On 6 January 2020, 13 Sisters from four traditions of religious life – Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the former Federation Josephites of Perthville and Tasmania and Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the World – came together as one Congregation to renew their vows as Golden Jubilarians. This was the first time in history that the four traditions, though ‘diverse in culture, nation, race’ have come together as one congregation to celebrate fifty years of religious profession.
To prepare for this jubilee celebration, the sisters gathered at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney. Days were spent reliving events from our past lives and sharing stories. Sr Monica Cavanagh, Congregational Leader, joined the Jubilarians in prayer and remembering. Sr Monica used the beautiful image of a bowl that had been repaired using the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The Jubilarians acknowledged that their lives have had ups and downs, twists and turns, tears and smiles, but they were reminded that there is beauty in imperfection and brokenness.
The Golden Jubilarians made a pilgrimage to the Gore Hill Cemetery, the original resting place of St Mary MacKillop. They also recalled the stories of some of the early sisters buried there—sisters who believed in the vision of the two founders Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods and who gave their all to bring this vision to birth. The pilgrims reflected on their own response in today’s world.
At sunset, their pilgrimage took them to Waverley Cemetery, to the grave of Fr Julian Tension Woods, priest, founder and scientist, and marvelled at his sense of the sacred in nature, his untiring energy, his brilliance and prayerfulness. It was not by coincidence that they also stood at the grave of Terence Woods, Julian’s younger brother, which angulated towards Julian’s grave.
Prayer and gratitude were very much a part of their shared time. They gathered around the tomb of St Mary MacKillop remembering those who have carried them, journeyed with them, loved them and supported them over the years. They remembered and gave thanks.
Their time together culminated with Most Reverend Vincent Long presiding at their Jubilee Mass. As family members, friends and other religious gathered in gratitude, Bishop Long reminded the Jubilarians that religious are not only the ground troops for the Church but that they are critical yeast in critical times.
With these challenging words resting in their hearts the sisters renewed their vows, pledging to express their commitment in joyful loving service of God and the Church.
Kerry Gardiner rsj and Lyn Raftery rsj are Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
With thanks to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.