Goodbye Sisters Paul Coad and Imelda McMahon

In March this year we farewelled two of our number, Paul Coad mss and Imelda McMahon mss, into eternity.   These two dynamic women joined in the early years of Missionary Sisters of Service.    Paul,  or Verna Coad as her parents named her, joined the pioneering group in 1946, just two years after the congregation started.   Imelda came four years later, 1950, when the congregation was only six years old.   Over the many decades since each of these women contributed much to the formation of the MSS spirit and mission into the highways and byways.   We are delighted to share something of their stories here.

Verna Coad, our sister Paul, was born in 1922, one of eight children.   She grew up on an orchard in Lymington in the beautiful Huon district of Tasmania.   Perhaps that early environment first awakened her eye to beauty, which in later years she would express in painting.

Sister Paul Coad:  this photo was taken not long before she died, her face radiant with love and  joy.

Sister Paul Coad:  this photo was taken not long before she died, her face radiant with love and  joy.

During World War II, Verna joined the armed services.    Posted to Townsville, she worked in morse code communications.  While there, her mother sent her a cutting from the Tasmanian “Catholic Standard”, with the story of a new religious order that had started in Tasmania.  Its sisters would go into the country, live in caravans, stay in sacristies, or private homes to reach out in pastoral support to people in isolated areas.  Verna read the article and knew: This is it!

In 1946 Verna joined that “new” community, known then as Home Missionary Sisters of Service and became known as Sister Paul.   Click here to read more of Sister Paul's story

Sister Imelda at Lourdes Home, Toowoomba, around her 90th birthday.

Sister Imelda at Lourdes Home, Toowoomba, around her 90th birthday.

 

Imelda McMahon, born in 1925, was the youngest of six children.  Her family lived on an orchard in Kurrajong NSW.    After leaving school she spent a number of years assisting her mother to run a holiday guest house in their family home.  An energetic young woman, Imelda loved  music and dancing as well as tennis, golf and horse-riding, thrilling at the freedom of riding at full gallop.   Leaving home, Imelda worked in Canberra for a year in a tailoring and retail business. 

Her sister Marcia, a Good Samaritan Sister, gave Imelda a pamphlet entitled Into the Highways and Byways, the story of Missionary Sisters of Service.   She was captured by what she read, and knew that was where she was being called.  On 17 August 1950 Imelda flew to Hobart to begin her new life.   Click here to read more of Imelda's story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernadette Wallis mss

Bernadette Wallis mss

Bernadette Wallis, Missionary Sister Of Service, is the author of a newly published book entitled The Silent Book: A Deaf Family and the Disappearing Australian-Irish Sign Language, the engrossing story, both deeply personal and historical, of the disappearing Australian-Irish sign language told through the experience of Bernadette’s own Deaf family. The story is embedded in the Australian landscape and its Aboriginal past.   In writing this multi-layered story, Bernadette invites the reader into the vibrantly alert and alive silent world of her Deaf parents.  

Reviewing the book, Margaret Coffey, broadcaster and journalist writes:

The Silent Book will be revelatory for most of us, as we learn of the history of a ‘threatened’ language once so vital in Australia. It is a fascinating tale in diverse ways: in its closeness to the colonial and rural context of its protagonists, its respect for indigenous naming and knowledge of that same landscape, its careful induction of the reader into a chronology of thinking about deafness and ways of educating deaf children. It adds another rich element to the extraordinary story of those 19th century lay and religious builders of Catholic community in Victoria and NSW.  With all this, at its heart The Silent Book is a moving account of family life and love and hopefulness.

2016 has seen a wonderful series of celebrations at launches of Bernadette Wallis mss'  first book, The Silent Book: A Deaf Family and the Disappearing Australian Irish Sign Language.   The first launch by Margaret Coffey and Fr Peter Robinson, former chaplain to the Deaf, took place on 11 July at Wheelers Hill Hotel.  Since then launches have taken place in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia a number of these by specific request.      Each event brought together a very different audience - an indication of Bernadette's  wide network of friends and contacts. The gathering at Melbourne's John Pierce Centre  for the Deaf was very special, as The Silent Book is the story of Bernadette's Deaf parents who were known to a number of Deaf and hearing people present that that event.  

Click here for an order form for The Silent Book 

 Bernadette Wallis, signing The Silent Book for Therese Healy mss at the Yea Book Launch

 Bernadette Wallis, signing The Silent Book for Therese Healy mss at the Yea Book Launch

Weaving Global Solidarity for Life

Stancea Vichie, MSS Leader, spent her 2 months of sabbatical leave in Europe, visiting Spain, Italy, France, Croatia, where two of Stancea’s forebears came from, Austria and Germany.  She visited places sacred to our spiritual forebears, Teresa of Avila, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and Hildegard of Bingen.

One of the highlights of her journey was her attendance at the 50th Assembly of the International Union of Leaders of Women’s Religious Congregations (UISG) held in May this year.

Stancea Vichie’s meeting with Anna Abbas (Sisters of the Nativity) at the Assembly from Nigeria was a happy reunion.   Anna spent a number of years in Cranbourne, Vic. where her community is engaged in a vibrant ministry in a very multi-cultural parish.  

