August 15, 2017 – Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor at Our Lady’s Home, Belfast – Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady



15 AUGUST 2017

Our Lady’s Nursing Home, 68 Ardnava Road, Belfast

Readings : Apoc 11:19, 12:1-6; Ps 44 ; 1 Cor 15.20-26; Lk 1.39-56

I The 2017 Lourdes theme : “the Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1.49) 

As we gather this morning in Our Lady’s Nursing Home, the theme which the sanctuary of Lourdes proposes this year for its pilgrims and volunteers comes to mind. This year the proposed theme comes from Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, which we have just read from the gospel according to St Luke. The line Lourdes chose is : “the almighty has done great things for me”. The celebration of Mary’s assumption body and soul into life with God is a declaration of the “great things” done by God to Mary, a woman, a human person like each of us. This feast proclaims the greatness of God and the inviolable dignity of each woman and man in their physical and personal identities and life stories.

II The Christian community : discerning the signs and need of the time

At the same time this line from the gospel for this feast day of Mary gives expression to the service of care and charity, to the “great things”, the Sisters of Mercy and their successors accomplished in this Nursing Home since its foundation in 1932.  That’s along time ago. It was the year of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. It was a different world. There were needs that the state could fully address. Health services, like other services we take for granted today, had not developed to their present levels and professional and scientific qualities, nor had the private sector entered those domains of provision of services to the public.

The foundation story of St Mary’s is well known. The Sisters of Mercy, already active in many ministries in the city, identified the pressing need for nursing care and rehabilitation for the aged and infirm due to the paucity of general hospital provision at the time. They raised the matter with Bishop Daniel Mageean who set about identifying and buying a suitable site for a new care home for some 100 residents.  The Sisters administered the Home for over 60 years until the mid-1990s. Thereafter it was administered ably and with total dedication by Fr John O’Connor, who in turn was followed by Mr Gavin O’Hare.  Through all of these decades, from the initial inspiration of the Sisters of Mercy, the decision of Bishop Mageean and the work of all who have staffed St Mary’s, we see the faith-inspired response of the Christian community to unattended needs at given time and over a period of need.  The story and lifeline of St Mary’s, seen through the prism of its founders, the generation of its staff, its management committees is one of providing care for those unattended needs in times when society and state were unable to respond to such needs. Through the faith-inspired vocations and dedication of staff, chaplains and many others – through their humble and professional services – “the Almighty did great things”  for many generations of our citizens in their years of weakness, need and loneliness.

Now in our present time the provision of nursing home care for the elderly and infirm has gained a level of professional quality which is the competence and purvey of specialists in the sector. Reading the signs of the times, it is no longer the role of this diocese to occupy this arena.  As a Christian community and local Church our priorities no longer lie in the provision of services which can properly and completely be supplied by the state and the private sector. Our priorities lie now with the needy terrain of the heart, mind and soul of individual persons and of the spiritually atrophied humus of human society and its structures. And the primary agents of our time in this work of irrigating the soil of heart, mind and soul are no longer the clergy and religious, though they still have a key role. In our cyber and information age of the knowledge society, characterised by interest group and mobility, each Christian in their fields of work, interest and connection with others, is called to be a cell of Christian and therefore human integrity.

III Handing on the Mercy tradition

The time has come to hand on this tradition of faith-inspired and faith-based service to new generations and to society and its agencies in the public and private domains. As a diocese and as Trustee of St Mary’s we are grateful that with the Macklin Group this Care Home is being taken over by a family with long experience in the sector and who appreciate, cherish and will preserve the religious ethos of St Mary’s. This is deeply appreciated by the diocese of Down and Connor and, we know, by the residents and their families and friends. We wish the Macklin Group every success as they guide the tradition of St Mary’s Care Home into the future.

  1. Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home

On an occasion such as this our thoughts naturally run to hail the work and care delivered by so many over eight decades and more. And inevitably there is a certain chagrin in the air.  Like the Sisters and Bishop Mageean in the 1930s, as Christians we must discern the signs and indicators of our time and courageously decide what furrows to plough.

Like Mary on her visit to her cousin Elizabeth – as a local Church we too have new work to attend to, new furrows to open and plough. This entails new forms of engagement with the needs of this time, our time. And in this regard the central theme of the three readings – from the Apocalypse, the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians and the extract from St Luke’s gospel – namely, the “greatness” of Christ’s victory over death, that is, the promise, the prospect and the hope of salvation for each person is the Good News that we bring to our time in ways to be determined ever-anew.

As St Mary’s has served so faithfully and well, may Mary, assumed into heaven, guide us, the Christian community, on the way of faithful response to the Word of God in this our time.