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Thursday, 04 August 2011 02:29

New book celebrates Sisters’ care and courage

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Speaking at the May 15 launch of An Audacious Aussie Dream by Penny Edman, Michael said there was a lot that today's Church could learn from the story of this Australian-founded congregation of religious women.

He referred to founder Maude O'Connell as a woman of dogged determination, great character and deep faith, but not always the easiest person to get along with.

An Audacious Aussie Dream tells the story of 80 years of the Family Care Sisters, more commonly known as the Grey Sisters, who were founded at Daylesford in Victoria on a stormy night in July 1930.

Author Penny Edman, a Tasmanian-based journalist and former Pathways editor, says Maude O'Connell's dream was conceived in the crucible of desperate human need brought on by the Great Depression.

"In the 1920s, she saw a pastoral gap in the services being provided by the Catholic Church in post World War 1 Melbourne. Instead of expecting someone else to do something about it, she was determined to make a difference, particularly for the welfare of mothers and children.

"As need knows no religious boundaries, so the Sisters have ministered to all beginning at a time when bigotry caused deep separation, even within families," says Penny. "The women forged paths in social welfare that today are commonplace, and best practice has always underpinned their professional and spiritual endeavours.

"It is in honour of the grit, determination and resilience - physically, mentally and spiritually - of the Grey Sisters - and the families who welcomed them into their homes and the lives - that this book has been written."

While the number of Family Care Sisters has always been small, the reach, influence and impact of their work has seen them establish rest homes, a welfare centre, a mothercraft nurses' training school, a mother and child care centre with training facilities, an emergency accommodation service for families and holiday units for families in Melbourne suburbs and Victorian towns.

Now with only four members in the congregation - Michele Toussaint FCS (congregational leader), Monica Patterson FCS, Anne O'Connor FCS and Jill Harding - in recent years the Family Care Sisters have forged a new relationship with the Sisters of Mercy. In 2006 they gifted their O'Connell Family Centre in Canterbury to Mercy Health and the land to the Sisters of Mercy.

Since 2008, the Sisters have been journeying together, congregationally. While each respects the other's tradition and one will not become the other, they are forging mutual bonds of support and encouragement.

As Penny Edman concludes: "As the Sisters consider their future, they are stepping out boldly to ensure that their founder's vision for the welfare of mothers and children finds a home in the future."

An Audacious Aussie Dream is published by St Paul's Publications, Sydney. It is available from selected religious book stores. To purchase a copy from the Family Care Sisters, phone (03) 9882 6868 or (03) 9723 6797.