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Vicar's Musings for Dedication Sunday

4 August, 2013

On this Dedication Festival, my musings concern our wonderfully rich heritage on "The Hill" and in particular the Handfield Chapel sanctuary lamp.

Last week our Sacristan, Adam Blackmore, produced a display of all the restored items from the church. Thank you Adam for heading up the restoration appeal, and all the parishioners who contributed so generously. There are a few things still needing repair, and your ongoing support would be of great value, but I am delighted with the progress we have made this year in this important task of stewardship. One of the major restored items is the Handfield Chapel sanctuary lamp. The lamp was made in 1867 by Dutch silversmith, Hubert Esser of Weert, and was presented to St Peter's Eastern Hill in 1990. During the restoration, an inscription on the lower boss was transcribed by vestry member Bruce Kellett:
MATRI GENERALI QUINQUE LUSTRIS DEI GRATIA ET AUXILIO MARIE JOSEPH FAUSTE GUBERNANTI FILIAE HANC POSUERUNT.

This tested my very limited knowledge of Latin, so I contacted a friend who worked with me on a similar project previously, the Hon. Frank Callaway. He in turn conscripted the help of Latin scholar, Dr Robert Bostock, and then ensued a fascinating exchange of e-mails which is worth archiving in itself. A translation emerged:
"The Daughters dedicated this lamp in honour of Mother General, Marie Joseph, who with the grace and help of God has governed auspiciously for 25 years."

The question then is: who was Mother Marie Joseph? The inscription is not dated, although it must be after 1867. Interestingly there is an Irish nun, Mother Marie Joseph Butler (1860-1940), who in 1926 in New York was made Mother General of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM).

Marie Joseph was not in the position of Mother General of the order for 25 years, but the occasion of the dedication could arguably have been the anniversary of the Convent and School she founded in 1907. At the 2010 Founders Day Tea, Kathleen Connell RSHM tells the story of this auspicious day:

If you were at Marymount as a student on any Founder's day, you are already familiar with the story of Mother Butler and six RSHM coming up from the railroad station down near the lakes, with some of their luggage and a small statue of Mary, on December 8, 1907. Mother Butler placed the statue on the mantel in the parlor in what is today Marymount Convent and proclaimed: "In honor of Mary Immaculate and in memory of Mary Ann O'Rourke Butler, we shall call this new home MARYMOUNT.

Of particular interest to me are the closing words of Sr Kathleen's speech: "Daughters of Marymount, the spirit of Mother Butler has not faded with the years. It is alive and well." The inscription on our lamp uses the word filiae which translates "daughters," not "sisters" as one might expect were the lamp dedicated by a religious order to their Mother General. I think this backs up the possibility that the lamp was given by the school community. If indeed the lamp used to hang in the Chapel or Crypt of Marymont Convent, quite how it came to Australia I do not know; something for further research perhaps.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

Illustration for Dedication Sunday Musings

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