Monday, 29th September, 2014 was a very special day for the Columban Sisters as we celebrated our 90th Anniversary in our different mission areas across Asia, the Americas and Europe.
At a Thanksgiving Mass in the Centre House in Magheramore, Wicklow, celebrated by Fr Pat Raleigh SSC, Sister Ann Gray, the Congregational Leader, addressed a great representation of Columban Fathers and Sisters along with some visitors.
“Today we are gathered together to remember this day, 90 years ago, the 29th September 1924, when seven young women slowly entered in procession into the chapel in St Brigid’s, Cahircon, genuflecting three times as they approached the altar, in memory of St Columban who, in his day, observed this custom. Today we are not only looking back in remembrance, we are also celebrating the faithfulness of God’s eternal love towards us as Congregation throughout these past 90 years.
As it was in 1924, today is the feast of St Michael, the great archangel, the one who Pope St Gregory the Great says is assigned by God whenever a mighty deed is in question, so that by his actions and name it may be made known that no one can do what God can do. And what a mighty deed was in question on this day 90 years ago – nothing less than the foundation of a new Missionary Religious Congregation dedicated to the service of the Chinese people.
We can only imagine the excitement that must have filled St Brigid’s where, according to an article in the Far EastMagazine of the time, we are told, “For months before that date, the atmosphere of this little Bethlehem of the Congregation was one of patient expectation. ‘When would the great day come?’ was the question ever present to the mind of each of us.” And on the day itself, “What has God in store for the new-born Congregation? What will it accomplish for him in China’s vast harvest field?”
Surely wonder and trepidation filled the hearts of those young women as they heard Bishop Fogarty remind them that the lot of the missionary was – to live in exile, to endure manifold labours and privations, to suffer much distress and tribulation of spirit, to encounter, it may be, the perils of persecution, to sacrifice, even, life itself. And yet they must surely also have been inspired by the Bishop’s address in which he recalled the first Sisters of St Columban of ancient times and encouraged this new group of Columban Sisters with the words, “In you they have revived this morning, and full of life go forth once more on St Columban’s work, robed in the ancient mantle and carrying well-trimmed the lamp of missionary zeal that burned so vividly in his great era.”
This day in 1924 was the fulfilment and realisation of the hopes of Fr John Blowick, our Founder and the confrere of all you Columban Fathers with us today. And today the lamp of missionary zeal burns just as brightly and as strongly in each of us throughout the Congregation as we continue to strive to live the pillars of his spirituality – the spirit of prayer, charity and obedience. Each of us can also exclaim from the bottom of our hearts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.”
Today, 29th September 2014, we are united with our Sisters throughout the world as we look back with deep gratitude on the profusion of blessings that have been showered on us and on the truly thousands of people who have, through our words and deeds in Christ, come to believe in and experience God’s love for them.
Today also, as 90 years ago, we find ourselves asking, “What has God in store for our Congregation? What will it accomplish for him and through him?” The future is unknown but we can be confident that God goes in front of us and is on our side.
Touched and set on fire by God’s love which is the source of our Charism, we continue to be called and sent in a spirit of compassion and solidarity to our fast changing world which can be filled with so much pain and suffering. And we are sustained and nourished by the spirituality of Fr Blowick and Frances Maloney our Founders a spirituality which springs from contemplation and moves us to prophetic action.
Today, as we look to the future, I would ask each one of us – can we hear the voice of all our Sisters who have gone before us, urging us to ‘Sing a new song unto the Lord’? Can we hear Fr Blowick encouraging us, ‘Have untold courage, infinite trust in God, for he is faithful.’ And can we hear St Columban inspire us with his exhortation, ‘Let us be Christ’s not our own?’
Sister Ann Gray was elected the Columban Sisters’ Congregational Leader in 2011; previously, she served for many years in Hong Kong where she established AFRO – ACTION for REACH OUT – a service to women involved in the sex industry in Hong Kong.