Stancea Vichie’s meeting with Anna Abbas (Sisters of the Nativity) at the Assembly from Nigeria was a happy reunion.   Anna spent a number of years in Cranbourne, Vic. where her community is engaged in a vibrant ministry in a very multi-cultural parish.  

854 women from 84 countries, each with it own cultures, languages and social conditions gathered in Rome.  Simultaneous translation into 11 different languages went a long way to meeting the language barrier.  Participants sat in language groups, enabling small group discussions. Between sessions and at meal time people met those of other languages and cultures, often communicating by smiles and gestures.

The entire Assembly visited the Vatican where Pope Francis spoke with them on a series of questions on major concerns from religious women from all parts of the world.  He concluded the audience with:  “I like your questions.  They make me think.”   He then moved informally among the group. 

Many of the leaders at the Assembly live in very challenging situations.   War and conflict, poverty and oppression call for enormous courage as they go about their mission.   These conditions deepen their commitment to working for justice, yet also hamper their mission by the physical dangers, as well as a lack of resources.  One Iraqi Sister spoke of twice having to move, fleeing from ISIS. Meeting women from such situations makes us appreciate the security of our country, Australia.

Cheryle Thomson:

a Woman with a Passion

for People

 

Cheryle Thomson, has spent many years on the highways and byway in the course as a Missionary Sister of Service.   Born and bred in  Port Pirie SA, her mission took her to Tasmania, outback New South Wales and south-west Queensland and back to South Australia where she currently lives and works in Whyalla.   Cheryle was always a people person, seeking them out in their homes in towns and on properties, travelling thousands of kilometers to do so.   Click here to read her remarkable story.

 

RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF MANY FAITHS

COMBINE TO ADVOCATE FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS

Thursday 15 October over 50 Faith Leaders (including Stancea Vichie mss) from many Faith traditions met with representatives of the Federal Government and each of the major parties to express their concern for Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, particularly those on Nauru and Manus Island.   

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The initiative for the meeting came from Catholic Religious Australia (the conference of leaders of religious congregations).  It was co-hosted by Anna Burke MP (ALP), Russell Broadbent MP (Liberal), Cathy McGowan MP (Independent) and Senator Janet Rice (Australian Greens).   Speakers for the delegation included Sr Anne Lane pbvm, Sr Berneice Loch rsm (President of Catholic Religious Australia); Rabbi Alon Meltzer (National Jewish Memorial Centre), and Fethullah Erdogan (Bluestar Inter-cultural Centre Canberra). 

Sister Anne Lane pbvm presented the concerns of the delegation to the meeting.   Click here to read.

The most encouraging outcome was the motion passed in the meeting to create a task force of five interfaith leaders and five parliamentarians, facilitated by Catholic Religious Australia, to continue the conversation and work for change. This was one of the outcomes sought by the religious leaders.    

Some members of the delegation of Faith Leaders at the Press Conference on the steps of Parliament House.

Some members of the delegation of Faith Leaders at the Press Conference on the steps of Parliament House.

A press conference was held after the meeting on the steps of Parliament House.

Click here to read the press release of the meeting.

Clowning in Heaven:

Genevieve Yue Soh Ng mss 1937 - 2015

On 19th June 2015, Genevieve Ng completed her life's journey at St Joseph's Home, Singapore.   Genevieve was born in Singapore, from where she came to Tasmania in 1958 to join the Missionary Sisters of Service.   She lived and worked in Australia for 34 years.   Then, in 1992, she went back to Singapore to be with her ageing mother and engage in a vibrant ministry in Singapore, Malaysia and beyond.

Genevieve was ever a dynamo of energy, creativity, joy and fun.   She was a people person, ever sharing life, faith, her vision and artistry with adults and children.   Many people will remember her as sometimes challenging and always positive.   A great story-teller and entertainer, she will be remembered by people in Tasmania, the dioceses of Wilcannia-Forbes NSW, Toowoomba Qld, Port Pirie SA and many other Australian places, and of course in Singapore and Malaysia.

At the time of her golden jubilee of profession four years ago, Genevieve wrote her story for this website.  We have added some quotes of tributes we received around the time of her death.   Click here to read them.

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Vale Maria (Mary) Kavanagh mss

Born in New Zealand 3 November 1928 - died in Melbourne 30 April 2015

On 30th April 2015, 2.30 p.m., Maria Kavanagh completed her life's journey at St Catherine's Aged Care facility, Balwyn, Melbouren.   She was surrounded by fellow Missionary Sisters of Service who kept watch by her side from earlier that day.   

Maria was born in New Zealand and treasured her NZ nationality throughout her life, even though she spent close on sixty years as a Missionary Sister of Service in Australia.   Over those years she spent time in all Australian Eastern States: Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.  She carried out a wide range of ministries, including pastoral outreach, adult faith formation, the Catholic Bookshop in Hobart.  Her ever observant eye for people living on the "edges" of community and society took her into working with male prisoners with the Alternatives to Violence programme, visiting the women's prison, court support network, teaching English to new settlers, visiting at the Melbourne Aboriginal Aged Care facility, befriending asylum seekers.... The list could go on.   

