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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:26

A mission of service and love

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On 8 July 1944, four women came together in Launceston, Tasmania, to start the project that became the Missionary Sisters of Service. That same day a letter arrived from Western Australia, enquiring about the new venture. The writer was Agnes Ryan. In December that year, she arrived in Launceston to join this embryonic community, eager to contribute her gifts, talents and strong sense of mission.

Over the years Agnes has found plenty of scope to put her gifts and talents to good use. She was an excellent teacher. In her early years, she trained the MSS Sisters in teaching methods and religious education curriculum development.

From the late 1950s, she was involved in the renewal of religious education. She developed catechist training courses, and set up training programs for religious education teachers in state schools, parish-based sacramental preparation and adult faith education.

Through the 1960s and 70s she played a key role in the setting up of Religious Education offices in the diocese of Hobart, Toowoomba and Brisbane. She was the first woman to come on to the staff of St Pius seminary in Banyo, Brisbane, teaching students the art and craft of religious education.

Although she was an excellent primary school teacher, her great love was working with groups of adults. With them she loved to explore the rich sources of our faith tradition: the Scriptures, theology and spirituality.

As time went on her interest shifted from teaching to spiritual formation, from head-knowledge to heart-knowledge. She read deeply and widely. She delighted in sharing the richness of her reading with individuals and groups, and draw then into her growing love of God.

Now 95 years old, Agnes lives at St Catherine's Aged Care facility in Balwyn, Victoria. She still has here strong sense of mission, now expressed in love and gratitude.

When asked what we should write about her she didn't give a thought to her achievements of her 66 years as a Missionary Sister of Service. She spoke, rather, about what fills her life and her days now:

"My mission now is to be wherever Jesus wants me to be, to live each day, walking with him.

"Love is the one thing that matters. It is at the heart of everything. The desire for love goes to the core...

"Love is a beautiful thing - family love, companionships love ... it is a carat of gold. Every person who comes into this room needs to be met with love.

"Gratitude - there is so much to be grateful for. When I don't know how to pray, I just sit here filled with gratitude."

Agnes has known periods of deep suffering during her life. The journey through years of inner darkness transformed her, birthing in her the luminous qualities of love, gratitude and peace. This is what touches us when we visit her. It also touches the staff of St Catherine's who hold her in great affection and esteem.

This story was first published in The Missionary Sisters of Service newsletter, Highways & Byways, December 2010. It was written by Corrie van den Bosch.

Pathways February 2011