By Sean Ryan - 19 September, 2016
It was truly the end of an era in a Co Westmeath town this weekend as the Sisters of Mercy left Rochfortbridge after 154 years in the town.
The final three nuns departed on Sunday evening after a special Mass of thanksgiving was held at Rochfortbridge church on Friday.
The Sisters celebrated their 150th anniversary in the town in 2012, but their numbers have dwindled from six to three over that time.
Historian, Danny Dunne, who wrote a book ‘To Serve with Gladness’ on the nuns’ lives in the town, described it as a sad day for the community.
“There is a real sadness that the Sisters are leaving the town as they have been so much part of the community for years. Sr Dolores Carroll died two years ago she ran the choir so successfully in the local church. They are a fantastic bunch of people and all we can do is wish them well in their retirement.”
Speaking about the history of the nuns in Rochfortbridge he explained that it was in “1862 that the first Mercy Sisters arrived in Rochfortbridge from Tullamore to set up their convent. Nothing could equal the joy and gratitude of the people when they beheld the accomplishment of their long-cherished hopes and fervent aspirations – the presence of the angelic Sisters of Mercy among them.”
Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner last week, Danny Dunne said the story of how the Sisters came to Rochfortbridge was remarkable. From Rochfortbridge, the order fostered the growth of the Mercy Sisters in New South Wales in Australia where, as in Ireland, the Sisters did wonderful work in establishing and running schools.
“It is very sad,” said DannyDunne, who credits the Sisters with helping him work out his direction in life when his father died as he entered fifth year.
He revealed how the roots of the Sisters of Mercy in Rochfortbridge go back to a young Protestant woman.
Eliza Fielding was the daughter of a wealthy Dublin family. “The father was in business – a firm called Fry and Fielding.”
When he retired, he moved the family to Rochfortbridge, and they lived in what was then a residential house on the corner of the street leading to the church.
After his wife died, Eliza converted to Catholicism, something that led to a rift with her father, which lasted some years.
They were, however, reconciled, and Mr Fielding converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.
After her father’s death, Eliza, looking for a way to fund the education of her younger brother and sister, sold the family home to the local priest.
Ultimately, the Fielding home became ‘St Joseph’s’ – the convent of the Mercy nuns.
Eliza joined the Mercy Sisters in Tullamore and became Sr Mary Paul. She later found herself posted back to Rochfortbridge and living in her former family home.
A larger convent was subsequently built for the Mercy Sisters some ten years later.
The remaining Mercy Sisters will now join other Mercy convents around the country.