My Wonderful Sabbatical by Sr Mary McKeon
On the 13th September 2013 Sr. Agnes Morgan and myself left Airdrie for Australia. Thanks to Agnes who got me moving! The journey took about 24 hours and when we arrived we were met by Sr Margaret Beirne who, in order to meet us, had to get up at 5am. The community at 40 West St welcomed us so warmly to their home. We experienced this great welcome from all we met, a friendly, hospitable and helpful people.
Our visit coincided with the Sisters’ preparations for their 175th anniversary of the first sisters’ arrival in Sydney. Having spent five months at sea they were then taken to attend High Mass at the Cathedral in thanksgiving for the first religious women to arrive in Australia. I envied their stamina as the journey to Australia by jet claimed me!
The sisters in 40 West St work very hard in various ministries and have a great sense of their history ‘standing on the shoulders of those gone before them’ very much in their hearts and minds. We were taken to various places by the sisters and they never lost the opportunity for us to meet with other communities of Sisters of Charity. We were taken to so many restaurants that our dining repertoire was greatly extended. Sr Margaret took us to the famous Sydney Opera House to see South Pacific, a truly enjoyable experience. The building overlooks the harbour and large windows allow a wonderful view of the boats coming and going. During our stay we spent many lunch breaks sitting eating our toasties, listening to the music and watching the boats and ships making their way to and from the harbour. We also had a tour of the harbour and I enjoyed looking back at the harbour and the skyscrapers from the boat. At MacQuarie Point there is Mrs MacQuarie’s Seat made for her by her husband and where she sat watching the ships coming from her beloved England.
Among the places we visited were Uluru , otherwise known as Ayers Rock, a sacred place to the Aboriginal people, and King’s Canyon. The vastness of the landscape was revealed to us on our visit to Alice Springs. We spent five hours on the coach to get there and saw only red sand and small trees here and there on the journey and met only one vehicle on the road in all that time. But our visit to Alice Springs was worth it. We were there for Mission Sunday and the local people attended Mass dressed in their native costumes. There is a variety of cultures represented there, and we added the Irish and Scottish! Afterwards there was tea in the parish hall.
Our next stop was Brisbane. The sisters in Mount Olivet community and Srs Margaret and Cate were very welcoming and took us down the River Brisbane into the city. They also took us to Toowoomba, Gold Coast, and their holiday house on the coast, wonderful people, wonderful place.
Melbourne is very different from Sydney, especially in climate. Often you would experience four seasons in one day. It is a lovely, busy city. Like the other places we visited, the sisters always made time to show us around. We then moved on to Tasmania where we were met by Srs. Anne and Josephine. Again we were taken around and visited the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site. This was very emotional for us as it commemorates the place as an institution which held up to one thousand people, female convicts and staff. The first sisters visited there and there is a picture of the three sisters on the wall with a letter from the Governor and a reply from the sisters. We also visited the graves of these sisters.
We left Australia temporarily to visit New Zealand. Our time in New Zealand was both happy and sad. We went first to the North Island. We visited a glow worm grotto in Rotorua, saw and smelt the mud pools and geysers, attended a Maori concert and saw some sheep being sheared. We also visited Christchurch, the place of devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. At least 138 people lost their lives and both cathedrals and many houses and shops and other properties were destroyed. Christchurch is like a ghost town.
The South Island is very beautiful. We saw waterfalls, glaciers, lakes and snow on a mountain range. The weather was dry.
The different experiences were wonderful but it was good too to see some familiar faces on our return to Sydney. We met Sr. Patricia Lenihan a couple of times and Sr Agnes’ nephew and family who had come to Sydney only a month before. I also met up with a member of our parish here in Airdrie.
I will never forget my time in Australia and perhaps the most outstanding memory amid all the wonderful experiences I had is that of the sisters, their welcome, kindness and generosity and their deep commitment to service through their ministries. All I can say is that they were a great inspiration. I had a great time with space, time to read and reflect and daydream. May God bless you all. Thank you.
My Visit to Zambia
On 19th March 2014 Agnes and I were off again, this time for the trip of a lifetime, to Africa. Since I was a child I had heard so much about this continent and then heard so many stories from our own sisters which urged me to come and see for myself when the opportunity arose. Thank God for the wonderful chance we had of doing this.
When we arrived in Lusaka we were met by Srs Christina and Marianne and also by the tremendous heat which was so different from what we had left behind in Scotland. We were taken to Roma where we received our first taste of Zambian hospitality.
As in Australia, our visit coincided with the sisters in the Region having a regional meeting and so we were very lucky to meet with so many of our sisters in the first week. That day we joined them for a lovely lunch and later for a barbeque in the regional house.
On Sunday we attended Mass at the parish church where the choir and the whole congregation joined in the singing, without hymn books. This was a real eye-opener for me as in our churches singing is not one of our strong points.
Our itinerary was planned by Srs. Margaret Mary, Christina, and Marianne and they gave us every opportunity of experiencing the different areas, works and scenery from visits to Mulanga, Kabwe, Kabwata, Victoria Falls, Chikuni to Chaminuka Nature Reserve, not forgetting the market and shops in Manda Hill and a visit to Kondwa Day Centre for orphans.
Our visit to Mulanga took twelve hours. Sr Christina was our guide and arranged a picnic lunch on the way and we stopped at Kabwe where we received a great welcome. The missionary spirit of an open door was very evident when we called unannounced at another convent on our way. The welcome in Mulanga was just as warm. There we saw many mothers and babies at the weigh-in centre and the sisters always ready to share in the joys and sorrows of the people and ready to go where they were needed. In Kabwe we visited the school and were impressed by the quality of the building and the school in general kept so well by the sisters and teachers over the years. In Kabwata we were entertained by the pupils with dancing, singing and drama. What confidence they had, it was a pleasure to watch them all.
Our time at Victoria Falls was a wonderful experience, flowing, spraying, dashing water which created beautiful rainbows against the sun. What starts out with a small beginning ends up here at the Falls as a powerful and wonderful sight.
It was wonderful to see how the works have grown over the years. Chikuni is an example of this as even today new classrooms are being added to the lovely school. It is easy to remember and acknowledge the sisters who have passed through over the years for their stamp of service, commitment and hard work is there and carried on in the same spirit by the sisters and their associates today. We visited the graves and remembered the sisters who had lived and ministered and died in Zambia since the foundation of the Region. They sowed plenty of good seed by the sweat of their brow. May they all rest in peace.
Nakambala had a strong smell of molasses as the sugar factory is there and sugar cane grows. There is a lake and a village there with plenty of families as well as hens, ducks and other animals. We met some of the people from the village. The roads are not good so everyone walks, as driving is impossible for those who might own a car.
We had a wonderful day at Chaminuka the nature reserve. We toured the reserve in a jeep and had a delicious lunch and a boat trip on the lake. I enjoyed seeing so many different animals, birds, butterflies, trees and plants in both the park and the lake.
Our morning in Kwonda Day Centre was very moving. The centre came into existence through the dream of Mrs. Angela Melik. The children entertained us with song and dance and we were with them when they were having their meal.
While I do not do justice to my visit to Zambia, as I would truly need to write a book, I will never forget all the kindness that awaited us in all the houses we visited, the special care, delicious meals, entertainment, sights and sounds and always a sign of welcome. Thank you to all and may the Lord bless you, may his face shine on you and give you his peace.