CELEBRATION OF THE 150 YEARS OF SSJA PRESENCE IN NEWPORT
The small band of Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy who arrived in St Mary’s, Newport 150 years ago could scarcely have envisaged the joyous celebration that took place on 6th July, 2023. Little did they know how the tiny seed that was planted then would flourish and bear fruit in the century and a half that followed … something truly worthy of a celebration!
From mid-morning invited guests - ecumenical, civic and archdiocesan, representatives from Education and Health Care, as well as Sisters from other congregations, began arriving into the beautifully decorated Church. About 30 of our own Sisters, including Sr Margaret Gallagher representing Sr Breda, were delighted to be present and share this occasion with many people from Newport, Cwmbran, Penarth and elsewhere who had come in large numbers to be part of the day. There were also about 30 pupils from the six Catholic Primary Schools as well as a group from St Joseph’s High School, all of whom had a part to play as the Mass unfolded.
Archbishop Mark was the main celebrant, assisted by Archbishop Emeritus, George Stack and joined by a number of priests, including Rosminians who had invited us to Newport. The Mass began with the hymn, ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’ with the words of the chorus “I will hold your people in my heart” so appropriate for the meaning of our mission. The Archbishop welcomed all present and expressed his joy at being among us. Sr Margaret then read a message from Sr Breda which expressed her congratulations not only to the Sisters but also to the people of Newport who have so lovingly and generously collaborated with us over the many years since our arrival.
The Liturgy of the Word followed with readings from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, a Psalm of Thanksgiving and a Reading from Colossians read by two pupils from St Joseph’s High School and Sr Susan respectively. The Gospel from St John was proclaimed by recently ordained Deacon Dale Cutlan.
In his homily, steeped in Medaille spirituality, the Archbishop referred to the “Golden Thread” that is the charism or gift given to a Religious Congregation. He said that the people of Newport have been richly blessed by the presence of the Sisters and by the great contribution to Education and Health Care, as well as in parish ministries and that “Golden Thread” has been woven into so many lives over the years. It is the letting “Love, Love” in prayer that has enabled these ministries to flourish. The Archbishop acknowledged that much of this work is no longer possible but that in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves as Sisters, there will evolve other ways of ministering to people. above all through our prayer. At the heart of our lives remains the one desire “to be what God wants us to be, in nature, grace and glory for time and eternity”.
The story of our origins and growth in mission was skilfully and effectively presented in a combined Prayers of Intercession and Offertory Procession which told in a visual way the history shown on the display boards in the Church. The children from the schools brought forward various significant items while a relevant explanation and prayer was said. Our beginnings were depicted with a picture of Fr Medaille, a statue of Mother St John Fontbonne and a picture of the Motherhouse in Annecy. Our arrival in Newport was marked by the Newport Coat of Arms, a copy of the 1870 Compulsory Education Act which led to the Rosminians inviting the Sisters, initially, to St Mary’s. This was followed by a procession of 12 roses. one for each of the Catholic schools where the Sisters have taught or have had close associations. A pyx and a book recalled the work in Parishes, bringing communion to the sick and housebound and sacramental preparation. A baby-grow and a book of memories were reminders of Health Care, especially the care given to mothers and babies and to the sick and dying in the Hospice. Since as Congregation we minister in other parts of the world, a flag for each of every country united us with our Sisters world-wide. Finally, the gifts of bread and wine signified how the simplest of things can be transformed into greatness.
The Mass continued accompanied by organ and keyboard with singing augmented by the Parish choir, one of the many ways in which the parish, as a whole, played such a great part in the celebration. During Communion, “Be still for the presence of the Lord” and “Soul of my Saviour” were both reminders of the centrality of the Eucharist in our daily lives.
At the end of Mass, Sister Susan thanked Archbishop Mark, Archbishop Emeritus George, the clergy, in particular Fr Doyle, and especially the Rosminians, for being with us at the celebration and for all their support. Thanks too were extended to all our guests who had given their time to join us. A special word of thanks to the children and Staff who played such a special part in the occasion. Last, but not least, Sister thanked all our friends who not only joined us for the Mass but have been faithful and loving co-workers and collaborators for many years. Sister expressed the sadness felt by everyone at the closure of Llantarnam Abbey but our age profile gives us no option. Our infirm Sisters are now in our new community in New Inn, Pontypool and. shortly, a number of Sisters will be moving into a second community in Stow Park Circle, near Skelmorlie community. The presence of the Sisters has been a great contribution to Catholic life in Newport but as one of Fr Medaille’s maxims urges us “Advance good works until near their completion and then let them be finished by another who will gain the credit” Hopefully through our mission of prayer we can continue to be with the people of Newport and beyond.
The Archbishop re-echoed his thanks before giving the final blessing in Welsh. Having sung our final hymn, “Christ be our Light”, we all joined together in the Institute to share some refreshments and many memories.
A happy occasion, the result of much thought, work and prayer by so many and a worthy celebration of 150 years of presence for which we give thanks, looking to the future with faith and love.
“For all that has been - thanks – for all that will be – yes.”