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Thanksgiving Mass for MSC presence in Alice Springs
Trinity Sunday, 2007


Friday amid a cloud of pipe smoke a fellow MSC cut to the core of things and asked me to explain why we MSC were leaving Alice Springs.  As provincial I was a good one to be asked. Besides he and I had worked together in this parish twenty years ago.

Alice Springs has been much loved by Australian MSC and we have sent good men here. In fact two of those appointed failed to get here. One was Ted Collins and he became Bishop of Darwin. Another was an ex-provincial named Dennis Murphy and he ended up being appointed the Assistant Superior General in Rome. Those who did come have known the support and love of this community as they ministered here. Whether it be Fr Jimmy Long in 1929 coming to a town of 200 whites – we did not count the rest of God’s people in those days. Or whether it be Brian Healy who arrived in 1989 and is our longest serving PP in the Centre. Each and every MSC through the years has felt very much appreciated.  

Today it is Trinity Sunday. Growing up I learned lots of words about the dogma of the Blessed Trinity. And I learned it was a mystery. But on this occasion I would like to speak of the trinity from a more contemporary approach.  

Today scholars have rediscovered the Trinity. Perhaps you are familiar with the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity called the Hospitality of Abraham. We are invited to see the trinity in terms of the welcome Abraham gave to the two strangers who came to his door. Abraham offered a welcome he was open hearted and was rewarded by God when his wife Sarah finally bore him a son.  Today’s theologians invite us to notice the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They use words like unity, communio. They speak of the need for us to see all things as being in relationship and not as isolated, and separate. Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not exist independently – no they are always and everywhere connected to each other. Being in relationship is not incidental it is the way God is.  And we to only exist as related to others.

As MSC conclude nigh on 80 years as part of God’s people in Central Australia I see those years through that contemporary lens of the Trinity. Not MSC alone but MSC as part of this church community.  In the words of the Book of Proverbs we heard today ‘delighting to be with the sons and daughters of the human family. sensing the master craftsman as at work in all that has unfolded.  Or with the words of the letter to the Romans echoing in our ears ever mindful that yes we are judged righteous and at peace with God because of the Lord Jesus Christ and not our own efforts.  

As MSC in this parish that being in relationship that call to stay in communion has come in so many ways. Back in Fr Maloney’s time he found himself quite unwelcome as he advocated for a fair go for the Arrernte people. I wonder how he managed to maintain a relationship with those of his day who saw no reason for a Catholic priest to be involved with indigenous people who were not of the flock. I suspect there would have been some closed doors where he was not welcome. Yet he was called to maintain that communio as best he could. I hope he never ceased to be in communio with all his flock.

The parish of Alice Springs was established as around 230,000 square miles. People in Alice Springs had to come to terms with priests who were absent as they visited Catholics spread over vast areas. Holding in relationship the concerns of the town and the concerns of other parishioners isolated in cattle stations, remote aboriginal communities, and mining camps is not easy. Often for each one of us it is only our needs and concerns that fill our horizon.

The call to hold things in that Trinitarian relationship is further illustrated by an example from my own days here in the Parish. One Sunday night a group of visiting Catholics attended the evening mass. They had come to town to protest regarding Pine Gap. One visitor sought to say his piece as mass was ending - while one of the local parishioners urged that Father be allowed to finish mass. Seated in the middle of the Church at that mass was the Senior Australian Pine Gap official and his family. After mass he introduced himself to the visitors and engaged in a respectful dialogue with them in front of the church. He was doing his bit to maintain that Trinitarian relationship that shows hospitality as Abraham did. Are there relationships I give up on? Where does this vision of the Trinity need to shed its light in our own lives?  

OLSH Parish is a rich tapestry with so many colourful threads. So many hands besides the MSC have woven it.  Among the laity it began with the Kilgariff and Cawood families who helped Fr Long finish that first church in a few months in late 1929. In terms of actual church building, it continued with the Arrernte men who, with hammer and chisel, faced the stone that adds to the striking beauty of this place of worship.  

Even in building a church there is the call to stay in relationship – to maintain the bond of unity. One good Alice Springs example comes to my mind. Perhaps it is apocryphal. The story goes that Fr Jimmy Dwyer and the parishioners sent the design of this Church to Bishop O’Loughlin in Darwin to get his approval. After careful study it was learned that the bishop was unhappy. Apparently this church was to be longer than the Cathedral in Darwin. I gather the length was to be shortened on the bishop’s insistence. No doubt after appropriate muttering, the building commenced.  

The colourful tapestry of this parish owes more to people than to bricks and mortar.  

As the contribution of we MSC is acknowledged so wonderfully today, I must acknowledge the multitude of religious congregations who have made a long-term commitment to God’s people in Central Australia. It began with OLSH in 1938 and then followed the Little Sisters of Jesus who came to Ammonguna in 1956; in 1975 the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary; the Marists in 1977 and most recently the Missionaries of Charity. The OLSH, the MSC and the Missionaries of Charity can point to vocations that were nourished here in Alice Springs.  

In Australia today are we a people who pray for workers in the vineyard as our forebears did?

We MSC, like any family, have not always worked with that hospitality, harmony, unity and communion that`the Blessed Trinity represent to us. Besides any book in praise of MSC in Alice, there is another unpublished book that could be written on the ways we have failed to live in communio with parishioners and other religious. The relationships that we have sundered or the persons we have bruised.  

There are hurts that run very deep. Opportunities to do good that were never taken. Reparation and Reconciliations that we lacked the courage, or conversion of heart, to see pursued. May the Sacred Heart repair those hearts that have been broken and continue to struggle to remove the blindness that afflicts our MSC family.  

I did actually answer the question of Br Ed Bennett about why we MSC were leaving Alice.  

Ed came to this parish, still wet behind the ears, seventy years ago. He is the longest serving priest, brother or nun in the Diocese of Darwin at present. For Br Ed, I suspect, more than anybody, this parting from Alice will carry a deep sadness.  

At a time in the Australian Church when bishops are clamouring to find clergy, the chance to allow another international missionary congregation to consolidate its ministerial presence in the Centre and among indigenous Catholics was something we MSC needed to enable. In fact one congregation of priests and brothers departed the Top End of the Diocese of Darwin at the end of 2006.  

We religious clergy come to a Diocese not to stay - that is the role of diocesan clergy. We come to play our part in building up the local church so that - to quote the famous phrase of Paul VI which inspired some of what John Paul II said in Alice in 1986 - the evangelised become the evangelisers.  

Please pray for the small number of those we have in training as MSC in Sydney.  

In a weeks time I will join our men at the most eastern end of Papua New Guinea as they celebrate 75 years in that diocese. The following week our first two men will take their vows in Ho Chi Minh City/in Saigon.  

Alice Springs Parish is indeed blessed to have the Divine Word Missionaries come to their parish. There is no doubt that the Master Craftsman of today’s reading, the Holy Spirit, is at work in your midst.

And to Fr Tim Norton the Provincial and to Fr Jim Knight the incoming parish priest can I say you will be loved and held in communio as the Parish held us over nearly 80 years.