The portrait of Mother Mary Aikenhead

The portrait of Mother Mary Aikenhead

As we waited in the superb marquee at St. Margaret’s Hospice for the beginning of the Mass to celebrate these two significant anniversaries, we did wonder if Hospice Chief Executive Sr. Rita’s renowned organising ability had for once failed to sort out the Scottish weather. The rain was torrential and loud enough to drown out even the low-flying planes heading for Glasgow Airport. The invited guests were having to make a dash across the grounds, helped by a phalanx of volunteers armed with umbrellas, and the concelebrants were waiting anxiously in the main building.

However, even the Scottish summer knows better than to rain on Sr. Rita’s parade, and by the time the St. Mungo Singers under the direction of Dr. Noel Donnelly began set the tone for the Mass with some gentle choral and harp music, the rain had eased to a drizzle and soon stopped. The opening hymn was very appropriate – City of God – with its acclamation of a new day dawning and its invitation to walk in the light and proclaim the good tidings!

Professor Leo Martin welcomes the congregation

Professor Leo Martin welcomes the congregation

The marquee was full with invited guests from national and local politics, local churches, members of the Sisters of Charity (including congregational leader Sr. Mary Christian), volunteers, celebrity supporters (such as Billy McNeill) members of staff and patients. The principal concelebrant was Archbishop Philip Tartaglia who was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti and a number of priests from the Archdiocese. The service was streamed live across the internet to Sisters, supporters, volunteers and others across the world.

Everyone was welcomed to the Mass by Chairman of the Board of the Hospice, Professor Leo Martin, who recalled that 200 years ago Mother Mary Aikenhead had founded the Religious Sisters of Charity. She had been a strong and determined woman, forthright, radical and not afraid to speak her mind. The congregation laughed as he said some things never change. Certainly the core values of the Sisters remain- to help the poor, foster respect for human life and work for justice.

The readings were so appropriate: Isaiah 61; Psalm 102; Corinthians 12:31-13:1-8; and Matthew 5:1-12. Archbishop Tartaglia in his homily reflected on the charism of the Congregation as envisaged by Mother Aikenhead to work with the poor – the Sisters take a fourth vow of service of the poor . From their earliest days they worked specifically with the sick poor and this in turn resulted in a new development – the hospice. It was good to have this coincidence of celebrations – the 200th of the Congregation and the 65th of the Hospice. The Hospice was based on the Christian principle of the dignity of every human person from birth. This vision has taken life and given life.

The Flags and Symbols marking the work of the Sisters

The Flags and Symbols marking the work of the Sisters

The Mass was rich in symbolism. The flags of the various countries where the Sisters work were brought in procession to the altar at the Preparation of the Gifts, as information on the work of the Sisters in that country was read out. There was also a blank white flag representing as yet unidentified needs. Then members of staff and volunteers brought down various symbols of their work. Finally the congregation were invited to lift up the paper chains (made by a 6 year-old and his friends) which lay along the rows of seats and to break them.

At the end of the Mass, Sr. Mary Christian, Leader of the Congregation, spoke. She recalled the Scottish roots of their Founder, Mother Mary, who had just recently (19 March 2015) been declared Venerable by Pope Francis. Her mother had been an Irish Catholic but her father had Scottish ancestors. He was a doctor who treated the poor for no charge. Mother Mary inherited her parents’ principles. Her surname meant “head of oak” and in Celtic mythology, the oak was the cosmic storehouse of wisdom. She used her gifts to lead and inspire her young Congregation. This Congregation has taken root in Scotland. It is involved mainly in hospice ministry but this also includes home and prison visiting.

She explained that in this 200th year, the Sisters in England and Scotland had been asked to consider and pray over what they thought Mother Mary would say to them today. The consensus was that she would say “Congratulations and well done for seeing Christ in the poor today. Renew the spirit of prayer that your charism will continue.” For people still need comfort, consolation and empowerment. The motto of the congregation is “Caritas Christi urget nos”. In these state of the art facilities in Clydebank and Airdrie, we need to keep alive the fire of faithful love and service.

The Chief Executive Sr. Rita also spoke before the final hymn. In her customary forthright manner, after thanking everyone for making this a wonderful day, she challenged her colleagues in the hospice movement to work to change things, “to say it as it is”, to keep their ethos and values and not be tempted to water them down. She said there is a different spirit in the Hospice – there is a lot of praying done and she didn’t apologise for it! She finished by congratulating Archbishop Tartaglia on his 40th Anniversary of ordination and presenting him with a gift to mark it.

After the Mass, a bronze statue of St. Margaret was unveiled in the grounds to mark the occasion by Archbishop Tartaglia and Archbishop Emeritus Conti. Then it was time to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the Hospice, with a magnificent buffet, a BBQ (for those brave enough to face the weather) and lots of music.