Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar

A Sorry Day Experience Image

A Sorry Day Experience

A recent visit to Brisbane to facilitate sessions on Father Julian Tenison Woods and St Mary MacKillop for the first conference of the Queensland Josephite Associates gave the unexpected opportunity to attend a Sorry Day commemoration that has left a deep impression on me.

On the day before Sorry Day, I attended Mass where the parish priest of Nundah, Father Bernie Gallagher mentioned that the local Sorry Day celebration was being held that morning at nearby Kalinga Park. With the morning free, I set out on the short walk to a fine, large park with winding paths, where people were walking and cycling, and found the crowd sitting among trees.  The crowd melted into the greenness. It was as if we were - as indeed we are - part of the earth, with trees and greenness wrapped in light. There were Asian people, possibly tourists, picnicking not far away. On my asking, did they know what important thing was happening, they replied, Yes, it is about the Aboriginal people.

I was in time for the Ceremonial Programme. From the spirited welcome, the acknowledgement of guests and country and the minute’s silence, every talk, song, reading and dance was received with alert interest from pre-schoolers to elders, Aboriginal and non-aboriginal. Here, under the trees, there was a real listening: dadirri, that inner listening, still, quiet awareness.  Dadirri usually means tuning to a deeper understanding, contemplation and awe in nature. This day it took us deeper. It took us into the human heart, to the heartbeat, in truth and reconciliation after wounds of sorrow and injustice. Kalinga Park, with its memorial to the Stolen Generation, was chosen for the now annual event as it is near institutions where Aboriginal children were taken from families for over seventy years until 1970. The Noonga Reconciliation Group has organised this event since 1998.

Groups from thirteen schools performed dances, told stories, sang and recited poems in an energetic, engaging and sometimes moving manner.  Aboriginal people told their stories. Standing amid four or five of similar age and complexion, a small, fair-haired boy read a short poem asking forgiveness for the suffering that we, colonials and descendants, have caused. We are sorry… It was poignant.  The stories told reflected huge dispossession and dislocation, but just as moving was the absence of bitterness or anger.  It was healing and humbling. We were as one, close to the earth, close to one another.

The sense of sorrow and loss was constantly overturned by the vibrant dance and music, as group after group of children gave themselves joyfully to the movement and song. I was sitting behind Mary MacKillop College Social Justice Singing Group who riveted our attention with Sorry Song and Heartbeat, written for the Josephite 150th anniversary.

The event highlighted the impact of outstanding Aboriginal women elders. Especially acknowledged were Aunty Lesley Williams who fought for justice for aboriginal workers and eighty-three old writer, Aunty Ruth Hegarty. Their presence, as their lives, expressed leadership marked by respect, persistence, communal belonging and dignity.

Two unrelated items of interest: The first was about Fr Bernie Gallagher who spoke of his uncle, Fr Edward Gallagher, a Redemptorist who had attended his ordination, and whose funeral he had attended in Mayfield. I expressed local appreciation of Fr Keith Teefey, Redemptorist and Vietnam Army Chaplain, who had been at Mayfield and had just died in Brisbane.  Fr Bernie said they had grown up in the same street. Our lives felt connected. The second was a visit from the grandniece of an Army Chaplain from Newcastle, Fr Harry Cressy. Another unexpected connection.

At the Nundah convent Sisters live in self-contained units in the refurbished convent, in town houses (where I stayed with Srs Ann and Margaret) and other housing in the block. They spoke warmly of our Sisters in Ayr, North Queensland (1962-73), especially Sr Jude Pearson. They were moved by her life story and were pleased to send greetings to Lochinvar friends met over the years.

With such preparation, I went to the Josephite Associates Conference and experienced the enthusiasm of the forty-six participants almost all from Queensland. There was a sense of coming to a new wave of Josephite life, edging to something new, to living the charism of St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods into the future. The good news of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us was alive in Brisbane.                                                                           

Jan Tranter rsj

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