The Chief Celebrant was Archbishop Bernard Longley who was joined by Bishop Peter Huynh Van Hai who was visiting from Vietnam, Fr. Gerry Kelly, Parish priest of St. Francis and other priests. Sr. Philomena Bowers, Congregational Leader of the Union of the Sisters of Mercy welcomed all to the Celebration and reminded us of how Bishop Walsh, the Hardman Family, Augustus Pugin and John Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury had all played a part in providing what our Foundress Venerable Catherine McAuley described as a beautiful convent for the first Sisters.
At the Offertory Procession as well as the bread and wine, seven Lighted Candles were carried to the altar with seven symbols representing the various ministries the Sisters from St. Mary’s have been involved in over the past 175 years. These symbols were laid in front of a beautiful painting designed by Sr. Anne Reddington specially for the celebration.
The orphanage was the first ministry of St. Mary’s when thirty two orphans transferred from Sr. Juliana Hardman’s home (now the presbytery of St. Francis’ parish). To this was added visitation of the local families and catechesis. The House of Mercy where young vulnerable women were trained, was opened in 1844,
Second candle: THE NOVITIATE
In 1841 two postulants accompanied Mother Catherine McAuley, and the founding sisters – Juliana Hardman, Lucy Bond, Eliza Edwards and Anne Wood. From then until the 1950s, there was a flourishing Novitiate where those seeking to follow the Mercy way of life were trained.
Third candle: PASTORAL CARE
The on-going ministry of pastoral care has continued from the beginning until the present time. Today it embraces refugees, vulnerable women, the homeless, the stranger at the door, people of all cultures.
In the spirit of Mercy, all aspects of education have been important from the time of the foundation to the present day. It is noteworthy that the first Catholic Teacher Training College was established by the sisters in St. Anne’s, Digbeth. It was later moved to Liverpool, and given into the care of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Fifth Candle: THE PRESENT DAY
St. Mary’s was reopened in 2005 after extensive refurbishment. The new vision placed the emphasis on HERITAGE, SPIRITUALITY AND OUTREACH.
The rich Pugin heritage is still very much appreciated today.
St. Mary’s has an open door to those seeking a deeper relationship with God through retreats, days of recollection, spiritual direction, workshops, and in this special time, Year of Mercy pilgrimages.
Citizens UK Birmingham leaders, who work from St. Mary’s have referred to it as “the epicentre of social justice in Birmingham”. Outreach ministry is mainly to vulnerable women, the homeless, the refugees.
The celebration was followed by a lovely meal in St. Francis Centre.
To quote from Fr. Gerry Kelly in St. Francis Newsletter 24/25th September:
“Congratulations to the Sisters of Mercy who have celebrated the 175th Anniversary of their foundation here in Handsworth. As was mentioned in the celebration, it is remarkable that in an age when women did not take on public roles, Catherine McAuley and her companions should take on the work of mercy not only in Handsworth, but throughout the city of Birmingham, and indeed throughout the country, then spreading to many other countries throughout the world. Many thousands of poor people, children and adults have been helped on life’s journey by the faithful witness and practical help of so many Sisters here in Handsworth and around the world. Archbishop Longley presided over a beautiful Mass and afterwards the Sisters treated everyone who came to St. Francis Centre to a beautiful buffet meal. We thank them for their continued presence in Handsworth as they find new ways of offering the healing charism of mercy to so many people”.