Thursday, April 18, 2013


Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
19 Apr 2013
Glen Matthews Tribal Musician Leading in Oln's Mass
It may be the smallest order in Australia - Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor - but the 13 sisters and their practical and compassionate work among the sick and poor, was recognised and celebrated at a special Centenary Mass at St Mary's Cathedral last weekend.
Nearly one thousand people from around the country gathered to remember Eileen O'Connor, the c o-founder of Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor, also known as the Brown Nurses.
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and Principal Celebrant, Bishop Terry Brady, echoed the thoughts of many at the mass when he referred to Eileen O-Connor as a "saint-in-waiting".
While still a very young woman Eileen, along with Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest Fr Edward McGrath, co-founded  Our Lady's of the Poor in Sydney in 1913.
With just a handful of supporters they quietly provided in-home healthcare, advocacy and friendship for the poor, sick and marginalised.
And not without their own battles.
Eileen, affectionately known as "Little Mother", suffered a lifetime of pain and suffering following a fall when very young and resulting in a broken spine. Numerous operations and complications through tuberculosis meant she never grew more than 115 centimetres and in her last years she suffered paralysis and would lapse into unconsciousness for days at a time. Like her supporter and co-founder Fr McGrath her battles were not only physical ones. Both battled with Church authorities with massive obstacles placed in their way however they inspired a small congregation of nuns to dedicate their lives  to visiting the sick and the very poor in their homes when others would not cross the doorstep. These women administered health care and helped with household work and also took care of children in the home.
Eileen O'Connor, co-founder of Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor
Eileen died in 1921 aged just 28.
Those days of battling with church authorities are long gone and Eileen's work was honoured by many senior church leaders at the Centenary Mass.
Apart from Bishop Brady there were five bishops from the Archdioceses of Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra-Goulburn and the Dioceses of Maitland Newcastle, Broken Bay and Wollongong as well as 42 priests. The Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Paul Gallagher also attended along with political and community leaders, other religious orders and organisations.
For many the mass provoked memories when they were youngsters of the Brown Nurses going about their work. For all it was a very moving celebration beginning with Indigenous musician Glen Doyle leading the 13 remaining Sisters into the Cathedral.
"As a little boy, I can recall the Brown Nurses getting on and off the 399 bus from Circular Quay to Maroubra Beach at Dudley Street, Coogee," Bishop Brady recalled during his homily.
"I remember being told the story of co-founders, Eileen O'Connor and Fr Ted McGrath MSC, by my mother.
"In the mid-1970s my path with the Sisters crossed again when I was working with the then South Sydney Council as a welfare worker.
Bishop Terry Brady - Homily
"Many of the poorest people of the inner city were being cared for by the Sisters, especially those whom were in the 'too hard' basket for others.
"Over the centuries the Lord has tended to tap on the shoulder young women like Eileen to carry out his most challenging missions," he said.
"He certainly knew what he was about when he offered his invitation to Eileen. 
"She may have been crippled and had a number of other ailments but her heart was on fire for the love of the Lord and her brothers and sisters, especially the poorest of the poor.
"In many ways, Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor was a forerunner of a much larger congregation in our church, the Missionaries of Charity.
"I often wonder if the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta had not heard of these Australian based Sisters."
Bishop Brady said Eileen's status as a 'saint in waiting' was not without foundation.
"To many of us, she is already an uncanonised Saint," he said.
Historic Oln Centenary Mass
"Many of us have a desire to see Eileen O'Connor officially to be beatified and ultimately to be declared a Saint of our Church.
"Work already has been completed, however more is to be done and it is really up to a number of us here today to work much more deliberately to make it happen.
"I dream for the day when the words declaring Eileen O'Connor a Saint of the Universal Church will fill St Peter's Square."
His Excellency, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said it was an honour to address the congregation as the recently-appointed representative of His Holiness, Pope Francis, exactly one month after his election as the Successor of St Peter and Bishop of Rome.
"As has been noted from the first moment that his name was announced from the balcony of St Peter's, Jorge Bergoglio, Jesuit priest, bishop, cardinal and now Pope, has always been, and will remain, a friend of the poor," he said.
Our Lady's Nurses for the Poor was established as a ministry of compassionate service for the sick poor in their own homes.
"So, he would be delighted to know that I am with you this morning to celebrate the centenary of the Brown Nurses."
The Sisters may be small in number but they keep alive the faithfulness and vision of their co-founders.
The Sister's mission for the poor and disadvantaged in the local government areas of Sydney, Randwick and Leichardt is conducted by the Brown Nurses. Based in Glebe this small team of registered nurses continue to minister to the sick poor in the tradition of Eileen O'Connor.
"The cause of a person's poverty is not yours to question. The fact a person is poor is the reason you help." - Eileen O'Connor
Eileen O'Connor faced many physical hurdles in her short life

When many of the city's sick and marginalised were left by themselves, the "Brown Nurses" were thee to assist.

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