Maria had an artistic soul and brought a certain artistry to the way she went about her ministries.  She loved literature, poetry, theology, stories and fantasies.   Piccaso was a favourite painter, Rumi a favourite poet.    These fed her approach to life where she was always seeking the new, the exciting, appreciating that every moment was full of possibility.

After Father John Wallis (Founder of Missionary Sisters of Service) died, Maria delivered a eulogy for him at a memorial Mass in Melbourne.    That eulogy said as much about Maria as it did about Father John.   Bernadette Wallis took that eulogy and with some minor editing it fitted Maria beautifully.   Click here to read it.

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Pilgrimage to Bruny Island:   What a celebration!

The scallop shell, a traditional symbol for pilgrims.

The scallop shell, a traditional symbol for pilgrims.

It was the ideal day:  Perfect weather, beautiful location and a wonderful celebration.  It was, of course, the much anticipated pilgrimage to Bruny Island on Sunday 23 November; the last Tasmanian event marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Missionary Sisters of Service in Launceston on 8 July 1944. And where better to hold such a celebration than where the seed was planted more than 80 years ago?

Sister Paul Coad, the earliest surviving member of the Missionary Sisters of Service, a resident on Bruny for a number of years, shares something of her story.

Sister Paul Coad, the earliest surviving member of the Missionary Sisters of Service, a resident on Bruny for a number of years, shares something of her story.

 MSS founder Fr John Wallis was on pastoral visitation (a five-hour steam ferry trip from Hobart in July 1933) when he was challenged by Bruny Is. mother of four, Mrs Kit Hawkins:  “Father, why can't we have Sisters coming here to instruct our children?   Dont they have souls, too?  Out of sight; out of mind. Nobody cares about us in the bush.  Only months after his ordination, this anguished plea sowed a seed in the 23-year-olds fertile faith; it was a seed that did not die. And throughout all those years and across countless miles around Australia and overseas, the Sisters have never forgotten Bruny Island.

Memorial Plaque placed in the Bruny Island church sixty years after Father John's first visits to the Island.

Memorial Plaque placed in the Bruny Island church sixty years after Father John's first visits to the Island.

 About 65 people, including 12 Missionary Sisters of Service, gathered at Alonnah to reminisce and rekindle friendships.   A large number of friends of the congregation from across the many years, including a couple from Cairns, Qld., were there.   At the community centre, good food and even better stories abounded.    Bruny Island stalwarts including members of the Hawkins and Dillon families who lived on the island at the time of Father John's first visit told their stories.   Several Missionary Sisters of Service related stories of missionary experiences and other people had their own stories to share, of encounters with the Sisters in the course of 70 years of MSS mission.

 A surprise pilgrim was a John Wallis Foundation patron, Bishop Pat Power, from the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn. 

MSS Archivest, Carmel Hall, with the book she prepared for the pilgrimage: The Bruny Island Connection.

MSS Archivest, Carmel Hall, with the book she prepared for the pilgrimage: The Bruny Island Connection.

 MSS archivist Sr Carmel Hall (Hobart) had a surprise of her own -  The Bruny Island Connection, a booklet given to all who attended which she had produced as a means of preserving the history of the congregation’s connection with the island.

 From the community centre, many people walked and some drove to the nearby St Brendan’s Church where Kingston-Channel parish priest Fr Chris Hope led the Eucharistic celebration for the feast of Christ the King.   Concelebrants were Bishop Pat Power and Fathers Graeme Howard and Denis Allen. The little church was packed to overflowing for the joyful celebration.

 It was a memorable and happy day to bring celebrations for such a significant milestone to an end.  

 

(Story by Penny Edman, photos by Mary-Anne Johnson and Claire Manthorpe)

Sr Mechtilde Dillon rsj, sharing stories of  her family connections with Bruny Island and Father John

Sr Mechtilde Dillon rsj, sharing stories of  her family connections with Bruny Island and Father John

The Hawkins Family Connection:   Robert and Pat McKay nee Hawkins with Bernadette Wallis mss

The Hawkins Family Connection:   Robert and Pat McKay nee Hawkins with Bernadette Wallis mss

Pilgrims in front of the Bruny Island church.

Pilgrims in front of the Bruny Island church.

December 2014 issue of Highways & Byways is now available.  

It carries stories of exciting things happening in the John Wallis Foundation and an inspirational story of Kath Clune mss, who recently moved to Melbourne after 26 years in Sydney.  

Click here to open the issue.

John Corcoran Wallis: A Man of Vision

Melbourne historian and writer, Dr Fay Woodhouse, has written a very brief biography on Father John Wallis, Founder of the Missionary Sisters of Service, entitled John Corcoran Wallis: a Man of Vision. Click here to download.   This remarkable man deserves to be more widely known.  The Missionary Sisters of Service are hoping that Fay will write a full authorised biography of Father John in the not too distant future.    

Father John Wallis

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