Sr Eileen at Brigidine House in August 2020
I recently had the privilege of meeting with Sr Eileen who hale and hearty at 96 resides at the Brigidine House, an aged care facility near the centre of Randwick, East Sydney.
Overlooking the beautiful Coogee Bay beach it is midway between the famous Bondi Beach and the historic Botany Bay.
On her mother’s side Eileen is related to the Bartley families in the Graigue Urlingford, Gortnahoe, Gaile Holycross, Ballyvinane Littleton, Clonmel, Dublin areas and has a sister in England.
On her father’s side she is related to the Creagh extended family in the Harristown, Rathdowney and Ballybogey areas. Her family moved from Gortnahoe to Harristown in the early 1920s. Sadly her mother died giving birth to her ninth child.
Primary education was with the St. John of God Sisters in Rathdowney where the smell of yeast from Perry’s Brewery was in the air. She won a boarding school scholarship to the Brigidine Sisters in Tullow and on completing her Leaving Cert entered the Brigidines on St. Brigid’s Day 1942 in response to a local appeal for mission work in Australia.
Bishop Dan Delaney, who was a relative and friend of Dr James Butler, Archbishop of Cashel, founded the Sisters of St. Brigid in 1807 and the Brothers of St. Patrick, the Patricians in 1808, to teach secular and religious knowledge to to rich and poor. In a post Penal Laws and pre-Famine Ireland, with no state education system in place, education was one of the greatest needs. Dr Butler was responsible for the introduction of the Ursuline Sisters to Thurles in 1787.
Eileen's first teaching role was in Denbeigh, Wales with daughters of Polish officers who had been drafted into the British Army.
With five other sisters she boarded the Orion at Tilbury Docks London on December 29, 1947 and spent her first year at Mount St. Brigid where she is currently retired.
After a train journey from Sydney to Perth, that could take up to eight days she began her Australian teaching career in Our Lady of Victories primary school in January 1949.
Perth was a growing city due to post war immigration with strict rationing of meat, butter, tea and sugar in place. Financial survival for Catholic schools, which were not state funded, was always difficult.
Eileen along with teaching, cleaning and bursar duties had to adapt to the local syllabus of phonics, matemathetics, speech and drama and roll book procedures. State inspectors came every July and her school was regarded as the best primary school in Western Australia.
This was in keeping with the Brigidine's high teaching stanards as reported by The (Sydney) Freemans Jornal, 14 July 1883, announcing the arrival of the first six Sisters in rural Coonamble, near the Blue Mountains, "highly educated and accomplished and parents may rely on their daughters receiving an education equal if not superior to any other seminary in the colony".
In January 1964 in the rural town of Cowra, N.S.W, her school was sold for a service station and they had to move to the Showgrounds Pavilion while awaiting a new school. In 1978 she was principal of St Bernadette's a co-ed school in Scarborough, Queensland and in 1986 she was in Coonamble, 550k north of Sydney. On retirement she worked with the Mercy Foundation teaching English to migrants and refugees in Waterloo, Sydney.
In 1968 she came to Tullow for an Extraordinary General Chapter. Changes in church and the needs of society saw the Sisters moving from being an enclosed teaching order with large convents and boarding schools to living in small communty houses at the service of local parish needs where each contributed acccording to their individual talents.
Thankfully the full story of the Brigidine mission has been published; Providence Provides. Brigidine Sisters in the New South Wales Province by Janice Geraty in 2013.
In 1993 Sr Naomi Turner published her two-volume work, Catholics in Australia: A Social History. It presents the story of lay and religious with a critical look at the abuse of power. See also website, brigidine.org.au
Mother Stanislaus Haydn was born in 1856 in Bishops Lough, Co. Kilkenny. Of a family of thirteen, seven entered religious life. On returning from a General Chapter in Ireland in 1920 she brought an ironstone from St Brigid's altar in the Rock of Cashel and placed it at the foundation stone of their new chapel in Mount St. Brigid.
When the Sisters of St. Brigid were founded in 1807 Bishop Dan Delaney brought an oak sapling from Kildare (Cill Dara-the church of the oak) toTullow to establish a link between the old 5th century Order of St Brigid of Kildare and the new foundation.
On their bi-centenary in 2007, the late Fr Paudie Moloughney was part of a group of young people that walked from Tullow to Kildare carrying oak saplings from Bishop Delaneys tree. They were planted at Solas Bhride a new spirituality centre,open to people of all faiths and none -solasbhride.ie
Teach Bhride in Tullow is a holistic education conference and retreat centre. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org). The old Brigidine convent in Mountrath has been donated to the community to provide internet hubs for those working from home.
Susan Ryan, Australia’s first female Labor party cabinet minister (education and the status of women) and life-long campaigner for equality, who died recently, was a prominent feminist and human rights campaigner and was pivotal in the passage of Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act.
She was educated by the Brigidine nuns and spoke of how her Catholic education lit in her the fires of feminism and social justice. (The Irish Times,Nov. 7, 2020)
Sr. Eileen who has been to Ireland on several occasions has vivid memories of meetings with family and friends who received her with "sherry hospitality".
She is grateful that no one at the care facility has been a victim of the pandemic and sends her best wishes and St Brigid's Blessing to one and all. "This is my wish today, my constant prayer, may Brigid bless the house that shelters you"
Hopefully this remembering of Eileen will be a small tribute to her life-long work and that of so many others past and present in foreign fields.
Her address is Brigidine House, 7 Coogee Bay Rd, Randwick, NSW, 2031, Australia.
Comments or queries to: email@example.com or Liskeveen Road, Littleton, Thurles, Co Tipperary. E41 H5W4.