The young woman who could become Australia’s second canonised saint has been honoured on the 98th anniversary of her death, after a life of suffering and devotion to God.
At the same hour that the 28 year-old Eileen O’Connor died in 1921, a special Mass was celebrated on 10 January at Our Lady’s Home in Coogee where she had lived, and died.
About 200 faithful with a devotion to their “Little Mother” gathered for the 11am Mass celebrated by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and concelebrated by Bishop Anthony Randazzo and Emeritus Bishop David Walker of Broken Bay.
Great devotion was shown for the young woman who overcame physical disability and constant pain to achieve great holiness, serve the poor, and even found a religious order—Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, or the “Brown Nurses”.
The casket containing Eileen’s remains was exposed for veneration in the Chapel of Our Lady’s Home where many prayed before it and touched it.
“This little lady was able to achieve far more in 28 years than most able-bodied people do in 128 years,” Archbishop Fisher said. “I can think of no better example of someone who received the loving Word of God, if not into her womb, into her heart and soul and entire being, where it multiplied, so she might pass it on to others and ensure that they were cared for.”
“In her adult years, the Little Mother suffered not only physically, but emotionally, through the judgement and uncooperativeness of those who could not see beyond her disabilities to her potential, or beyond her ordinariness to the mystic within.
“Like Our Blessed Mother, ‘the Little Mother’ submitted with the words, ‘I am God’s handmaid: let it be done to me according to your word’.”
Sister responsible to the Eileen O’Connor projects, Sr Margaret Mary Birgan, described the day Eileen died.
“It was a very hot day. Eileen was wracked with pain and fever. Her faithful companions were gathered around her. Sixteen years later her body was exhumed, found to be incorrupt and reinterred in Our Lady’s home, where it still rests.”
“When we pray through Eileen’s intercession, it is difficult to separate her from devotion to Our Lady,” Sr Birgan said. “Eileen embraced the cross with Our Lady, for the poor, for souls. Her first thought was of God, through Mary, for souls. Her spirit lives on through the ministry of Sisters, the Brown Nurses, and through you, our friends of Eileen.”
Archbishop Fisher prayed that Eileen, who has been granted the title ‘Servant of God’ by the Holy See, would eventually be raised “to the altars as a saint” and that “by her intercession, before her loving Lord, there may be many miracles to credit to that cause.”
“The Church of Sydney and beyond today still benefits from Eileen’s fiat, just as the world-wide church still benefits from Mary’s,” he said. “By it, the love of God becomes incarnate in the lives of some of Sydney’s most vulnerable, through the compassionate care of Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor for those in need.
“Together let us pray that one day the Little Mother may be recognised as counted among the saints in heaven.”
Following the Mass, Bishop Walker launched the second edition of the book Eileen O’Connor—A Saintly Inspiration by Rob Ditessa.
“She intercedes for us in heaven,” Bishop Walker said of Eileen. “But if we want to experience her, we need to do that through her spirituality.”
Born in Melbourne, Eileen had been raised in poverty, and suffered from disability and constant physical pain after an accident as a child seriously injured her spine. She moved to Coogee in Sydney’s south-east Sydney with her family when she was 10 and much of her life was spent bed-ridden or in a wheel chair.
Overcoming many set-backs, she co-founded in 1913, along with Fr Edward McGrath MSC, Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor—dedicated to serving the poor and sick. The order is now under the governance of the Sisters of Charity due to declining numbers.
The official process for Eileen’s canonisation began in March 2018 when Archbishop Fisher appointed Fr Anthony Robbie as Postulator for her cause.
Author of Our Lady of Coogee, Mary O’Connell, said Eileen had showed “huge courage” during her life and a “beautiful determination and bloody-mindedness.”
“There’s a courage there that won’t be stopped… and a great love of the loveless.”
“She was a manager and highly competent administrator and hated wasting time… so she was both love and action. She wasn’t just a suffering saint, she was an active saint.”
Theresa D’Rozario of Sacred Heart Parish in South Mt Druitt said she has visited Our Lady’s Home in Coogee every year for the past 10 years on the anniversary of Eileen’s death.
“I really look forward to the day each year,” she said. “She’s very important to me. As soon as I heard her life history I was very attracted to her. She suffered a lot and I have a lot of suffering too, pain. I used to complain about it but through her I learned how not to mention it—how to suffer like Christ.
“I also pray to her, ‘I want to be a saint like you, so make me a saint’.”
By Catherine Sheehan. With thanks to The Catholic Weekly.