On 22 February 2013, a document was signed in Rome by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz authorising the fusion of the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth, Whanganui with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
The communication was received by Sr Anne Derwin, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart on 11 March 2013. Sr Anne immediately contacted Whanganui, where the news was joyfully received as a culmination of several years of discernment and discussion.
It was 24 August 2013, when Te Kiritahitanga/Fusion was formally celebrated in Whanganui. In St Mary’s Parish Church, Sisters from across New Zealand and Australia gathered for a Eucharist of Thanksgiving for the reunification of the Sisters founded in 1866 by Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop. The original charism taken up so readily by the first Sisters, had stayed alive despite separation, misunderstanding and lack of contact over the years.
The later years had led to more interaction between the separated groups – the sharing of resources, combined gatherings and personal friendships. So the celebration in Whanganui that day was full of hopes and expectations. From the joyful greetings as Sisters gathered for the Eucharist to the beauty of their participation together in the celebration, all were high in expectations for the future.
So now, as we look at Fusion from the perspective of 2020, how has it been? Each Sister no doubt will have her own perceptions, opinions and experiences. As personal interactions and friendships have developed or grown, we have discovered much about each other, as in a family that has been separated. We have gathered for contemplative sharing, for discussions and for celebrations. We have realised that there are differences in our former ways of formation, of leadership models, of governance. The smaller groups numerically can often feel ‘swallowed up’ by the larger group. Yet these are signs of the rich diversity that we bring to each other and from which we can grow. All can be gift if we but allow it.
At the celebration of Te Kiritahitanga/Fusion on 24 August 2013, Sr Anne Derwin spoke of our two groups “returning to the oneness of our founding, being reconcilers of history, honouring the movement of the Spirit towards unity, and combining our strengths for the mission of God”.
Our recent Congregational Chapter calls us to be ‘audacious women’ moving into the next decade. And this coming decade certainly promises to be challenging on so many fronts on our planet Earth.
We Josephites will need that audacity to continue the fusing of our gifts as we move forward to genuine Kiritahitanga – that is ‘being of one skin’, discerning for today what the founding vision calls us to be for our world.
Anne Burke rsj