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Opening of the House of Mission for the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, Drogheda

Homily of
Bishop Tom Deenihan.
Bishop of Meath
at the
Opening of the House of Mission for the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal,
Saturday, January 21st 2023.

Can I welcome you again to our celebration of Mass for the opening of the Mission House for the Franciscan Sisters?

A particular welcome to Mother Clare, the Superior of the Sisters who has come from New York and Mother Lucile, their first and previous superior who established their house here in 2013, just ten years ago.

The presence of so many priests, priests who worked in the parish previously, priests who currently work with the sisters in various endeavors in the parish, diocese and beyond and members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is a testament to vital work that the sisters do in supporting the mission of the church and parish to evangelise and to see Christ in each other and, harder, to respond like Christ to each other.

My thanks too to Fr John Conlon, Fr Cyprian and the local Parish for making the House of Mission that we will bless later available and to all of you here for your practical support for the sisters over the years. Without that support, the sisters presence and this house would not be possible.

In a real way, your presence this afternoon is indicative of the support that the sisters have in this community. That support is, of course, a reflection of the work that the sisters do here in terms of the corporal works of mercy, in terms of evengelisation, in catechetics, in liturgy and in vocations promotion.

I also think though that your support is indicative of a realisation that there is something more to life than what is reported and experienced and that faith matters. That is an important point. Your support is a faith response to faith in action.

Maybe our admiration for the sisters, their work and their sacrifice is, itself, pointing to Christ? Maybe the support that they receive from you is an act of faith, an expression of belief, a token of admiration and a prayer too because charity covers a multitude of sins! There is something intensely religious and faith-ful about the presence and work of the sisters among us here and today we have an opportunity to thank them and to thank God for it.

I spoke to Mother Clare a few weeks ago about our Mass today. Today is the Feast of Saint Agnes, the patron of the Superior here of the same name. Happy Feast Day Sister Agnes!
The readings for Mass, or so I thought, were suitable. I suggested that we would use the readings of the day. The early monks had a custom of discerning God’s will by opening a page of scripture and pointing to a passage while blindfold. – a bit like selecting a horse in the Grand National. There is a wisdom in the daily readings.
The readings of the day, I thought, were about the call of Jesus and, more importantly, who is called. Jusas Iscariot was also one of the twelve! Saints and sinners. In a sense, that is reassuring. The reading, I though, was appropriate. The only difficulty was that I had read yesterday’s Gospel, not today’s!

It is a tribute to Mother Clare’s charity and diplomacy if not honesty that she told me the Gospel reading for today was a very good choice when it implied that Christ and, by extension, her sisters who followed Him were out of their minds and needed to be taken in care!

There is, to be fair, a radicalness about the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. Absolutely poor, depending on charity and living an austere lifestyle that mirrors the sacrifice of Saint Francis himself. I am sure that many parents, family members and others have thought them to be out of their mind. Certainly, it is not what we regard as normal. And yet, that radicalness has an appeal. It is, in itself, a witness, a homily and a sign. That radicalness is attractive and speaks loudly.

The people of the parish here and beyond have responded with warmth and sacrifice to that radical witness and, more importantly, other women are now attracted to that way of life and that work. With the sisters, Radicalness is accompanied with happiness and gentleness for so it must be. Without that, we run the risk of as the prophet Ecclesiasticus said of the Prophet Elijah that he ‘decimated them in his zeal’!
The Lord loves a cheerful giver and the sisters example here is certainly cheerful and their work is all the more effective because of it.

The House of Mission here that we bless and open today will allow that work in this parish and diocese to grow. It will allow others to hear the invitation of Christ to ‘Come and See’, and it will also, with God’s help, increase vocations to the sisters. It is remarkable that though the house is only opening today, two Irish women have already begun living as missionaries here. We wish them every happiness and blessing.

The voice of Faith is often silenced, feared, ridiculed and challenged in our day. The voice of the Sister’s here and their work is appreciated, admired and is reaching out in so many ways to others. And yet, that is the voice and action of faith. Echoes of ‘Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith’. Faith must influence our lives and lead to conversion and faith too must make this world a better place to live in. Many have reason to be thankful for the sisters here and many lived have been helped by their presence. This is another contribution that faith makes to society and community. While some people can to be critical of the what they call the institutional Church and sometimes with reason, the gentle, happy and sincere contribution of men and women of faith is always appreciated.

Today, let us give thanks for the sacrifice and work of the sisters among us. Let us give thanks too to all who support them. I am particularly mindful of their benefactors here but I am also very mindful of Cardinal Dolan in New York who has responsibility for the sisters and who opened their house here ten years ago. Cardinal Dolan has been a good friend to the Sisters and to the Diocese. He would credit his support to Sr. Bosco, a Mercy nun from Drogheda Convent who taught him in Saint Louis many years ago. Sr. Bosco is now retired in Tullamore and we send good wishes to her and the Mercy Sisters also who originally lived in the Franciscan Sisters convent.

Finally, we pray that the radical witness of the sisters, their evangelical zeal and their radiating happiness will inspire ourselves, draw more members to themselves and will convey something of the love of God to those whom they encounter in their daily work.

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