February 2024

Catholic community acknowledges Good Samaritans’ presence in Nara over 70 years

The warm relationship between the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and the Catholic community of Nara was celebrated recently in recognition of the anniversary of the Sisters’ arrival in Japan and also their farewell.

By Debra Vermeer

Two Nara parishioners, Mr Shunsuke Ito and Mr Masayuki Konishi, visited the Congregational Centre in Glebe in November 2023. They presented the Sisters with a plaque recognising the contribution of the Sisters to the Nara Catholic community since their arrival there in 1952.

Meanwhile, the Sisters living in Japan were invited to Nara parish for a thanksgiving celebration on 14 December, following their withdrawal from the parish in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sisters moved to Domus Gratiae, an aged care residence for priests and religious, located in Amagasaki, Hyougo Prefecture, in the Archdiocese of Osaka.

Mr Ito said the Nara Catholic community wished to thank the Sisters for their presence and contribution over the decades.

“For the past 70 years in Nara, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the wisdom of St Benedict’s Rule, Sisters have been visiting the sick, directing the choir, conducting English conversation classes and holding Bible and catechism courses in Nara,” Mr Ito said.

“In addition, the Sisters were involved in the management of the Nara Catholic Kindergarten, from April 1957 to March 1993, and they provided pastoral care for the members of Nara Catholic Church, but also the general public, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“The Sisters always demonstrated the standards of the Good Samaritan.

“The reason why we, the Nara Catholic community, decided to award a letter of appreciation, in the presentation of a plaque, is because we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to these Sisters for their great contribution to the development of the Catholic Nara Church.”

A display of documents and photos had been prepared by the Congregational Archivists. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Mr Ito, who has previously spent time in Australia, said it was the first time he had visited the Congregational Centre in Glebe and the occasion helped to cement the strong bonds between the Sisters and Nara’s Catholics.

“In addition to being able to present our letter of appreciation, we were able to share fond memories with Sister Catherine McCahill, Sister Jacinta Shailer and other Sisters who served in Japan,” he said.

Mr Ito also expressed gratitude for the archive of documents and photos of the Sisters’ activities in Japan, which were on display during his visit.

Congregational Leader Sister Catherine McCahill, who spent six months living and teaching in Japan in the 1990s, said the visit of Mr Ito and Mr Konishi was a lovely occasion.

“It was wonderful to receive the plaque of recognition for the Sisters’ service in Nara and to be assured of that ongoing relationship formed over so many years,” she said.

“It was still semi-COVID times when the Sisters left Nara and so it wasn’t possible for them to attend large gatherings. This visit and the event in Nara have helped the community to thank the Sisters and, similarly, for the Sisters to express our thanks to the community for the love and care shown to us.”

One of the Sisters who welcomed Mr Ito and Mr Konishi at Glebe was Sister Jacinta Shailer SGS. Now aged in her 90s, she is still engaged in active prayer and cosmology ministry at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains of NSW.

Jacinta served in Japan for 20 years, from 1963-83, with most of that time spent in Nara working in the newly built high-rise area. Together with Sister Haruko Morikawa SGS, she worked to establish a community centre to bring people from the high-rise apartments together in community.

“They were young families who had come from all over Japan and they weren’t bonded,” Jacinta said. “We began by starting up a small library on a rickety old table in front of the supermarket.”

Eventually, they were able to build the Asebi Centre, named after the official flower of Nara, from where they ran a meals-on-wheels service, taught English, catechism and provided a place for people to get to know each other.

“Our main objective was to spread the Good News and help the people to bond in community through coming to our centre,” she said. “I learnt so much from the Japanese people, especially their interconnection with nature, which has been vital for the rest of my life.”

Jacinta said it was “a lovely gathering” when Mr Ito and Mr Konishi visited Glebe, reaffirming the strong bonds between the Sisters and the Nara Catholic community.

“We were able to pray with them in their own language and ask a blessing on them. Beautiful Japanese food was served and we viewed a display of photos and documents,” she said. “I thought it was pretty marvellous.”

Sister Christine Manning SGS also attended the gathering and said one of the highlights was the material prepared by the Congregational Archivists.

“The material was illustrative of the Sisters’ time in Japan and included a good selection of relevant documents and photos, with a particular focus on Nara,” she said.

“The day was a wonderful recognition of the Sisters’ contribution and presence in Nara over so many years.”

the Sisters living in Japan were invited to Nara parish for a thanksgiving celebration. Image: Nara Catholic Community.

Back in Japan, Haruko said the thanksgiving celebration held at the Nara Catholic Church was an occasion of great joy and emotion.

“When we left Nara, it was the peak of COVID-19 and no-one could come to Church,” she said. “We missed the chance to say thank you and goodbye to the parish.”

The Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated by the Bishop and was followed by a lunch at a nearby hotel. Sisters Etsuko, Hiro, Eiko, Johanna, Fidelis and Haruko were able to attend.

“The highlight of the day for me was the reunion with our friends,” Haruko said.

“They also donated funds for our Bacolod mission in the Philippines, raised from an annual street collection. We were so thankful.”

In founding the mission in Bacolod in 1990, the Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters were responding to the call of the Japanese Church to be agents of peace and reconciliation in Asia. 

“When I think back on the story of Nara, it was the first Sisters from Australia who started the parish work there, so we kept on doing the same thing,” Haruko said. “We have many wonderful memories and we continue to keep our friendship with the people.”

Sisters of the Good Samaritan images / photographer Rhianna Wilson.

A shared meal of Japanese food brought back many happy memories. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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