The weekend of October 20, 2012 was filled with events to celebrate 138 years of presence of the Sisters of Mercy in the communities on the southerly part of the Burin Peninsula – St. Lawrence, Little St. Lawrence, Lawn and surrounding area.
Sisters from St. John’s and other parts of the province left very early in the morning when traffic was light and the moose had not yet ventured out from their night haunts. The sun shone its mightiest, the sky was cloudless, and the environment was ecologically correct. When we drove off the Trans-Canada and travelled down the Peninsula highway. The splendor of the gold, yellows, browns and reds of the autumn leaves was absolutely breathtaking.
We proceeded to the Golden Age Club in St. Lawrence upon our arrival. The rails on either side of the ramp going into the building were festooned with blue and gold balloons and a large WELCOME poster. A white-apronned lady was at the door ringing an old school bell to welcome us in! The greetings were in profusion as many of the ladies there had been our students.
There was a hearty lunch awaiting us; pea soup, turkey soup, fish chowder (Fr. Critch’s own concoction), all kinds of sandwiches, cookies and sweets, and real hot tea and coffee, very welcoming to us who had just made the 4-4 ½ hour drive. There were 20 Sisters of Mercy present.
After lunch we were free to visit the Miner’s Museum, the famous sculpture on the town hall grounds; the famous St. Lawrence soccer team was playing a game just a few hundred yards from the Golden Age Club. This was free time when we could visit the school, the church, the walking trails and other places familiar to those of us who lived in this community.
The next formal event was a Memorial Service in the Sisters’ Cemetery not far from the church. There are six Sisters buried there: Sisters M. Tarahan, Burfitt, Jordan, Turpin, McLaughlin and Kelly. After the brief but very moving service we proceeded to the Parish Hall for the evening meal and entertainment.
We were assigned specific tables of eight, at least one or two Sisters at each table, with parishioners from the areas joining us. There was a large photographic display on one wall of the dining area, very tastefully done and depicting Sisters of Mercy past and recent past as well as various aspects of the life of the parishioners and residents of the area. At the tables the place mats were original drawings by the elementary school children, each one brightly coloured with an environmental theme and “Thank You” for God’s creation. There were linen serviettes at each place, a beautiful yellow rose, as well as a seedling of a balsam fir. With the seedling was a card with the reflection of Archbishop Oscar Romero asking us to reflect that “we plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise….We are prophets of a future not our own.” This was appropriate in view of the fact that Kateri Tekatwitha is being canonized in Rome this same weekend and she is the patron saint of the environment.
We each received a bookmark with Catherine’s picture and the Suscipe on one side, and photos of the old convent and church on the other. These photos were also on the front of the 4-page booklet which listed the menu and events of the evening.
Leo Etchegary, on behalf of the Parish Council welcomed us all and asked Father Critch, Parish Priest, to say the Grace before the meal. Heather Clarke, accompanied by Fr. Critch on the guitar, sang beautifully “I am the Vine”. The buffet dinner consisted of garden salad, baked salmon, harvest pork tenderloin, Moroccan chicken, seafood pasta, baby potatoes, buttered carrots, and a multitude of desserts, tea and coffee. We could not want for more!
Following the meal the Sisters were officially welcomed, first by Thelma Roul, of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Council, Mayor Wade Rowsell of St. Lawrence, and Mayor William Lockyer of Lawn. Father Critch introduced Sr. Elizabeth Davis, Congregational Leader, who then gave a beautiful address. Mary Tarrant-Hodge, co-chair of the organizing Committee gave an expression of thanks to all the Sisters of Mercy who had ministered here and who had been such an influence in her own life.
We were entertained heartily and musically by choirs from St. Lawrence and Lawn. One group of women, guitar players from Lawn, first expressed their gratitude to Sr. Rosemary Ryan who had taught them to play the guitar in Grade Six. Not only did they continue after she had left Lawn but they also taught others to play so that the legacy lives on. We heard lovely renditions of Music and Friends, Down on the Mira, Go Lassie, Go, Salt Water Joys, and many more sung with so much enthusiasm and passion. The evening ended with more mingling, chatting, getting-reacquainted, and conversations.
Sunday morning at the Oceanview Hotel we were treated to a complimentary pick-up breakfast with all types of breads, jams, bagels, muffins, hot and cold cereals. Then we proceeded to St. Thomas Aquinas Church for the Liturgy. Sisters Marcella and Gladys, and Brenda Mooney had attended the first Midnight Mass at the newly built church in 1966 or 1967. We are not too sure of the exact date but we did remember how cold it was because the heating system had not been installed yet.
Today the Church presents a panorama of famous paintings on the back wall where there had once been stained glass windows. These paintings represent different aspects of the life of Jesus beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Ascension. It is a spectacular sight. On the wall below is a large painting of Christ reaching out his hand to pull Peter out of the water. It is dedicated to the people who lost their lives at sea particularly those on the SS Truxton and Pollux in 1942. There was another painting parallel to this one, but it was covered and it was only later that we found out what it was about.
The combined choirs of St. Lawrence and Lawn provided the beautiful music. As well, the children’s choir of St. Lawrence sang at the Offertory and the one of Lawn sang “The Prayer of St. Francis” at the Communion. At the Offertory little children brought up two vases of red roses to the altar, and some more seedlings for planting.
The homily was given by Sr. Elizabeth, Congregational Leader. Noting the famous paintings at the back of the church, she spoke of the artist Seiger Koder whose paintings are usually about Scripture events but do not directly show Jesus, or God intervening. Instead we catch glimpses of the Divine in his paintings in a bowl of water, or in a well. Koder uses these, Elizabeth said, to show that we ourselves are to image Christ in our lives. This was so evident in the support and love that the people of St. Lawrence have given to the Sisters.
At the end of the Mass a big red rose from the vases at the altar was given to each of the Sisters. Then Sr. Lucia, Charlotte, and Elizabeth accompanied by the other Sisters were asked to go to the back of the church. Here the covered painting was unveiled! It shows Christ, surrounded by poor and lame and disadvantaged and it was dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy! A small picture of Catherine is below the inscription along with the Suscipe! It was a wonderful tribute to our 138 years of Mercy in St. Lawrence and area. As a response all the Sisters present sang the Suscipe of Catherine McAuley.
We mingled with the people at the end of the Liturgy, had more photos taken, then we were ushered back to the Parish Hall for a lunch before we left for our various homes. We departed with joyful hearts, deep and sincere gratitude, and knowledge that the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy on that part of the Burin Peninsula is very much alive.
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