The burning appeal of the Sacred Heart - Sacred Heart Geeveston 80th anniverary Mass

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The burning appeal of the Sacred Heart - Sacred Heart Geeveston 80th anniverary Mass

Today we go back to 1938 when three Sisters of St Joseph came to establish a school here at Geeveston. The classrooms weren’t ready so the Sisters taught in the church here. In June of that year the classrooms and the convent were completed and in August Archbishop Symons officially blessed the new school. Interestingly the original name of the school was St Theresa’s Convent School.

There was an important historical link between Geeveston and the Sisters of the St Joseph, as their co-founder, Fr Julian Tenison Woods, had conducted missions in the area some sixty years before. Indeed Fr Woods was very active in this area of Tasmania, staying with the Ransom family at Southport.

Above the door of the church here at Geeveston is a record carved by Fr Julian Tenison Woods that 472 people received Holy Communion here at a mission he preached in the year 1874. This is an extraordinary number of Catholics who attended the mission and would have gone to Confession before receiving Holy Communion. Reports of this mission tell us that families travelled for miles and camped in the church grounds to hear him preach.

Fr Woods, when a layman who had spent some time in seminaries, met the first bishop Tasmania, Bishop Robert Willson, he accompanied him back to the island in 1855. He was just 22 years of age at the time. He stayed here briefly and was later ordained as a diocesan priest in 1857 in South Australia. It was as a priest in Penola that he met Mary MacKillop and with her founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

He clearly loved Tasmania which he affectionately called St Joseph’s Isle. During the years 1874 to 1876 he returned to Tasmania and conducted parish missions. 

This school is named ‘Sacred Heart’. Where did this name come from? In fact I notice that there are quite a number of churches and schools across Tasmania dedicated to the Sacred Heart. I think of New Town, Newstead, Ulverstone, Ringarooma. Ross and Mangana are dedicated to our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

It is worth noting that the full name of the Sisters who began this school is Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. This clearly reflects the spirituality of St Mary MacKillop. Both St Mary Mackillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods grew up in a time when devotion to the Sacred Heart was one of the hallmarks of Catholic spirituality.

The strength of this devotion generally in the Church is reflected in the fact that churches built in that era had two side altars – one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and one side altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Church at that time was particularly inspired by a series of apparitions of the Lord to a French nun, St Margaret Mary Alacoque, in the town of Paray-le-monial in France, which began in 1673.

During the octave of Corpus Christi in 1675, she had a vision which became known as the ‘great apparition’. In this vision the Lord said to her, "Behold the Heart that has so loved men so much ... instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude ...", and the Lord asked Margaret Mary for a feast of reparation on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi. This coming Friday we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This appeal of the Lord to St Margaret Mary struck the hearts of many men and women of faith in the centuries that followed – Mary Mackillop and Julian Tenison Woods among them. The Lord was declaring the depth – indeed the fire – of his love for humanity and yet saying that he received so little love in return.

This appeal of the Lord stirred the heart of Mary Mackillop. She explained her own response to these words saying, “And with this burning appeal of the Sacred Heart came such a rush of longing desire on my part to be Its lover and Its true child that, at a glance, the falseness of the world appeared before me; the beauty, the pity and the generosity of the Sacred Heart in this loving appeal could not be resisted.” Her own response to this message shaped her faith and the spiritual vision of her life. 

Mary Mackillop heard a call from the heart of Christ and she responded with her own wholehearted desire to give all to Christ. This was the spirit of our first saint. This is why the Sisters have the title of Sacred Heart linked to their name.
Today as we celebrate this anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters to staff a school here let us recall the religious spirit that animated their consecrated lives and the spirit of the faith that they imparted to their students. Let us desire to capture afresh something of this spirit of faith that inspired them.

In the heart of Jesus is a love for humanity that is beyond imagining. The image of the Sacred Heart has a flame above it – the fire of the love. The image of the Sacred Heart has a crown of thorns around it – the suffering this heart is willing to endure. The image of the Sacred Heart is pierced – from the heart flowed blood and water which the ancient Fathers saw as reflecting the sacramental life of the Church.

When we contemplate the image of the heart of Jesus which was revealed to St Margaret Mary we are drawn to realise that this heart not only loved but was prepared to suffer. The heart of Jesus is finally revealed at Calvary.

Mary Mackillop knew this. As she contemplated the heart of Jesus she was drawn to see the world around as shallow and false. She saw a love that attracted her and inspired her. She experienced a love that led her to give over all to Christ.

Archbishop Julian Porteous.
Wednesday, June 6, 2018