The story of the Missionary Sisters of Service begins in 1933 on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia. A young priest, Fr. John Corcoran Wallis, was visiting Mrs Kit Hawkins when she said to him: “Father, why can’t we have sisters to teach our children? Doesn’t anyone care about us people in the bush?”
Fr. John cared deeply, and the question stayed with him. Over the ensuing years a vision formed in his mind: of women going into rural and outback areas, seeking out people beyond the reach of the care and supports so readily available to others; women who would visit people in their homes, support, encourage, counsel, teach and empower them to nourish their families and communities.
In 1943 Fr John found himself in Burnie, north-west Tasmania, where he spoke of his vision at a Legion of Mary meeting. It awakened a call in the heart of one of his listeners, Gwen Morse. She approached him: “Father, if I can be of any use to that dream of yours, I am ready to be part of it.” The dream of Fr John’s heart was about to become a reality.
On 8 July 1944 in Launceston, Tasmania, the first four women came together: Gwen Morse, Monica Carroll, Kath Moore and Joyce O’Brien. Later that year they were joined by Valerie Casey and Agnes Ryan. This courageous group of women became the foundation of our community of Missionary Sisters of Service.
Over the following years our community grew in numbers and into its mission and identity. Missionary Sisters of Service became a familiar presence in many areas of Tasmania, the eastern Australian States and South Australia. Initially focused on rural and outback areas, our vision grew to include people in more populated areas who can also find themselves on the margins. Beyond Australia’s shores, we have reached out to people in Singapore and Malaysia as well as other places on short visits for a particular purpose or need. One of Fr John’s frequent encouragements was “Look at big maps”. No matter where we are living and working, our vision extends to the world.
Just as the initial inspiration for the Missionary Sisters of Service came in response to a need of the time, so at every stage of our story we have endeavoured to be aware of current needs and respond according to our gifts and capacities.
Our motto, “Into the highways and byways”, is a constant reminder of our need to be adaptable and ready to risk stepping beyond our comfort zone in our response to the mission of the Gospel.
Listen to Peter Kearney’s song about the Missionary Sisters of Service:
Header photo: Kate Richards, http://www.adventuremumma.com/ Used with permission.