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Courage of sisters shines through

A LAMP LIT … : HISTORY OF THE POOR CLARES, WAVERLEY, AUSTRALIA, 1883-2004

By M.R. MacGinley, St Pauls, $29.95

Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC

SIX Poor Clare nuns from Ireland, under the leadership of Sr Mary Aloysius O’Hare, arrived in Sydney in 1883 and settled in Waverley, a suburb in which a Franciscan presence was already well established.

In A Lamp Lit … Mercy Sister Rosa MacGinley tells the story of these remarkable women and of those who later joined their order.

She records the difficulties they faced, their prophetic witness to the wider community, their contribution to Catholic education and their evolving contemplative lifestyle.

It is fitting that this book should be published in the year in which the Church celebrated the 750th anniversary of the canonisation of St Clare.

Attractively produced in a relatively large format (190mm x 270mm), the book has many features that will commend it to the discerning reader.

As one might expect, it includes an ample index, copious endnotes, pertinent appendices and maps and a comprehensive bibliography.

The scholarly but very readable text is amply documented and is supported by a wealth of black-and-white and colour photographs depicting the sisters and the places associated with their congregational history and ministry in Australia.

I am pleased to note that the author has devoted the first three chapters of the book (some 42 pages in all) to an interesting summary of the history of the Poor Clares inasmuch as it impinges upon their Australian foundation.

We learn of their beginnings in Assisi in 1212 and their growth in Ireland over several centuries – useful and informative background to the detailed account of their coming to Waverley and their involvement in the School for Young Ladies which eventually became St Clare’s College.

Other chapters highlight the pioneering initiatives of various sisters (including a succession of abbesses), the formation of new members, the challenges of new and diverse apostolic ventures, the minutiae of daily life in community in fidelity to the spirit of Clare, the business of congregational chapters, and the demands for the renewal of religious life in a changing Church.

Some people might think that a work of this kind would appeal only to those who have a particular interest in Australian Church history or who have some direct link, perhaps through education or family vocation, with the Poor Clares. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is a very human and edifying document – a story of courage, fidelity and enthusiasm – which I would happily recommend to all Leader readers.

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