A 140-year Redemptorist celebration

Michael Gilbert CSsR

Michael Gilbert CSsR

Michael is a retired Redemptorist priest

On February 1, 1882, six men boarded the Orient liner ‘Sorata’ bound from London to Australia. Four were Irish; two were English. Four were priests; two were coadjutor brothers.

All were professed Redemptorists. Their names were Edmund Vaughan, Thomas O’Farrell, James Hegarty, Henry Halson, Daniel Gleeson, Laurence Watters.

The bishop of Maitland, James Murray, invited them to come to his diocese to exercise their ministry of evangelisation. He offered them a choice of four places to begin a foundation – Tamworth, Maitland, Singleton, Morpeth. They chose Singleton.

They arrived there on April 27, 1882. Three days later they accepted the duty of being the pastors of the parish.

In those days, Singleton was a small rural city of about 1800 people. Three hundred of them professed to be Catholic. Their first duty was to install the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the Church. They had brought it with them from London.

They begged her intercession for the success of their venture. The people of Singleton received them warmly and supported them generously. One practical indication was that an outstanding debt of 1700 pounds – a considerable sum of money in those days – was soon discharged. A tribute to the generosity of the local community and a testimony to the popularity of the Redemptorists.

The six Redemptorists set up in the presbytery. It was designed to accommodate two priests. Living conditions were uncomfortable but tolerable. What became less tolerable was a gnawing feeling of discontent. It did not originate from feeling dissatisfied with the parish. They enjoyed working with the people. It was a spiritual dissatisfaction. They were ill at ease. They felt that they were not fully exercising the charism of the Redemptorists.

They were called by God to be evangelists – proclaimers of the Gospel – and not pastors – carers of a parish community. Other towns and cities needed to hear and heed the nourishing word of God.

The Spirit spoke in the language of their charism. It told them ‘GO!’ Go they did. They went on to New Zealand. Their message touched hearts. God called others to join them – hundreds of them. The Spirit spoke ‘GO’. Go to the Philippines, to Singapore and Malaysia and lately to China, Samoa and Sri Lanka. The Spirit told them ‘GO’ and they went. ‘Go’ is what God’s mission is about. Mission is itinerant always moving on.

They served the Cause of the Redeemer for one hundred and forty years. Some did it with flare and passion. They are well remembered. Most did it humbly yet competently. They are mostly forgotten. Each one of them did it for the same reason. Each one was captivated by the person of Jesus – the most holy Redeemer – and touched and transformed by his words and actions; sustained in their commitment by his Spirit.

We remember the Singleton Six and the hundreds of Redemptorists who followed them and exercised the ministry of the Word of God over the past 140 years. We recall with gratitude the faithful people who welcomed them, supported them and encouraged this great enterprise. We gather with the hope that this recollection of the past will renew and refresh our present mission, bring the blessing of Providence on us all.

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