Farewell to the Brigidines

Our gathering to farewell the Brigidines from Wadawurrung Country was not just an ordinary day.

On Monday 23 May 2022, we came together in the spirit of the Brigidine value of celebrating all that is good with joy and gratitude and we came together to mark a particular moment in time. History gives us markers in our story, points for both looking back and looking forward. The way we tell our story in what we choose to mark or signify speaks to our identity and what we value. This is why our farewell and celebration of thanksgiving needed to happen.

It was with deep gratitude that we reflected on the selfless giving of the sisters who called Geelong home at some point in their vocation. There is an image in our chapel windows of the first Brigidine sisters leaving Ireland to come to Australia. I have always been struck by the courage, faith, generosity of spirit and indeed sense of adventure in those women who were open to leaving their families and all that was known to travel to the other side of the world answering the call to bring the good news of the gospel to the people of Australia, especially the young they would educate in their schools. I am not sure I would have had the same strength of character. Now whilst each of the sisters who found their way to Geelong, may not have made the same journey as those first women, at some point each one sacrificed the known and familiar to say ‘yes’ and come to serve in this community. By placing themselves in God’s hands they modelled to us a deep commitment to their faith and each other as people of community.

We celebrated and gave thanks for the legacy the Brigidine sisters created through their 65 years on Wadawurrung country. No doubt being the women they are, when they arrived they were not so much thinking about legacy but rather the work at hand and what needed to be done to establish themselves and get the schools and parish works underway. This is what we know of the sisters. Always hands on, always practical, always down to earth, always women who didn’t make a fuss. Through their ministry the sisters left strong communities of faith characterised by the Brigidine values that they lived by. These communities took shape here at Clonard and in the parishes connected to Holy Spirit, Our Lady’s and St Anthony’s. No doubt it brought great joy throughout the years as students, who had received an education in these schools, went on the choose a life of vocation with the Brigidine Sisters. The legacy of a community of faith is found in the way we gather, the way we pray and share eucharist, the way we treat each other, the way we view the world and the way we learn together. In the stories of how our past Collegians have chosen to pursue their lives and careers, the recurring themes are how the sense of social justice and experience of community from their Brigidine education have shaped who they are and what they have done.

Through their foresight, their dedication, and their resourcefulness the sisters left us with a strong foundation to build the place we call Clonard, especially our beautiful grounds and the first buildings from which we have grown. With a pioneering spirit they were never afraid of hard work and from humble beginning we are fortunate to continue to reap the rewards of the fruits of their labour and vision to now be a school of over 900 students.

And whilst the spirit of the sisters will always walk with us as we enter these grounds each day, it will be the legacy of the connections, friendships, and personal stories ever woven into the fabric of this place, and in the broader community of Geelong that will be what is remembered most. From garden parties, to the serving of cakes and cookies to students running errands, to PB the sisters’ beloved dog, to the socials, celebrations, curriculum developments and new buildings, everyone will have a story or a memory. For many of the staff and students currently at Clonard it will be Sr Geraldine that they will remember most. The fact that she would always be the first here, and just like St Brigid would have the hearth burning, Sr Geraldine would always have the lights on ready to welcome us as we arrived. She had a passion for learning and a passion for supporting those for whom education would be a liberating act. And we loved her Irish mischief and sense of humour. It is no accident that our most cherished Year 12 award is named after Sr Geraldine, the last Brigidine to be on our staff.

Legacy is a treasured gift that we commit to stewarding into the future. The Brigidine Sisters have never stood still and have always responded to the signs of the times making prophetic and courageous decisions. Our responsibility is to continue to take the flames of the past, the essence of their legacy and continue to grow it with fidelity for the people we serve today and into the future. We will tell their stories like families do, as these past 65 years are the foundation of who we say we are, they may be gone but never forgotten. We will be reminded of our responsibility as we watch our oaks shed their acorns, that then take root and bring new life and new beginning to the next generation of trees. This is how we must continue the work, continue the story of bringing the good news to all we serve. We thank you, the sisters for the deep trust they have placed in us that we are ready, we are able and we will be enough to continue to bring alive the gospel message of Jesus through the daily living of the values collectively we espouse. Like Jesus, like St Brigid, like Daniel Delany, they have been our example. We know sometimes we may not always get it right and we asked them to keep us in their prayers as we continue this work in their name as we strive to be the fullest expression of people of strength and kindliness.

We hoped that our celebration was a source of joy for the sisters individually and as a community and that our stewardship of their legacy continues to bring them comfort and hope that the spirit of St Brigid is alive in this place.

Daniel Delany is quoted saying ‘Do everything in a spirit of holy love and you will not find your hands empty at journey’s end’. The sisters have given all in the spirit of holy love to this place, to this community, to the lives of many.

With our love, our humble gratitude and our admiration we say thank you and God bless.

Luci Quinn on behalf of the Clonard College Community

Our Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the Ministry of the Brigidine Sisters in Geelong was a wonderful occasion in the story of the Brigidines and the College. With a number of the sisters, past Principals and community members present the Mass and liturgy of farewell wove together both Celtic and First Nations music, symbols and rituals. Following a smoking ceremony, Sr Louise Cleary handed over stewardship of a perpetual flame for safekeeping by the College, the choir sung a blessing over the sisters and Jo Ryan presented a poem titled Women of Spirit and Fire, a copy was then gifted to the sisters. Following the Mass, staff and guests gathered for refreshments and the opportunity to share memories. It was a wonderful team effort and the feedback from those who gathered reflected that the core values of the Brigidines and in turn Kildare Ministries were clearly evident in the way the community gathered and marked this moment in time.

Message from the Brigidine Sisters

How does one begin to thank you, the staff and students for a truly magnificent day yesterday? You achieved an extraordinary outpouring of affirmation from those of us privileged to be present and from many who were able to join on-line.

It was a day of hope, joy, trust and outstanding confidence in the unfolding work of Kildare Ministries.

We were so honoured to see that the life of Kildare Ministries integrated with the life of Clonard, names a future threaded with values of justice, compassion and acceptance of all peoples. You have accepted the challenge of taking education into a world so different from what we knew as teachers – this you are doing so creatively and courageously as you nurture the flame.
The celebration of the Indigenous ceremony and the lighting of the fire was with the Brigidine heritage was steeped in the roots of our story and your story. An emotional moment.

Many of our older sisters expressed praise of what you are doing as they keep sharing yesterday’s on-line experience in conversation. Some of our employees were also able to participate on-line. Thank you for making this opportunity possible.

I am aware there were so many as part of the team who made yesterday happen. As I left, I saw staff packing up chairs and AV equipment, staff and students clearing the Nagle Room, Luci collecting the huge letters of the word, compassion from the grounds, other staff taking classes and covering for one another. This is truly servant leadership.

My words are inadequate for all the hours of planning and preparation -Linda co-ordinating the Liturgy, the musicians, the homeroom managers, the technology experts and involvement of so many staff members in various capacities.

A simply ‘thank-you’ will never be enough, but our appreciation will run through our Brigidine veins. You will be remembered with great adulation as we entrust a future of promise into your hands.

Thank you for yesterday and thank you for your commitment to the experience of education you offer to each young woman in your care. May this be the education that will inspire your students to make a difference in our world today.

And we loved the ‘blankets’ – Brigid’s cloak is one of the legends in her story, so we will wrap the Clonard cloak around our shoulders as we journey through the years ahead.

With much gratitude and may Brigid’s blessings flow abundantly on all – Sr Anne Hill csb