Joy and gratitude has marked the 75-year anniversary celebrations in Melbourne for the Missionary Sisters of Service, which took place yesterday on Sunday 7 July.
8 July officially marks 75 years since the founding of the Missionary Sisters of Service by Fr John Wallis, in Tasmania, with an initial four women (Gwen Morse, Monica Carroll, Joyce O’Brien, Kath Moore) who said ‘yes’ to his call. Founded in Launceston, Tasmania, this pioneering group of women set out into the highways and byways of Australia and beyond, called to be living signs of the gospel among those on the margins.
Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli led the anniversary mass at St Thomas the Apostle church, together with parish priest, Fr Terry Bowman MSC. Applause broke out among the congregation following words of thanks spoken by Archbishop Peter during his homily.
‘Certainly this work of bringing Christ into the lives of all people, by going out to them, has been at the heart of the apostolic charism of the Missionary Sisters of Service over these past 75 years,’ Archbishop Peter said.
‘As their mission states, “We are a community of women called to be bearers of hope in our world. To bring the good news of justice, compassion and peace to all creation. That all may be transformed by the power of the gospel. We have a particular concern for people in the margins, geographically, culturally, spiritually, or socially”.’
‘In quite unique ways, using dare I say quite unique modes of transport, you Missionary Sisters of Service have been the travelling presence of Jesus into some of the most far flung and challenging locations in our country. You women of God have gone where others would not, and have brought the joy and the care of the gospel to people who would otherwise have never known of their dignity and worth in Jesus Christ. So thank you. Thank you.’
Twelve of the 26 sisters attended the Melbourne celebration, including one who had travelled from Whyalla, South Australia. Anniversary celebrations will take place in other locations where the sisters live – Toowoomba, Mackay and Bribie Island in Queensland and Hobart, Tasmania.
In reflecting on their 75-year milestone, MSS Congregational Leader, Stancea Vichie, marvelled at the foresight of the order’s young founder, Fr John Wallis, and the courageous women who said yes.
‘I wondered what was going through the mind of the young John Wallis, the Diocesan priest, who was still young in his 30s when the order commenced in 1944. It was his dream and vision, through a woman on Bruny island, Kit Hawkins, who had challenged him in 1933 saying, “Father, why can’t we have sisters coming here in the bush? That got John thinking and 11 years later we came into being.’
‘The first four women who came together in Launceston were very mature, wise women, who left very responsible jobs in order to reach out into the deep, even at a time when World War II was still raging. They had very little in the way of economic resources, but what they did have was a great strength in the inner resources of faith, trust and courage.’
‘I’m sure there were moments of doubt on this very day, 75 years ago, wondering if they were doing the right thing or not. But they did. They took out into the deep, in their boats, and within six months there were two other women who had joined them.’
Stancea said it has been a special gift for the MSS to know their founder and also the pioneering women; to be part of this continuing story of reaching out to people on the margins.
‘Sometimes when we were working in those rural and outback areas some people would say, “Why on earth are you traveling 150km to see one family or two people?” But the whole essence of our spirit has always been that each and every person is important no matter who they are or where they are.’
Stancea said, ‘We’ve also been very much shaped by the land. We are extremely fortunate and grateful that we have lived and worked on the lands of so many of our First Nation’s peoples in this land, across this country, from Cape York to Hobart, all down the eastern part of Australia, across three quarters of South Australia, right up to the southern part of the Northern Territory.’
The sisters’ commemorative cookbook, Food for the Highways and Byways, which features many photographs over the 75 years, stories and recipes, also features a large map of Australia, which shows the many locations where the sisters have lived and worked.
On behalf of the sisters, Stancea thanked everyone gathered at the parish for the anniversary celebrations, as well as those who had been in touch from afar.
‘We are grateful to our God and to the spirit for gifting us with his charism,’ Stancea said. ‘It’s not ours. It’s been gifted to us. Our gratitude also extends to our Stewardship Council, to all who are part of the Highways and Byways: A Community of Service, our new entity which will continue the work of the sisters well into the future, and to all our wonderful staff.’
‘There are many tens of thousands of people that we really need to thank today across this country, and outside of Australia as well because we’ve been gifted with so much hospitality on the part of so many people.’
‘So a very big thank you to everybody for everything, and let’s continue to party and celebrate.’
With thanks to Fiona Basile and the Missionary Sisters of Service.