It was a big weekend of prayer, thanksgiving and catching up with old friends when the Whyalla community and guests from near and far came together to farewell the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who will leave the town in December after 71 years of loving service.
Sister Helen Mills, a pastoral volunteer at Whyalla Catholic Parish since 2011, is the last of the Sisters to leave the South Australian town, but she is certain that the Good Samaritan charism will live on.
“It’s a strange feeling,” she said of her upcoming departure. “It’s sad, but in another way, the people here are very able to carry on the charism of the Good Samaritan, because they already live it. The people here are just so generous.”
That generosity and a deep love of the Good Sams was evident in the weekend of festivities arranged by the Catholic Parish of Whyalla earlier this month as a thank you to the Sisters.
Nineteen sisters, many of whom had ministered in the town at some stage, made the trip for the ‘Weekend of Thanksgiving and Farewell’, along with ex-students, parishioners, community representatives, clergy and friends.
The weekend got underway on Friday night with a Mass celebrated by Port Pirie Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ and priests who were either educated by the Good Sams or who served at Whyalla. On Saturday, there was morning prayer for the dead on the Feast of All Souls, followed by a bacon and egg brunch.
The farewell dinner was held on Saturday night and featured entertainment from the local college students, a choir, violinists, Filipino dancers, and singing and comedy acts, including a routine from a local group called the “Mad Mums”. Ex-student and now celebrated concert pianist, Leigh Harrold, also returned to thank the Sisters.
On Sunday morning, Mass was celebrated by Father Jim Monaghan (Parish Priest), Father Arno Vermeeren (Assistant Priest) and Father Arthur Hackett, who was Parish Priest at Whyalla for over 25 years. The weekend came to a close on Sunday night with a moving prayer ritual in which the Sisters took leave of their Good Samaritan home and ministry outreach.
During the Sunday Mass, Sister Rita Fitt, who spent some years in Whyalla, gave a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan, observing that: “We came among you to minister, yet so often we were the ones ministered to by you”.
In a reflection of that mutual care and love, the Mass ended with the congregation stretching out their hands and giving the Sisters a blessing.
“It was really beautiful,” Sister Helen said. “Very touching.”
The weekend brought to an official close a Good Sam relationship with the people of Whyalla which has lasted for seven decades and incorporated a range of different ministries.
The first Good Sams arrived in Whyalla in 1942, during World War II, to meet an urgent plea from the Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese for a Catholic school. Over the years they ministered not only in schools, later establishing a high school, but also in faith education to outlying areas, pastoral associate roles, outreach to those in need through Centacare and other ministries, and even in midwifery.
In her farewell remarks, Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon said that over 71 years, 111 sisters had lived and ministered among the people of Whyalla as the town continued to change and grow, thanks to the arrival of migrants and new industry.
“Our ageing, reduced vigour and health now calls us away,” she said.
“As Sister Helen Mills takes up her pilgrim’s tent pegs to leave Whyalla, I thank her. On behalf of all who have lived here, I say thank you to this community. From day one you and your ancestors have cared for and loved our sisters.
“Yes, change is always a challenge. But there can be no life without change. The future belongs to you. It is built on a sound foundation, Jesus Christ. May friendship and love continue to bind us together.”
Chris Sloan, a representative from the parish community, said the people of Whyalla would “miss the influence of a group of humble, strong, dedicated women who lived out their lives obedient to the rule of St Benedict”.
“Thank you for being with us all those years and leaving behind a great legacy of praying, learning, hospitality and enduring sense of community,” she said. “The community of Whyalla bids you farewell with our blessings and love.”