Address by the Mayor, Cllr Martin Lonergan on the occasion of the Mayoral reception to honour the Sisters of Mercy, Cahir.
tAire, Teachtaí Dála, Comhairleoirí, Cuairteoirí speisialta agus a Cairde;
Tá áthas orainn fáilte a chur romhat go dtí an halla an bhaile anseo i gCluain Meala ar an ócáid an-speisialta i.
Reverend Sisters, Reverend Fathers, Cathaoirleach of Tipperary County Council, Minister of State, Deputies, colleague Councillors, and guests, I am indeed delighted to welcome you to the Town Hall here in Clonmel for this very special occasion.
We come to express our gratitude to the Sisters of Mercy, for what they have done, for what they have meant to the people of Cahir and surrounds for 151 years. Our celebration is tinged with certain sadness because we say farewell to the Sisters who were the very heartbeat of many communities over the years.
As, I am sure you are all aware, Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin. Her aim at that time was to ‘care for the poor, sick and ignorant’.
She was a woman of prayer and of deep faith. Her philosophy, which struck me in particular when I read about her during the week was, “Let us take one day only in the hands at a time, merely making a resolve for tomorrow. Thus we may hope to go on, taking short, careful steps, not great strides … Each day is a step we take towards Eternity … The final step will bring us into the presence of God.”
Friends, as stated in your invitations for tonight, I am honoured and humbled to afford this reception to acknowledge the Compassionate Presence and Generous Service of the Sisters of Mercy to the people of Cahir and the surrounding areas for over 151 years and to sadly mark the end of an era of Service to the Community.
Friends, from small and difficult beginnings the community grew and from their base in Cahir the sisters established centres of education and caring as far away as Wales.
I believe, from my efforts in preparing my remarks tonight, that the first three sisters left the Mercy Convent in Cappoquin, Co Waterford in May 1863, making their way in a horse-drawn cart over the Knockmealdown Mountains, through the Vee, along by bay Lough, and on along the old road to Cahir.
An uncomfortable journey I’m sure at that time.
They came down Barrack Street, over the River Suir bridge and catching their first glimpse of Cahir Castle turned into the Mall where their first home in Cahir was to be.
As the community of Sisters grew, a second house on the Mall was acquired and a third on Castle Street, until the present convent was built in 1877.
I found out that Mother Bernard Vaughan, the superior at the time, designed and supervised the building of the current convent herself. Known as ‘Mrs Vaughan,’ a respectful title at the time, she was a capable, powerful and kind woman who would be very much at home with today’s far-seeing female entrepreneur.
As you know, in Cahir the Mercy Sisters established a girls’ primary school, a secondary school (Scoil Chriost Ri) and the boarding school.
From Cahir a convent and school were established in Portlaw, a school and hospital in Clogheen and a school in Ballyporeen. They also developed St Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel and having worked in the adjacent St Michael’s Hospital Sr Eileen Fahey saw the great need for a rehabilitation centre and she consequently established the ‘Aiseiri’ centre in Cahir which spawned a similar centre in Wexford and a centre for young people in Ballyragget.
In 1957 Mother Keane founded a convent and a junior primary school in Haverfordwest in Wales.
Guests, since arriving in Cahir in 1863, the contribution of the Mercy Sisters has been immense.
His Holiness, Pope Francis on the Feast Day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, a Feast which is traditionally dedicated to Consecrated Life, highlighted the great value that nuns bring to the Church. “What would happen” – the Pope said – “if there were no nuns? No nuns in hospitals, in missions, in charitable institutions, in schools… Can you even imagine a Church without nuns…? No it is unthinkable, he said. And friends, we could say the same of our Sisters of Mercy, can you imagine Cahir town and the surrounding hinterland, can you imagine our education and Health Care and yes even our faith without the presence of the Sisters throughout the years?, it two would indeed be unthinkable.
Pope Francis went on to say, “they are a gift, the leaven that carries the message of Christ”. “These women – he said – are great!”
Many of your sisters were engaged in the area of education and the pastoral care of youth in Cahir. The Church, as well as State has repeatedly reminded us of the primary importance of education. I honour you and your predecessors for your commitment to progressing young peoples lives.
The same can be said for the care of the sick, care of the aged, the handicapped, the poor. All of the aforesaid, with the last 150 years, can be said of your community.
Sisters, I can assure you that all who have come into contact with you and your fellow Sisters who have gone to their eternal reward, have got very definite signs that you particularly have experienced what you are proclaiming.
You have moved hearts in that you have and continue to remain in close contact with the Lord. For over a century and a half the people of Cahir town and it surrounds have been moved by your faith.
Throughout the world, the quiet, unassuming work which your congregation do in pastoral outreach and the confidential way in which it supports struggling families is known only to the Sisters themselves and the families that were helped.
I remain in awe at your deep spirituality, the lives of quiet prayer and devotion that inspired and underpinned you all.
And when the history of the Mercy Sisters, in Cahir comes to be written, I am confident that the enormous good done by you and done quietly, secretly, unselfishly, generously and constantly, by so many devoted and dedicated Sisters and those gone before us, will be highlighted.
On behalf of the people of Cahir, I say a deeply felt and sincere thank you to the Sisters of Mercy. We thank you for your presence in Cahir for over 150 years. We thank God your vocations and we thank God for all those whose lives were touched, healed and enriched by your presence and your care.
Cahir will be the poorer for your going, but the richer for your having been.
I would ask one favour of you, before I conclude; I ask that at times, if you can, that you remember us Public Representatives in your prayers, as we go about our civic responsibilities on a daily basis.
May God reward you for your goodness and may he shower his blessing on you in the future.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh!