A massive crowd gathered at the Church of Assumption, Rathangan, last Saturday evening to pay tribute and bid farewell to Sr Rosarii, Sr Bernadette and the Sisters of Mercy order on its departure after 142 years.
The oldest surviving past pupil of Bunscoil Bhride, Mrs Olive Harrison (93), unveiled a plaque in the church as part of the Thanksgiving mass, which was celebrated by Parish Priest Gerard O’Byrne along with former curate Fr Micháel Murphy.
Fr O’Byrne said it was an emotional evening and the strongest emotion was one of sadness. He said the Sisters would leave a great legacy, especially in the fields of education and pastoral care.
On a personal note, he said he was grateful for their advice, encouragement, care, friendship and support over his 28 years in Rathangan.
“The community in Rathangan will be forever indebted to the Sisters for their generosity, compassion, their warmth, their embodiment of what warmth should be, and the way they treated people. They were there for people, so it is with sadness that we have to say goodbye to them.”
He singled out Sr Rosarii, and Sr Bernadette, and paid tribute to Sr Oliver, Sr Assumpta, Sr Brigid and Sr Carmel and the generations of Sisters of Mercy who served in Rathangan.
“Thank god for them, the work they did and their legacy that they have left behind,” he said.
Mary Hipwell, representing Parish Pastoral Council, said the nuns were “part of the very soul of Rathangan.”
“We were just conscious always of your presence, even though you worked very quietly and gently with no judgement or scorn, just with kindness and understanding,” she said.
She described how they cried with the community in its sorrows, laughed with people in their joys, and “walked with us in times of sickness and death.”
Mrs Hipwell mentioned the many stories of endless kindness, understanding and the very best of social work.
“We love you dearly, we will miss you a lot but above all it is with deep gratitude that we as a community wish you, and also Sr Brigid, Sr Oliver and Sr Carmel deep peace and contentment for your time of rest,” she said.
A representative of Sisters of Mercy said the numbers entering the convent have been falling and it had to respond, even though it is saddening at a human and emotional level.
She made a presentation of a framed copy of the lyrics of the Circle of Mercy hymn.
“We are very conscious of Rosarii and Bernadette this evening, to whom it falls to finally turn the key after 142 years,” she said.
She also paid tribute to the other sisters who had served in Rathangan including Sr Brigid and Carmel, who were present, Assumpta and Oliver, who spent all of their adult lives here and are now in nursing care, as well as Ailish, who is in the missions in South Sudan, and Sr Thomasina, who commuted from Naas during her time in Rathangan.
She said she was conscious of the toll this change will take on the Sisters and the friends they leave behind. but they will be welcomed in their new home.
She said she knows they have been overwhelmed by the expression of appreciation from the parish and school community, and they want people to know they appreciate every gesture of goodwill.
“They leave Rathangan, thanking god for the privilege of being among you and counting their blessings because this is a story of huge achievement.”
The Sisters also thanked Fr O’Byrne for his support throughout the years.