On Tuesday 27 May 2014, the College hosted a ceremony to formalise the transition in our corporate sponsorship from the Presentation Sisters in Queensland to the new canonical entity, Mercy Partners. This sponsorship will ensure the College’s mission of educating young women in the Presentation tradition will continue on solid foundations.
Speaking to those assembled about the hopes and aspirations of those involved in the transfer were: Sr Kathleen Tynan pbvm, Congregation Leader; Sr Anne Hetherington rsm, Chairperson of Mercy Partners; Mrs Joan Mackay, Chairperson of the College Board of Directors; and Mrs Dale Morrow, College Principal. The ceremony, which marked the conclusion of 88 years of the Sisters’ sponsorship of the College, included a ritual of blessing for each of the parties that bear responsibility for the future of the College: the Mercy Partners, the College Board of Directors, and Sr Kathleen, who takes on the role of Steward of Mercy Partners, representing the Presentation Congregation.
The following is an extract from Mrs Morrow’s speech:
Good evening Sr Kathleen, the Presentation Sisters, Sr Anne Hetherington and Mercy partner representatives, Joan MacKay Chair of the Board and fellow directors and the College leadership Team. We are pleased to welcome you to St Rita’s College on this momentous occasion.
There are common themes that run through the stories of this College’s history. They include a depth of faith, and commitment to Christ’s message of love. We see it in the story of our founder, Nano Nagle. We are all familiar with it. Her growing awareness of the social injustice of her time led her to establish those very first hedge schools for girls where she fostered the learning of students from poor Irish background and in so doing, defied the civil authority of the time. Nano had a deep commitment to social justice and a deep faith in the sanctity of all. This inspired her vision of establishing schools where girls from all walks of life could be empowered through education. Part of our love of this story of our Founder, I’m sure, comes from that Australian penchant of ours to admire anyone who stands up for the disenfranchised and wins through against the odds. And the odds were stacked against Nano in those early years. In fact, she had much cause to doubt that her vision would be fulfilled, given the great many obstacles she encountered. On her death the number of nuns in her fledgling Presentation Order had fallen to just three. However, because of the trust she had in God and the belief in her work, many women did come to join the Order and it eventually flourished, not only in Cork but in many parts of the world, as her missionaries set sail in small numbers to carry on, in lands far and wide, what she had established in Cork.
And so, Nano’s legacy of faith, courage and commitment to her work was passed on down the years and came to our part of the world in 1926 when St Rita’s College was established. The property on which we now stand became available for purchase in this year and, not really knowing how they would manage to pay the asking price of £22,000, those early Sisters discerned that it was the correct thing to do. It was through much hard work and commitment to their calling that the school did survive and has developed into the College of today.
When deciding what name to give the College, perhaps the Sisters revealed a snippet of dry Irish humour when they chose St Rita’s as the name, for St Rita is known as the patron saint of impossible causes. The challenges experienced by the Presentation Sisters in those early years when they took on this large debt to purchase Stanley Hall with little means of paying, must have appeared as an impossible cause. But, of course, through God’s grace, and the exceptional hard work of the Sisters over many years, and, no doubt, through the intercession of St Rita herself, our College has flourished since.
Today, we who are privileged to be part of the St Rita’s teaching community have much to be grateful for. We have been touched by the grace of the charism of the Presentation Sisters. You would know that lay teachers began to share in the work of the Presentation Sisters here back in the 1970’s due to the falling number of vocations to the Order. This change to their circumstance must have been a difficult period for the Sisters – another challenge for them in discerning the best way forward. But, as ever, the Order responded to the signs of the times and warmly welcomed lay teachers into their school to share in their special brand of education. Even as their physical presence in the school has diminished since, they have nonetheless been able to ensure that the education being offered here has maintained that special hallmark of:
- The promotion of girls education and a commitment to justice
- The development of leadership of all girls, and
- The preparation of students to participate fully and responsibly in society.
Today marks another major milestone in the history of this College for, as you already know, the Sisters have put in place a new way forward for St Rita’s College. The College will now fall under the canonical sponsorship of the PJP, Mercy Partners, and so ensure we are able to continue offering Catholic Education in the Presentation tradition well into the future.
I would like to take this opportunity to assure the Presentation Order who hold the position of Steward with Mercy Partners that we, as a College of mostly lay people, will continue to take up the challenge of making Jesus real in our world today. Our inspiration for all that we do will always be taken from the strong legacy left to us by the Sisters over many years and we will continue to aim to proclaim the Gospel to all in our community. The values of Mercy partners align very well with the Presentation pillars of Compassion, Simplicity, and Hospitality. This new chapter in our history requires the courage and optimism of the past to be reflected in our new structure. On behalf of the parents, students and staff of the College I would like to sincerely thank the Sisters for their legacy and assure Mercy Partners that we are ready to join this new organisation as full partners in living the mission of the Church.
Below are some photographs from the evening taken by former College Principal, Sr Elvera Sesta pbvm.