News archive 2003

Archbishop pays tribute to Sisters of Mercy

PRESS RELEASE

STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 7.30PM ON 12 NOVEMBER 2003

ARCHBISHOP PAYS TRIBUTE TO SISTERS OF MERCY

Issued by the Catholic Communications Office

on behalf of the Archdiocese of Armagh

 

At a Mass marking the 150th anniversary of St Vincent’s Secondary School
in Dundalk, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Seán Brady, paid tribute to the
Sisters of Mercy in the following terms:

“Today I salute in a special way the Mercy Sisters. No group has
contributed more to the development of Irish society as the Mercy
Order. Involving great sacrifice and generosity, the Sisters of
Mercy have for over 150 years educated countless thousands of women,
enabling them to take their place in society, and by extension,
have shaped and influenced the lives of the husbands, sons and
daughters of their pupils. If Ireland today is to some degree,
North and South, a more confident and prosperous place, taking
its rightful place among the nations of the world, holding its
head high and commanding a key role in many aspects of the world
order, it is in no small portion due to the self-giving of the
Mercy Sisters. Notwithstanding the difficult and painful issues
from the past which the Mercy Order, as other Religious Congregations,
and indeed the Church in general in Ireland must courageously
confront, I pay warm tribute to the Sisters. It would be a
travesty of truth and justice if the excellent work the Mercy
Sisters have done in the past were to be forgotten in the present.
Irish society owes the Mercy Order a debt which can never be
repaid and that we must remember.”

The full text of Archbishop Brady’s Homily follows.

Ends
12th November 2003

Further information:

Fr Eugene Sweeney
Tel: (028 375 22045)
Replace 028 with 048 when dialling from
Republic of Ireland

St.Vincent’s Secondary School Dundalk – 150 Years
November 12, 2003
Homily of Most Rev Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh

In recent weeks the Catholic World, and indeed the world in general, have celebrated
the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was a remarkable woman with a
remarkable story whose life journey began in Macedonia almost a hundred years ago –
a journey that took her from her family home and homeland, to Ireland and the Loreto
Sisters, and then to India as a teacher, and specifically to Calcutta where her work
with her companions, her Sisters, among the poorest of the poor, finally caught the
attention and the imagination of the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

When asked why she did such difficult work, Mother Teresa once answered:

“ I do it for Jesus. He is my all. When you are in love you are full of joy and
you want to share that joy with others; you want to tell the world about your love.”

Those words would no doubt have expressed the feelings of Catherine McCauley too
as she began her work in Ireland more than a hundred years earlier than Mother
Teresa. Catherine McCauley was also driven by love and especially by these words of
Jesus which inspired her vision:

“ I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”
(Jn.10.10)

To enjoy life to the full requires above all the experience of love, the love of family,
the love of friends and the love of God. Women such as Catherine McCauley and Mother
Teresa were products of such love: and they desired nothing more than to share that
wonderful experience with others. This drove both of them to be creative; to find
new ways of expressing the love which God has for humanity, yet always with the same
aim in mind; to treasure the unique gift which is each individual life, and to help
that individual life realise its full potential. Helping people to achieve her or
his full potential, and to develop their own unique gifts, is accomplished in many
different ways, and one immensely basic and practical way of developing an individual’s
natural gifts and talents has been through education. Over three hundred years ago
my predecessor as Archbishop of Armagh, St. Oliver Plunkett, upon his appointment,
made education both of clergy and of young Catholics his priority. He saw it as a
means through which they could preserve their faith and enhance their human dignity.
Always those who want to raise an oppressed people see education as a tool of liberation.
When Nelson Mandela was asked during his years of imprisonment whether students in
South Africa should go out on strike to support him, he dismissed the idea out of
hand: “ Education is power,” he said, and told the youth leaders to go back to their
schools and prepare for the times ahead in the best way possible, by unlocking their
potential through education.

Catholic schools have constantly sought to provide the means by which the young might
realise and develop their gifts and talents and at the same time equip them with a
life-giving faith to guide and sustain them through the testing times of life. This
enterprise has always needed a triangle of support – that of the family, the parish
and the school. For 150 years St.Vincent’s through its dedicated staff and with the
support of parents and assistance of the wider faith community, has embodied that
tradition of empowerment, not merely preparing young people for the world of work,
valuable as that objective may be in itself, but also guiding the young towards the
values of faith, hope and love, the three towering pillars of the Christian life.
In a fast moving age where the young are surrounded by an often confusing and
sometimes contradictory set of values and attitudes, picked up everywhere from
celebrities to soap operas, those three pillars of faith, hope and love provide
a safe and stable foundation on which to build a meaningful and fulfilled life.
Keeping those virtues of faith, hope and love at the heart of teaching and learning,
and indeed of the family experience, requires a great deal of commitment today
when pressures grow on all sides to succumb completely to materialism and consumerism.

