Monday, February 08, 2010

An Afternoon at the Gunnedah Convent of Mercy

Earlier this afternoon, my parents and I returned to Port Macquarie from a weekend visit to our hometown of Gunnedah.

I’ll write more about this trip at a later date, but for now I’d like to share some images of one of my favorite places in Gunnedah: the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy.

The Congreagation of the Sisters of Mercy was founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831 by Catherine McAuley, a wealthy heiress who turned her back on a life of wealth and comfort so as to respond to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.

In the book, The Way We Were: Sesquicentenary of Gunnedah, 1856-2006, Ron McLean writes:

The Sisters of Mercy came to Gunnedah on January 3, 1879, four years after they had left Ennis in Ireland, to respond to the request of Bishop Murray to establish a Convent of Mercy in Singleton, NSW. . . . The Sisters rented a small cottage from George Cohen in Maitland Street, which served as their convent and also as a small high school. An elementary school was opened in the local church.

On September 14, 1879 the foundation stone of the Bloomfield Street convent was laid. Gunnedah remained a branch convent of Singleton Congregation until 1887 when, with the alternation of the boundaries of the Maitland and Armidale dioceses, Gunnedah Convent of Mercy became an autonomous Congregation. Mother Mary Aloysius O'Driscoll [left] was appointed Superior of the new congregation, and in this cap[acity is regarded as the foundress of Gunnedah Sisters of Mercy.

The main entrance of the convent (above at left) is the 1879 original Bloomfield St. building. In 1924, the beautiful Romanesque chapel was added on the western side. At the time of its construction, the chapel was described as “an architectural gem which compels the imagination of all who see it, and one of the finest buildings of its kind in Australia.”

Above: Standing at right with (from left) Dad, Sister Vianny
and Sister Gemma Burke.
In front is sitting Sister Monica Horan
(my 2nd grade teacher), Mum, and Sister Judith Carney.
This photo was taken on Saturday, February 6, 2010
at the Convent of Mercy, Gunnedah.

As I’ve noted in a previous Wild Reed post, the Convent of Mercy is located across the street from my old primary school, St. Xavier’s, and next to my old high school, St. Mary’s College, where “virtue is the way of life.” Both schools where founded by the Sisters of Mercy in the late 1800s.

Right: Standing with Sister Monica Horan who had been my 2nd grade teacher at St. Xavier's in 1973.

In the late 1990s, the Sisters of Mercy relinquished control of the college. It is now run by the Armidale Diocese. From 1998-2001, my Dad served on St. Mary’s first board of lay people. For two of those years he served as board chair. During this time he worked closely with both Sister Gemma and Sister Judith (both of whom are pictured above).

When living in Gunnedah, Mum was an associate member of the Sisters of Mercy.

Here’s a funny little story: When I was in early high school, I can distinctly remember sitting with my classmates on the lawn pictured above, looking at one of my teachers, and thinking that if I had been born a girl, I’d probably follow in her footsteps and become a nun! It wasn’t that I wanted to be a girl, I just had a very strong realization that if I had been a girl, I would like to be a Sister. I'm thinking that most of my male classmates would had been be freaked out by such a thought. But it didn’t faze me. I let it surface, reflected upon it, and then let it go. Interestingly, I never thought much of the priesthood - except when I was quite a bit younger and was briefly drawn to all the magic-like ritual and pomp. Thankfully, I quickly out grew that.

In a way, I have followed through with my adolescent contemplation on life as a Sister. After all, I am now a consociate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - St. Paul Provence! Amazing how life unfolds, isn’t it?

Recently, a great tree came crashing down in a storm, narrowly missing the grotto pictured above at left. Some declared (as some do) that because the grotto was spared, it was “a miracle.” It wasn’t a miracle, however, for poor St. Bernadette - or rather for the statue of the young saint that was positioned, for as long as I can remember, on the lawn in front of the grotto. It was smashed to smithereens.

I’ve always loved the pergola pictured above. As an adolescent, I can remember that I liked envisioning (daydreaming, I guess you could say, of) meeting Jesus here! In my “visions,” it was always a dazzlingly bright day, and as Jesus approached to sit with me, I’d smile at the sight of his bare feet on the gravel path. And he’d always smile back.

This statue of Jesus and his Sacred Heart is located between the main convent building and the chapel. I must admit that the Jesus I often envisioned meeting in the garden of the convent was considerably less imposing. Still, I’ve always liked this particular depiction of Jesus, particularly his bare feet!

Above: The convent chapel, bathed in the afternoon sun. Beautiful, isn’t it?

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Gunnedah (Part I)
Gunnedah (Part II)
Gunnedah (Part III)
Gunnedah (Part IV)
My “Bone Country”


Mareczku said...

This was a beautiful article with beautiful pictures. Many thanks. Blessings to you - Mark

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Mark, and blessings to you too!

How are you bearing up with all the cold and snow back in the US? I'll soon be back there myself. It will be difficult to leave behind the summer weather here in Australia - and, of course, my family and friends.



Anonymous said...

Michael, just wanted to let you know that Sister Monica Horan (my aunt) died this afternoon in Gunnedah after suffering a massive stroke. She was such a wonderful inspiration to all of us in her extended family - a true non-judgmental Christian. Love the fact that you have included a photo of her on your blog.
Best wishes

Michael J. Bayly said...

Dear Anne,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and let me know of Sister Monica's passing. She was a very loving and caring person and her life touched many in ways that made a real and positive difference. I'm honored to have been one of those people.

Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.



Margaret Bayly said...

Our family extend our sympathy, thoughts and prayers to the Mercy Order, family and friends of Sister Monica Horan who was so caring, gentle and non-judgmental.

Happy memories surface when we recall her sharing lunch at our home to celebrate our middle son Michael's First Communion.

I had a long association with her when we were Scripture Teachers in the State Schools in Gunnedah. She was truly dedicated, and was extremely sad when the time came for her to retire. Health permitting, she was happy to continue as a Pastoral Carer.

Unknown said...

Thank you...a lovely stroll though the memories.Sr Judith Carney (Sr. Stephen as I knew her as a child) is my Godmother and while attending st Xavier's, the primary school across the road, (1973-78) I was blessed with an almost inside view of the school but more so the convent. I remember the huge well lit white tiled kitchen where the nuns sat at a large kitchen table embroidering hankies, many if which I still have to this day, or crocheting hangers, the cloisters, the woven cane chairs on the balconies and the lovely simple rooms. I was always aware of the light, the lack of clutter and the peace. Such a lovely place.
Georgina Goldsmith (