Thanksgiving Mass celebrating 137 years of service in education in the Diocese of Middlesbrough by the Faithful Companions of Jesus

5 July 2009

We have just heard in the Gospel:

You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I have commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.

How truly these words apply to the first FCJ Sisters to come to this part of the world.

In the 1870s, on the invitation of Bishop Cornthwaite, a group of young FCJ Sisters arrived under the direction of Mother Lucy Fletcher who was thirty-five years. They took up residence in a part of Mill Street.

They were youthful, courageous and determined. The remaining five houses on the Terrace were lodgings for 40 men, four in each by day and another four at night. When the men were paid on Friday the revels really began in earnest.

Poverty abounded and deprivation of every sort, physical, moral and spiritual. How they must have recalled the words of their foundress:

“Work not like ladies who seek to while away the time, but like poor people who have to earn a living.”

However, they were also surrounded by welcome and friendliness which compensated for the grime and the grimness in which they lived. They began to set about the task of bringing Catholic Education to the poor of the town.

Money was in short supply and as a result the teachers had to accept lower wages, in fact it was their willingness to accept half pay which enabled the Catholic authorities to keep the schools open and provide free tuition for destitute children where necessary.

Besides teaching, the Sisters extended their work to include apostolic activities – retreats, missions.

The financial sacrifices which the nuns cheerfully accepted meant that like many of their fellow parishioners, they lived in poverty, almost destitution, and these conditions told on the health of the more frail members. In 1878 Mother Lucy Fletcher died at the age of thirty-seven of Tuberculosis and was buried in the cemetery at Linthorpe.

And so the story began and others more competent and skilled will recount the rest of the history, right up to this present day except to say in the words of our second reading:

The witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

So many of you here have been blessed by opportunities offered as a result of the ministry and the teaching of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Some of you could say that as a result of their ministration your lives have been changed and for the better. I think that all of us could testify to their faithful witness to the way of the Gospel and as a result, we have not been without the gifts of the Spirit. After 137 years they have created a wonderful treasure house of blessings, graces, hearts changed, opportunities created, growth encouraged, confidence gained, obstacles overcome, support given, lives offered so that love could be lavished, example shown, role models lived out. We could go on and on counting the blessing that God has offered through the graced ministry of the Sisters and their co-workers. And still their presence and support and ministry continues – changed, yes, matured, certainly.

What will the future hold? I don’t know, and neither do any of us really. We can speculate and wonder. But I do know who holds the future – the God of all things, the doer of great things everywhere. And while we are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, he will keep us steady and without blame, until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God, by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful. By the power of his Spirit, poured out on us, through the prayers and example of the Sisters who have generously served and ministered to us, may we all deserve to be called and to be in fact Faithful Companions of Jesus. Amen