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Tuesday, 27 September 2011 12:37

OLSH Sisters celebrate centenary

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Our founder Father Jules Chevalier, who 20 years before had founded the male Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, was utterly convinced that to find meaning and happiness in life, we must learn to believe in God’s love for each of us personally and to let it transform our lives. Then, having understood and experienced this love of God, made known in the Heart of Jesus, we will be impelled to share it with others. The motto that he gave to both our Congregations – May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved - summarizes the charism, spirituality and mission that we both share. 

Because of her special relationship with her Son, Fr Chevalier saw Mary as the one who would be our best guide as we seek to bring the love of the Heart of Jesus to a world in need. He was inspired to honour her under the title of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and to place our Congregation under her protection.

With the Eucharist at the heart of our communal life, we strive to integrate both contemplative prayer and apostolic action in all aspects of our daily living. Called to take the Gospel to far away mission lands, ours is a global consciousness, a “mission without limits” so that the love of Christ and His saving grace might be known throughout the world.

In1884, our fledgling Congregation, with only seven professed Sisters, sent five of them on mission to Papua New Guinea, never to see their homeland again. Three had made their first profession only five weeks earlier and the other two, even more amazingly, just the night before departure. Only one could speak English. In Sydney these five courageous young Sisters began laying the foundations of what would develop into the Australian Province.

Their first apostolate began in Botany in 1886. That same year the first Australian entered the Congregation, a 24 year-old Sydney girl named Margaret Sweeney who, even while still a novice, was called to Thursday Island to begin a school there.

Expansion was remarkably rapid in those early years. By the time of the death of our founder in 1907, Australian vocations were flowering and foundations had been made at Kensington, Bowral and as far afield as Tasmania. In 1908, the year that Mother Marie Louise Hartzer, our first Superior General died, our Sisters were beginning as new mission to the people of the Northern Territory, commencing in Darwin.

By September 8th 1911 the Congregation in Australia was raised to the status of a Province. Sisters from Australia were already working alongside their counterparts from France as missionaries in both Papua New Guinea and the Gilbert Islands (now known as Kiribati).

The apostolate of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has continued to grow, to adapt and to expand. For example, 1912 saw the beginning of the long history of the presence of our Sisters amongst the Aboriginal community of Bathurst Island. In the same decade, the first foundation was made in Queensland, another on distant Ocean Island in the Central Pacific. The 1920s saw the first foundation in Victoria at Elmore; in the 1930s our Sisters went to Alice Springs, while others set sail for the first time to Nauru; in the ‘40s, the first of our communities was opened in South Australia and there was expansion in the Northern Territory to such locations as Port Keats and Melville Island, and to the Chanel Island settlement to nurse those suffering from leprosy. 

Some communities have since closed, allowing for personnel to respond to needs in other parts of the world. For example, the first Australian Sisters to go to South Africa did so in 1953 to assist the Irish Province with a new foundation. In 1967 an Australian Sister led the foundation in the Philippines, which today is a flourishing Region of the Australian Province. In the 1990s the Australian Province opened a mission in Southern Sudan, formed part of the founding community in Japan, and had a presence in East Timor. 

A very gratifying development in recent years is to see that parts of the Congregation in which there has been a strong FDNSC Australian missionary presence, such as PNG, Kiribati and the Philippines are now sending out their own local Sisters as missionaries to such countries as Angola, Japan, South Africa, Cameroun, Sudan and even to Slovakia and France in Europe. 

Today with the help, generosity and support of committed lay staff, associate members and volunteers, the Daughters of our Australian Province are responding to the challenges of our times in many different apostolic works including: education; health and aged care; catechetics; parish and pastoral ministries; retreats and spiritual direction; promotion of social justice; care for marginalized youth and adults; working with refugees, multicultural and indigenous communities, sufferers and children orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS.

Since the inauguration of our Province, several hundreds of Australian women have dedicated their lives to God in our Congregation, with the love of the Heart of Jesus and of our Mother, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart continuing to be their light and strength, their inspiration and their guide. Many have now passed on before us having lived out their religious commitment to the full. Again on behalf of our Sisters, I thank each and everyone who has joined us in our “mission without limits.” May you continue to walk, support and pray with us as together we face the next one hundred years.

Edited from Sr Fyfe’s Address to attendees at the centenary dinner held in Kensington, Sydney, on September 8, 2011