Telling the stories of sacred spaces

As I walk through the grounds of the Convent of Mercy, Singleton, I am struck once again by the gracious and elegant lines of this very beautiful building. In the half light of evening we crunch our way across the gravel paths to the welcoming light of the front door.

Tonight, with other interested members of the local community, I am here to attend the launch of a DVD, outlining the history of the Sisters of Mercy Convent as recounted by Sr Monica Sinclair rsm.  This project came about as a result of a conversation between Sr Monica and Peter Dunn, the chair of the Sacred Spaces Singleton Advisory Committee.  When asked by Peter what she considered important for the convent, Sr Monica replied that she wanted to ensure that its story not be lost.  The Convent has been a significant landmark in Singleton since its completion in 1909. Hence the DVD!

This remarkable story commenced in Dublin in 1831 with Catherine McAuley.  Her strong sense of social justice and commitment to her faith called her to work amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged in her society and ultimately led her to found the Sisters of Mercy. 

Whilst the first Sisters of Mercy had arrived in Australia in the mid 1840s, it was not until 1875 that the Sisters arrived in Singleton, brought out from Ennis, Ireland by Bishop Murray.  The ten Sisters took up residence in the recently vacated presbytery, a small two-roomed octagonal building, which can still be seen in the convent grounds.  The hardships these first Sisters would have endured can only be imagined, as they adjusted to a life far from home and all that was familiar.  But as Sr Monica says, they brought with them the spirit of the Mercy Congregation, ‘a spirit of loving kindness to the poor and needy’. Since that day, the story of the Sisters has been inextricably linked to the story of the town. 

To listen to Sr Monica speak is to be put in touch with that passionate spirit which drove those young women of the 1870s to follow their faith to Singleton.   In comparison with those early days, the Singleton Sisters of Mercy are few in numbers these days; the doors of the novitiate long since closed, the cloistered verandahs no longer home to the Sisters’ busy comings and goings and the magnificent chapel now mostly used for classical concerts. However, could you ask  for more lovely surrounds?

Sr Monica speaks eloquently about the passion the remaining Sisters have for the town, the deep pride they feel in their history and what they have achieved since arriving 142 years ago. Most poignantly, she talks about what they are leaving as they bid ‘a gracious farewell’ and trusts that what has been done by all the Sisters over these many years may bear fruit.

As I glance around the room at all those who were present, many, like me, educated in these buildings, I don’t doubt that this story of these “dedicated, intelligent and enterprising group of women whose influence spread well beyond their established roots” is far from over.

To purchase the DVD for $10, E or P 6572 2398.

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Jane Dunn

Jane is the Tribunal Director for the Maitland-Newcastle diocese Marriage Tribunal. 

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