Celebrating Australia’s Missionary Sisters of Service

001_20181122_CalvaryHospital_015_200pxFor the past two years I’ve been documenting the work of the Missionary Sisters of Service, an Australian order of women founded in 1944 by a young country priest from Yea, Fr John Wallis. In 1933 when Fr John was not long out of the seminary (and had just turned 23) he was sent “on mission” to visit Catholic families on the isolated Tasmanian island of Bruny. While on the island, he met Mrs Kit Hawkins who posed a question: “Who is looking after our children; don’t their souls matter?”

This sparked something in Fr John’s heart, who set about in the following years to do something about it. In 1944, the first group of Australian women came together to form the (then) Home Missionary Sisters of Service with the call to “go out into the highways and byways” of Tasmania, and later outback and rural areas of the mainland. Now called the Missionary Sisters of Service, they are celebrating 75 years of being a presence of love and friendship in the lives of so many Australians.

I have come to love and deeply respect these pioneering, courageous and beautiful women. So much so, that I joined them on an extraordinary four-day pilgrimage through Tasmania, visiting people and places significant to the story of Fr John Wallis and the Missionary Sisters of Service.

In the words of Corrie van den Bosch MSS, “the bus load of pilgrims (from Victoria, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania) lived through 85 years of history, sharing stories of those years. The pilgrims included the Sisters, friends and colleagues. It concluded on Bruny Island with the dedication of a permanent memorial to Fr John Wallis, founder of the Missionary Sisters of Service, and the Sisters who have carried on a mission ‘into the highways and byways’ of Australia and beyond, seeking out and journeying people isolated by geography, cultural, social, economic or religious factors, bringing hope and joy by their friendship and support. That mission continues in the same spirit, and is extended by the John Wallis Foundation and Highways and Byways: a Community of Service.

This slideshow features photos I captured at the Bruny Island, Tasmania, celebrations on Sunday 25 November 2018 (day 4 of the pilgrimage). More photo galleries below.

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The following slideshow features Day 1 photographs of our MSS pilgrimage (Thursday 22 November) from St Vincent’s Hospital in Launceston, the site of the first home of the then Home Missionary Sisters of Service, though to Scottsdale Parish where the Sisters spent many years on mission. The day ended with the reading by many of a play written by Doreen Jones MSS (deceased), and many laughs!

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Day 2 of our pilgrimage, Friday 23 November, we travelled to the country parishes of Longford and Oatlands (en route to Hobart). Our visit to Oatlands was particularly moving as Nancy Doyle MSS shared her experience as the first-appointed pastoral coordinator in Australia. The love and gratitude felt and expressed by both the sisters and those they were reunited with (after 40-50 years!) was palpable.

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On day 3 of our pilgrimage, Saturday 24 November, we visited sights of significance to the MSS in Hobart, including St Mary’s Cathedral, where many of the first sisters professed their final vows and were buried from, onto Penna (the sisters’ country retreat property) and the country parish of Richmond where Australia’s oldest church is located. The sisters spent many years working in this parish. The day ended again with a beautiful sharing by all, and the telling of stories by the sisters, which always creates a good belly laugh!

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An article on the Missionary Sisters of Service featured in the August 2018 edition of Toowoomba’s Horizons on page 4.

Horizons Toowoomba August 2018

 

An article about Pat Quinn MSS and the Tasmanian pilgrimage, published in The Chronicle, Toowoomba , 24 November 2018 (click on article to enlarge)

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