Lismore Congregation

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Lismore Congregation News

 

  • March 2015 – Presentation House opened in Lismore
    In 1907 Mother Stanislaus D’Arcy opened the Presentation Convent of the Sisters. Over a century later, it is now Presentation House, the Office of Catholic Education of the Diocese of Lismore.
  • April 2014Vietnam journey
    Sr Margaret Walsh writes about her participation in a project sponsored by the Vietnam Cultural Schools Association in Sydney.
  • Feb 2014Tribute to a Gifted Presentation Sister
    Sr. Patricia Dent has been blessed with the gift of music. Baptised as Marie Therese Dent, Patricia was born into a family where music filled the home.

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Welcome to About Us!

Visitors to this website would most likely fall into two groups. They would include those familiar with our story, such as ex-students, relatives of the Sisters and laypeople who have been part of our history as either fellow teachers or co-workers in ministry. Others would come to the website because they know little, if anything, about us. This latter group would include historians, researchers, and those simply curious to know who we are and where we fit into the big picture of Religious Congregations in the Australian Church.

 

The Lismore Story

Our collective memory is rich in story. When we Lismore Presentation Sisters gather, the stories flow. These often begin with tales of the early days when a small group of young Irish women began their mission in the little cedar-getting community on the Richmond River in Northern New South Wales. The river was to wend its way through their future, no longer as the major transport artery into the area but as the mighty force that so often broke its banks and inundated their convents and schools.

But the stories are not only about responding to needs in history-making circumstances, they are, above all, about our connectedness with one another and with people. Canon Law may have classified us as semi-enclosed and thereby restricted to staying behind our convent walls but we taught in schools, prayed with parishioners and one way or another became very much part of the lives of the local people.

As a relatively small Congregation, even in our heyday of the 1950s, we knew the names of every Sister, living and dead. Today, our oldest member, then a boarder at St Mary’s and now in her 90s, remembers the day the Lismore Foundress, Mother Stanislaus D’Arcy died, 16 February 1934.

We have stories about our outstanding teachers and musicians, about our larger-than-life characters who could laugh their way through rules intended to keep them in line, about strong women who did not hesitate to speak their truth and about our raconteurs who could always tell a good yarn and have preserved our story as a defining element of who we are.

On 15 August 2011, we Presentation Sisters celebrated 125 years of presence and ministry in the Diocese of Lismore. On the previous day, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in St Carthage’s Cathedral and this was followed by morning tea in the Cathedral grounds. It was a significant milestone for the 41 Sisters of the Congregation and attended by relatives of the Sisters, Associates, a large number of friends, ex-students and people who had been co-ministers with them over the years. Nevertheless, it was a very simple celebration compared with the several days of events that had marked the Congregation’s centenary a quarter of a century earlier. Unprecedented change has impacted on the Congregation in the relatively short space of 25 years.

Located on the same block of land as the Cathedral, Trinity Catholic College and various other buildings that historically identify the Catholic Church in Lismore, is the former St Mary’s Convent.  Built to replace the original two-storey weatherboard structure destroyed by fire in 1905, it was once the residence of a large community of Sisters responsible for conducting four schools in Lismore.

Smaller communities of Sisters in Ballina, Coraki, Murwillumbah, Tumbulgum, Tweed Heads, Dorrigo, Bellingen and Urunga on the North Coast and in the Sydney suburbs of Croydon, Clovelly, South Blacktown and Annandale referred to it as the “Mother House”. This may sound a little quaint to modern ears but it expressed a concept of governance and an emotional attachment that was part of the way that Religious Life was lived until the 1960s.

Significantly, St Mary’s Convent played no part in the recent 125 year celebrations. It has been vacant since the Sisters moved out in 2005. A symbol of our institutional and semi-enclosed lifestyle and of the corporate ministry of education that had been synonymous with “Lismore Presentations” for 80 years, the old building has been purchased by the Diocese of Lismore and awaits a new purpose.

In 1886, at the invitation of Bishop Jeremiah Doyle, the little community of Presentation Sisters from Lucan, Ireland, arrived in Lismore to begin their mission of Catholic education in the town, and before long, established small communities in other towns in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. In the course of their history, the Sisters moved beyond the Diocese of Lismore to serve in several other dioceses in Australia and in PNG.

Whereas education was once our only ministry, changes in Church and society have had a profound effect on where we live and what we do.

Like our forebears, the Irish founding community, we have been inspired by Nano’s words: “If I could save souls in any part of the world, I would willingly do all in my power”. In Australia, as well as responding to the needs of rural and urban communities, we have taken Nano’s words to encompass reaching out in ministry and hospitality to migrants and refugees – people who come to our part of the world in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Our established communities in Croydon and Clovelly felt the early impact of post-war immigration and developed vibrant multicultural school and parish communities. St Michael’s Primary and Nagle Girls Regional High School (now Nagle College) at South Blacktown were new foundations in response to the rapid rise of multiculturalism in Sydney’s Outer West.

This part of our story, together with the chapter on ministry to Australia’s Indigenous people, live on in our current alignment with Australian Religious Congregations seeking to influence government policies in regard to justice for asylum seekers and Aboriginal Reconciliation.

These days, many of us live alone, serving in various capacities and with other Congregations, organisations and Associates, often well into our twilight years. Ministries include spiritual and pastoral care in parishes, schools, hospitals, aged care, spiritual direction, the homeless, refugees, ex-prisoners, St Vincent de Paul, Meals on Wheels, justice advocacy, ministry to migrants and ministry to one another, especially to our older members.

In moving out of our old home and beyond our old ways, we have discovered sacred space in which we discern how and where God is calling us. This new way of living the Consecrated Life respects the individual gifts of our members. We thank God for the energy that sustains us to be and to do what we are able in ministry.

Much has been said and written of the “period of transition in Religious Life” in reference to changes that have taken place in the years since the Second Vatican Council, itself a response to social change in the modern world. The Sisters recognise that their evolution from the semi-enclosed monastic model of Religious Life to a lifestyle engaging with the modern world has already taken place.

Predictions of a “new form of Consecrated Life” run the risk of showing traces of residual institutionalism. Religious who have experienced freedom and energy from re-discovering the spirit of the founder, are unlikely to return to an institutional way of life and ministry. We believe that the creative energy of the Holy Spirit is already giving birth to a new life form inspired by our Founder.

Lismore Presentation Sisters have identified the “Journey to Emmaus”, Lk 24:13-25, as the Gospel Reading that sustains and encourages our members. Our day may be “far advanced” but we believe that Jesus walks this road with us. Drawing strength from encountering Him in the Eucharist, we continue to step out, as did the two disciples in the Emmaus Story, to tell the Good News faithfully and to bear witness to the Risen Jesus. Balancing a contemplative way of being with the call to be a voice for justice, we hold ourselves “Alert for God’s Now” (Society Congress 2011).

God has carried us along the road we have travelled. We celebrate God’s faithfulness as we continue our journey, trusting in the One who created us and cares with infinite love for all Earth’s creatures.

 

— Theme of our 125th Anniversary

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