It is with gratitude in our hearts, that we the Sisters of Saint Joseph will celebrate this feast of St Joseph. It will mark our 150th year of dedicated service to the church and to our world. On this day our hearts will be filled with joy as we remember that founding moment of our Congregation.
In 1891, the 25th Jubilee of the Congregation, Mary MacKillop wrote her usual feast day letter to the Sisters recalling the memory of that first St Joseph’s day in Penola on 19 March, 1866.
Twenty five years ago we first kept up St Joseph’s day as the special feast of our proposed Institute and little did either of us (Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods) then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning. First we had Mass and Holy Communion in the Church and then a feast for the school children. On that day our Glorious Patron St Joseph was first honoured as Patron of little children, and our work committed to his care. Our poor Father Woods was happy that day, and so was I, but we said little beyond wondering whom God would call to assist us – and how God would make his way clear.
As we walk into the threshold of this our Sesquicentenary year may we take courage from St Joseph who was a risk-taker and a courageous decision maker. St Joseph listened to the heartbeat of God through his dreams. These dreams called him to leave the familiar and to enter into the unfamiliar as he took Mary and the child on unknown pathways – on the road to Bethlehem, fleeing as a refugee into Egypt and later making a home in Nazareth.
Here God depended on him to be there for Mary and Jesus – to be their protector and guide and to make wise decisions. Indeed he was there for Mary and Jesus in all the circumstances that they faced. He did not let any obstacle deter him from acting with courage as his heart was in tune with the heartbeat of God. Today as Sisters of Saint Joseph we are called once again in the words of Julian Tenison Woods ‘to step across great precipices trusting in God’. Like Joseph our call is ‘to live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God’. (Micah 6
Wherever you are on this St Joseph’s day, you are urged in this our Sesquicentenary year to listen to the heartbeat of the world in this time. Mary and Julian heard the anguished cries of the children of their time and experienced the pain and suffering of so many. They took their first initial step by providing an educational opportunity for the children in Penola. Today new needs reach us from many parts of the world. We hear the pleas of children in detention centres, endeavour to address the health and educational needs of our indigenous brothers and sisters, see the fear in the faces refugees fleeing war-torn and oppressive regimes, engage with the pain and anguish of children living in the situation of domestic violence, experience the distressing faces of children living with the daily reality of hunger, poverty and disease to name just a few.
What sustains our hope are the life transforming stories of the work and ministries of the Sisters today – stories of literacy programmes reaching remote villages in Timor Leste through the work of Mary MacKillop International, a new women’s group beginning in Peru, children whose hope is being restored through the work of Good Grief, indigenous children in isolated rural communities attending play groups through the work of Mary MacKillop Rural Services, groups receiving small life-changing grants from the Mary MacKillop Foundation and the Sisters of Saint Joseph responding daily to the needs and care of people as they live faithfully the call to walk alongside people in the ordinariness of the everyday. These life-generating stories are at the heartbeat of the story of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The divine spark of passionate love that enabled Mary and Julian to imagine new possibilities for living the Gospel with a Josephite heart continues to energise and guide us today.
Our logo for this Sesquicentenary year draws us into the pulsating heart of God just as it drew Mary and Julian all those years ago. Here at the heart of all life, God’s creative energy continues to be birthed in and through us just as it did in the life of Joseph. May we on this feast of Joseph allow our hearts to move us to be the face of compassion in our world.
Have a wonderful day of celebration.
Sr Monica Cavanagh