Diamond Jubilee Mass, Magheramore, Wicklow
by Sister Ita Hannaway
It is a great blessing for us, Columban Sisters that we have you, our Sister Rosarii’s family and friends with us on this wonderful day of Diamond Jubilee. Today we can recall, reflect and renew ourselves together as we celebrate the mystery and grace of Rosarii’s missionary vocation and life.
The Scripture Readings which Sister has chosen to mark her special day help us to fathom to some degree the mystery and means of her life and ministry as a missionary Sister.
The Gospel offers us the image of a vine or a vineyard. I remember being in a vineyard once and noticing the vine’s wide, beautifully leafed branches with their promise of rich harvest. What was scarcely observable was the trunk of the vine which was plain in appearance and partially hidden in the shadow of the branches. Yet, without this sturdy trunk there would be no branches and certainly no fruit. It is like this with our Christian life which braches out from our Baptism and needs to be sustained into fruitfulness by close attachment to the source of our Christianity, our God who has given us a share in his divine life, but who is most often hidden in the ups and downs of our daily living.
Sister Rosarii’s family in Foxford, Mayo, the county favoured and encouraged by the gracious apparition at Knock, ensured that their child was carefully nurtured in her faith. When the time came for Rosarii – or Rosie, as we call her fondly – to choose her future way of life she branched out from her family as a missionary Sister, totally unsure regarding what might be asked of her if she were to bear fruit worthy of God’s Kingdom.
But she learned to trust in God’s presence with her and to be secure under his guidance.
Korea was the scene of her missionary challenge and fruitfulness and the call to and within this mission posed its own questions. How was she to leave her homeland for an unknown destination? How begin again after being a founding member of the Korea mission and keep on journeying along an uncharted path of establishing and guiding a woollen industry amongst people who knew far more about the sea than about the sheep that were being introduced to them? (The people in Hallim on Cheju Island where Sister was assigned had never seen sheep until they had been imported from Australia)
But the sheep came; the Koreans learned new skills; families of those employed at the woollen factory enjoyed secure and stable livelihoods. Before very long the name of the products of the woollen industry reach far beyond the factory in Hallim and could be seen in up-marked boutiques in the capital city, Seoul.
There used to be a factory here in Ireland named FRUIT OF THE LOOM which produced beautiful garments but which, sadly has had to close down to the great disadvantage of those who worked in it. Sister Rosarii hoped that every aspect of the loom business in Hallim might be far more than materially productive. Her looms, she prayed, would never cause disadvantage to the people alongside of whom she spent her energies. While she laboured to be of material assistance to those amongst whom she ministered, her heart was set also on the spiritual and eternal fruit that might come from her efforts. Her quest was always for far more than material success.
Because, side by side with this visible missionary ministry amongst the people of Hallim and beyond was Sister’s quiet witness to the Gospel values which she had imbibed in Foxford, and all the responsibilities which she undertook on the day of her first Profession in Cahiracon sixty years ago – a witness she sustained through close friendship through prayer with Jesus, Lord of her life. Her ministry went far beyond guiding the work of her employees. It reached and influenced the hearts and lives of many amongst whom her community lived.
People were struck by her love for them and her dedication to their well-being. They were edified by her fidelity in sharing their work, and her commitment to community life with her companion Sisters. All were enriched spiritually and materially by her presence amongst them. And isn’t this what missionary life and ministry is all about – that through the example of their lives and service the missionaries prepare a way for the Lord so that the world may come to know the one true God and Jesus whom he has sent?
I believe that the sustenance of Sister’s life so far, including the years she has spent away from Korea – is her unfailing fidelity to remaining close to the heart of her unseen God-vine, the vine from who she received life with its many gifts. Her security and the abundant outcome of her missionary efforts so far have been grounded in the true vine of God’s love for herself and for all his people. All ministries and companionships have been imbued with the love of which St. John speaks in our First Reading today. Rosarii knows well that without love everything else counts as nothing. People in Korea and elsewhere may remember, or indeed forget, much of how she spent herself physically for and with them. What they won’t forget is her heartfelt caring for them, despite limitations like everyone else, her encouragement and her understanding of their cares – in other words, her love.
Sixty many-faceted diamond years have passed since Rosie said ‘Yes’ for the first time to her missionary calling. We know well that she will continue to say ‘Yes’ calmly and confidently as she takes her Gospel journey forward, enjoying the sweet leisurely wine of senior years here amongst us in Magheramore, and not too far from her beloved Foxford.
So today, Rosie, we say: ‘A thousand loving congratulations’! agus ‘Go maireadh tu cead!