11 Mar 2020
Calvary Adelaide Hospital Chapel
March 11 2020
At yesterday’s blessing a brief mention was made about how the mission came to Adelaide. In 1885, just eight years after the founding of the Congregation, six Sisters arrived to begin the work of the Little Company of Mary in this land. In 1899, negotiations began for the founding of Calvary Hospital North Adelaide in 1900. The work of the Sisters commenced in all its aspects, and covered the range from birth to those at the end of their journey, following the charism implanted by Mother Mary Potter. In 1976 we saw the commencement of the Mary Potter Hospice. To any South Australian Calvary North Adelaide and the Mary Potter Hospice are institutions that have engendered much affection and respect, and attachment. We have been very proud of Calvary in this State, the role it has played in creating good will and positive attitudes between Churches as the Sisters and nurses gave the witness of their dedication.
There had been a hangover of bitterness from the secular education debates of the late nineteenth century; the fierce antagonism that followed the Constriction referenda with the backlash of great bigotry against Catholics following the Mannix campaign; there was still a great disdain in the Establishment circles towards the largely Irish Catholic population who were deemed to be ignorant, loutish, credulous and unthinkingly subservient to its clergy. Founded in 1900, Calvary exercised its ministry through the decades of antagonism and bigotry that characterised the relationship between Churches, but the witness of Calvary and its nursing nuns did so much to show the face of the Church as caring and compassionate. It was also the training and formation environment for hundreds of nurses over those years, many of whom would attribute their own religious commitment to their experience at Calvary, often through the witness of the Sisters. It also was a wonderful forum for multiple engagements and marriages over the years! In numbers of cases the nuns seemed to have become marriage brokers between doctors and nurses. So many South Australian babies came into this world through Calvary maternity, and I myself am a graduate baby from Calvary!
Mary Potter saw her Sisters as embracing life, from its beginnings to its end in the completion of death. No one was to die alone. There would be so many families, impossible to number, who live in great gratitude for the ministry of Calvary, especially those whose loved ones were cared for at Mary Potter Hospice. So the Church in South Australia is indebted to the Little Company of Mary and those who worked with the Sisters, and this is truly a Mass of Thanksgiving for the wondrous work that has been done, and for a new beginning in this fine new hospital blessed yesterday.
The Sisters in 1900 brought that vision of Mary Potter. They knew her personally. They had lived the story of the early years of the Little Company, one remarkably similar to that of the Josephites, especially in its intense experience of interfering Bishops.
The vision of Mary Potter is expressed through some of her sayings:
There is no greater power in life than love…
We are not made for time only but for eternity…
Let us be instruments God can use at any moment… God chooses the most humble instrument to do His work..
Mary Potter saw the fidelity and perseverance of those who stayed with the Suffering Jesus at the foot of the Cross. The Little Company worked to shine the light of faith and love on the experience of suffering and dying. For them death was not to be seen as something shunned but accepted as the completion of life. And Mary the mother of Jesus became the figure and model for the foundress and the Sisters – “Is there are any trial more keenly felt by the loving heart than the inability to help or comfort a loved one in sorrow or suffering? Then by what rule can we measure Mary’s grief on Calvary?” In the Cross Mary Potter and her Sisters saw God’s unspoken comment on the problem of pain and illness. God’s Son went down that path. He could have walked away but He chose to follow the way of the Cross, so that to the question “Why suffering?” God’s comment is that somehow in the mystery of the Cross is the answer to suffering. There is the prayer of the Anima Christi, dear to Ignatius Loyola – “Soul of Christ, sanctify me, Body of Christ save me..passion of Christ, strengthen me..” Included in that prayer is the line “Within thy wounds hide me”, acknowledging that at times there can be no place of recourse, no point of refuge, except within the wounds of Christ, in their silence, protected, being with the Suffering Christ at a level beneath words. May the richness of the Mary Potter ministry continue to strengthen the people of God in this State.
But we gave thanks also in blessing this new hospital for the ministry of joy and life in which it rejoices, a ministry of joy and peace and healing and completion. There is the reading from Galatians that Mark Green gave us that over all things we put on love, and that the peace of Christ might reign in our hearts, that we should always be thankful, and we should let the message of Christ find a home in our hearts. That is why the staff of the hospital live their ministry, to live what Christ asked us, to feed the hungry, look after the destitute, care for the sick, tend the dying. Because in doing this to the least of His brethren we do it for Him.
There is Bartimaeus in the Gospel, a blind beggar sitting by the road, a figure of one whose healing needed to go beyond the visible, a figure of someone in desolation, living a life without seeming purpose because of his affliction, not able to see a future of worth. In his suffering he was placed to the edge of the road, drowned out by the crowd, his cries trapped by them. He summoned all his will, as patients can do, and made the strongest of pleas, Lord Jesus, have pity on me. It is a plea that Christ cannot refuse, and to Him Bartimaeus makes a prayer, “Master, let me see again”. He had known sight, known the vision of shapes and sunsets, of colour, of flowers and the beauty of birds and animals, and human eyes. It had all gone. So his prayer from the heart, “Master, let me see again”. He casts off his cloak, the symbol of all the despair of pointlessness that was weighing him down, and Christ returns his sight, and he follows Him then with purpose along the road.
In the hospital you are to live your baptismal vocation as the Body of Christ in the world. He has no voice but yours, no touch but yours. May all at Calvary continue to live that vocation, carrying on the tradition of the Sisters, and strengthening the people of God no matter their faith or background, for generations to come. “Whatever you do to the least of His servants, you do to Him.” May you continue in this hospital to give sight to those whose sight has been blurred by illness. May the colour and beauty of faith and love enlighten and uplift all the sick who come herein.