MSS celebrate 50 years of service in Port Pirie Diocese

Five women around a cake

Nancy Doyle MSS, Stancea Vichie MSS, Cheryle Thomson MSS, Corrie van den Bosch MSS and Mary Cleary MSS

The Missionary Sisters of Service celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its foundation in the Diocese of Port Pirie, South Australia, with a special Thanksgiving Mass on Saturday 29th May. The Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese, Bishop Karol Kulczycki SDS DD celebrated the Mass, along with a number of local priests.

The Mass took place at St Teresa’s Catholic Church in Whyalla, South Australia, which was filled with friends and families who have known the Sisters over the 50 years. A number of the Sisters who worked in the diocese also attended including congregational leader, Stancea Vichie MSS, Corrie van den Bosch MSS, Nancy Doyle MSS, Mary Cleary MSS and Cheryle Thomson MSS, who has been serving the Port Pirie Diocese for the past 32 years and in the later years of that time, particularly the local Whyalla parish as a Pastoral Associate.

Stancea Vichie MSS addresses those gathered

In addressing those gathered, Stancea Vichie MSS, who lives in Melbourne, Victoria, expressed her delight in being amongst the people of the diocese again. ‘It’s always beautiful to come home,’ she said, ‘and I do think of this as home, absolutely.’

Stancea shared stories of the foundation Sisters being out on the road for a month at a time, meeting families and parish communities to inform them of their presence and ministry. Over the years, more Sisters joined the mission in the diocese, travelling to communities across the Eyre Peninsula – Minnipa, Ceduna, Cleve, Streaky Bay, Cummins – and the vast areas north of Port Augusta through to Uluru from their base at Coober Pedy.

Frs Paul Quirk and Arno Vermeeren, Bishop Karol, Frs Jim Monaghan and Brian Matthews

‘I think we’ve been so privileged in the years that we’ve had here,’ said Stancea. ‘You and so many others like you, out in all of those areas, right through to Uluru, have welcomed us so warmly, and so generously.

‘It’s been an extraordinary journey and a journey that’s not over yet because even if we don’t live here anymore, and all of us who are here today worked here in the past, it’s something that we carry with us always. You’re always very close to our hearts.

‘We’re just so very privileged to have known all of you and to continue to know you. We really don’t quite know how to say thank you for everything.’

Stancea acknowledged the work of Cheryle Thomson MSS who is the longest serving MSS in the diocese. She has been pastoral associate at St Teresa’s parish in Whyalla since 2002. Though Cheryle’s work with the parish has recently ended formally, she will stay on in Whyalla and remain involved in the lives of the people there.

‘This is a great moment to thank Cheryle for her wonderful work, her wonderful presence amongst you here, for all of this time,’ said Stancea. ‘I’m just so happy that we’ll still have a presence here.’

A special letter

Man standing next to two nuns

Founder of the Missionary Sisters of Service, Fr John Wallis, visits Sisters Frances McShane and Helen Haywood MSS (deceased) in Whyalla.

A letter from Frances McShane MSS, who now lives in Hobart, Tasmania, was read out to the congregation by Sr Mary Cleary MSS. Together with Helen Haywood MSS (deceased), Frances arrived in Whyalla on 31st March 1971.

‘It is hard to believe it is 50 years since Sr Helen and I arrived in Whyalla to begin our MSS mission in the Diocese of Port Pirie. But the marvellous memories of those early years stay with me still,’ wrote Frances.

‘How can I thank you and your forebears from those days, for your wonderful welcome and acceptance of us? We came as strangers to your area, but you made us feel very much at home as we travelled from parish to parish. Your country hospitality had to be experienced to be believed.

‘A special debt of gratitude is due to the priests who welcomed us into their parishes and the Good Samaritan Sisters in Whyalla and the Josephite Sisters in Port Lincoln and Port Augusta who in turn offered us hospitality.

‘Thank you does not seem enough to say, but Fr John Wallis, our founder, who many of you would have met in earlier years always said, “gratitude is the exchequer of the poor”. So, it is prayerful gratitude that we offer for all of you these 50 years. We send you these greetings in love and friendship.’

Symbols of MSS significance were laid at the foot of the sanctuary at the start of the Mass—the original diary kept by the founding sisters, which details the many adventures experienced during the early years; a copy of the 75-year anniversary cookbook, Food for the Highways and Byways, and an annual report from the MSS’s mission entity, Highways and Byways – A Community of Service. A slideshow of photographs featuring the MSS in the diocese over the 50 years was also shown during the Mass.

Poster decoration

A special decoration

Bishop Karol gives thanks

In concluding, Bishop Karol expressed his gratitude to the MSS, both past and present, for their years of service in the diocese. ‘Love has enormous power to overcome any obstacles in life and gives us energy to keep going’, he said.

‘Your service can be simply described as a great love and dedication of your entire life to people on the outskirts, and marginalised. On this occasion of the Golden Jubilee, of your dedicated service in our diocese, on behalf of all who have been touched by God’s love through your dedicated service, I want to say thanks.’

Watch a replay of the Mass.

We acknowledge and give thanks to the MSS who have ministered to the families and communities living in the Port Pirie Diocese:

Sister Paul Coad (deceased)
Helen Haywood (deceased)
Margaret Rogers (deceased)

From left, Sr Margaret Kenny MSS (deceased), Fr Chris Warnock, Sisters Genevieve Ng (deceased), Cheryle Thomson and Corrie van den Bosch MSS at the occasion of Cheryle’s profession in Port Pirie, 1974

Edith Moore (deceased)
Joan Shannon (deceased)
Alice Fox (deceased)
Genevieve Ng (deceased)
Margaret Kenny (deceased)
Stancea Vichie
Marie Carroll
Margaret Windsham
Mary Cleary
Nancy Doyle
Beryl Gleeson
Maureen Hickling
Marie Murphy
Corrie van den Bosch
Therese Healy
Cheryle Thomson