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Canossian Daughters of Charity celebrate 70 years of mission, charity, love in Australia

Dedicated: The Canossian Sisters celebrated their 70th anniversary in Australia with Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell, at Canossa Chapel, Oxley on Sunday, July 14. Photo: Alan Edgecomb

THE world and its wounds changed shape over the past 70 years and the Canossian Daughters of Charity evolved with them, cherishing the experience of walking with the poor in Australia.

The Canossian Sisters celebrated their Australian 70th anniversary Mass, at Canossa Chapel, Oxley, last Sunday. 

Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell was the celebrant.

Canossian Sister Melissa Dwyer (pictured with Bishop Howell) said the celebration was beautiful. She said a highlight was the entrance procession where all former provincial and delegate leaders walked in together.

She said it was lovely to see all the women who had led through 70 years, especially seeing as they were all still alive.

“It was an opportunity for sisters from around Australia to gather because we were all in town for our delegation chapter, so all the sisters from different parts of Australia came together,” she said.

The chapel was full with more than 300 people there, including sisters, order collaborators and regular Sunday Mass-goers. 

 “We just wanted to insert into the normal Sunday Mass because we wanted to be with the people, conscious that our presence in Australia is not just about us, but it’s about being able to work with and collaborate with so many lay people who made it possible for us to be here,” Sr Dwyer said.

After the Mass, there was morning tea for everyone and a special lunch for the Canossian Sisters.

With a spread of ages from 35 to 91, and coming from 10 nationalities, working in ethnic communities, institutions and a broad range of ministries, there were certainly lots of interesting stories to hear, Sr Dwyer said.

“It’s always beautiful to listen to the stories of the older sisters,” she said.

“I cherish that because I’m not that old myself. 

“But I think there’s so much wisdom in our older sisters, and that’s important for us who are younger to cherish that memory. 

“We stand on the shoulders of giants, (and) why we’re here today is because of all those women who have faithfully lived the charism in Australia for the past 70 years. 

“So now, at this moment, it’s up to us to do the best we can to pass on the charism to those who come after us in its entirety.

“We are very conscious of thanking God for the gift of these women who for the past 70 years have rolled up their sleeves and touched the lives of people across Australia, and now it’s our turn to continue to live on that spirit of our foundress.”

And learning from the missions of the past informs the future, in line with their foundress St Magdalen of Canossa, who Sr Dwyer said remained ever conscious to the signs of the times.

“And so, since 1949 until today, we’ve seen (poverty) certainly evolve,” she said. “We’ve seen sisters seeking to respond to emerging poverties.”

These emerging poverties involved working closely with migrants and refugees, but with the sisters maintaining their presence in their foundational ministries in education and healthcare.  

“What I love most,” Sr Dwyer said, “I think it’s really a beautiful part of our charism that in our ministerial service to the local church of Australia, we are very much focused on making Jesus known and loved and serving the poor.”

The face of poverty isn’t always obvious, either.

“So now the type of poverty has changed; material poverty in Australia is not as prevalent as perhaps other developing countries in the world,” Sr Dwyer said.

“But poverty takes many different forms – you’ve got social poverty, psychological poverty, emotional poverty – so our sisters are still consistently involved in searching to find and respond to where there’s the greatest need in serving our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest of them.” 

Anniversary Mass: The current leader and past leaders of the Canossian Daughters of Charity enter the 70th Anniversary Mass at Canossa Chapel, Oxley, last Sunday.

Despite Australia’s changing attitudes towards religion and religious, the Canossian Sisters remain visible in local communities across Queensland and Australia.

“We’re still living in community and that’s an important part of our life, so we believe in bearing witness to who we are as Daughters of Charity, serving the poor,” Sr Dwyer said. 

“I believe that we are committed to maintaining our identity in that space.”

At the same time, the sisters were aware of the need to insert themselves into the culture of the time and minister to the people who needed help, she said.

“We’re very much about walking with the people, being where people are and trying to help them discover who God is for them,” Sr Dwyer said. 

“So it’s about walking with people as opposed to walking above them or in front of them.”

With two novices and two pre-postulants, the sisters are going to be walking with the poor in Australia for a long time yet.

“For us as a group of religious women in Australia, we still have new vocations,” Sr Dwyer said. 

“So whilst many congregations are talking about diminishment and potentially looking for the future and closing or ending their story in Australia, we’re not at that point – we’re at a point where we’re full of hope for our future.

“We’re looking to see how we can dream about new possibilities in our ministries, how we can dream about encouraging other young women to join us on the mission of making Jesus known and loved.”

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