembers the arrival of the two sisters at SAC. ‘There was great excitement and a half-holiday granted, as the two Sisters made a tour of the school and we (students and staff) welcomed them with songs and cheers,’ Sr Bourke wrote.

The inheritance was used by the Sisters to obtain and develop property and buildings in the Archdiocese at Parkside, Henley Beach and Goodwood as well as at SAC in the city.

Today, the Chapel offers a space of quiet contemplation amid bustling city surrounds. It frequently hosts students for class and year level liturgies, and the wider community for funerals and weddings. The Romero Community celebrates a liturgy in the Chapel each Sunday.

Ms Grantham described the Chapel as a place that holds “a sense of serenity and breathtaking awe”.

“There is something about the quietness, the coolness of the space,” she explained.

“It is not an ostentatious building by standards of international comparison, but the craftsmanship and detail is certainly admirable. There is beauty in the way daylight seeps through the stained glass windows, just enough to see clearly, so that one almost feels cocooned.”

Sr Duigan said that if walls could talk, we could all learn a great deal from the stories shared, prayers offered, hymns sung and the significant professions celebrated within those of the Cunningham Memorial Chapel.

“I remember stories shared about the times when our Argentinian sisters were in desperate straits and enduring terrible unrest over there, we were in contact with them and regularly prayed for them in the Cunningham Memorial Chapel. Our Mother Superior offered them a home with us in Adelaide, should they ever need it,” she said.

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