The first reading chosen for the Mass this evening that tells part of the story of
Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, is a popular reading for weddings. It tells of
the commitment, of a younger and an older woman bound together by the trial of
losing on the one hand two sons, and on the other a husband. Together they made
a journey of faith made stronger by the great bonds of friendship and affection
between them. In the same way for over 150 years, women here in St.Vincent’s have
demonstrated their commitment to the girls and young women who have journeyed with
them during a very formative period of their lives. The fruits of that commitment
have resulted in lifelong relationships and friendships and ties of affection that
continue to bind together different generations of students and teachers of this
school, and which bring past pupils and former teachers here tonight. We celebrate
and give thanks for those bonds this evening. And on this occasion and particularly
during these November days we recall with thanksgiving all of those deceased members
of staff and the student body.

The gospel this evening reminds us of the challenge which Christian faith always
presents to the believer and to the world. We are to be the light to the world and
salt of the earth. In other words, just as light illuminates and salt savours, we
Christians are meant to be sources of hope and joy for our fellow men and women.
Our lives are meant to help others to see the goodness and the love of God. There
can be little doubt how women particularly have demonstrated their commitment and
faithfulness down the ages. Ruth and Naomi, Esther and Judith, Sarah and Rachae,
are only some of the extraordinary women of the Old Testament who bore witness to
the power of God at work in the lives of their families and community. In the New
Testament we have numerous examples of how women were among the first to grasp the
significance of Jesus and his teaching. From Mary his mother who accepted her role
with a gesture of total surrender to God’s will, to Martha and Mary who demonstrated
their complete faith in his power to restore their brother – Lazarus. From the women
of Jerusalem who accompanied Jesus on his journey of suffering, to Mary Magdalene
who was the first to witness the resurrection. The pages of the gospel glow with
the faith and example of women whose lives were transformed and empowered by their
encounter with Jesus, from the woman at the well to the woman caught in adultery,
from the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, to
the bent-over woman in Luke’s gospel whom Jesus called ‘a daughter of Abraham’,
and whom he insisted had the right to be restored to her full health and dignity.

The role of women in Irish society today has perhaps never been more crucial to our
spiritual growth and development, and to the health of our family life. The demands
on women too, however, have probably never been as great. They are expected in many
cases to juggle the responsibilities of career and family, attending to the needs of
their children and their employer. The young women who leave this school today have
rights and responsibilities undreamt of by the young women who first graduated from
here 150 years ago. In those times women didn’t even have the vote, today Ireland
has its second woman President. It’s a very different world with so many new challenges
and opportunities

Today I salute in a special way the Mercy Sisters. No group has contributed more to
the development of Irish society as the Mercy Order. Involving great sacrifice and
generosity, the Sisters of Mercy have for over 150 years educated countless thousands
of women, enabling them to take their place in society, and by extension, have shaped
and influenced the lives of the husbands, sons and daughters of their pupils. If Ireland
today is to some degree, North and South, a more confident and prosperous place, taking
its rightful place among the nations of the world, holding its head high and commanding
a key role in many aspects of the world order, it is in no small portion due to the self
-giving of the Mercy Sisters. Notwithstanding the difficult and painful issues from
the past which the Mercy Order, as other Religious Congregations, and indeed the Church
in general in Ireland must courageously confront, I pay warm tribute to the Sisters.
It would be a travesty of truth and justice if the excellent work the Mercy Sisters
have done in the past were to be forgotten in the present. Irish society owes the Mercy
Order a debt which can never be repaid and that we must remember.

St. Vincent’s continues to foster a spirit of creativity, of finding new ways of dealing
with old challenges. As we celebrate this historic milestone in the life of this school
and the greater Dundalk area, 150 years of educating and caring, of empowering and enabling,
of providing pastoral care and support for staff, students and their families, we give
thanks to God for such a rich legacy. May St.Vincent’s, its staff and students continue
to journey together towards the future in a spirit of friendship, and in faith, hope and
love, honouring the aspiration of Catherine McAuley and the fulfilment of the Lord’s desire
“who came that we may have life and have it to the full.”

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