St Brigid of Ireland
Born in County Louth near Dundalk, Ireland, about the year 450, St Brigid is known as the second Patron Saint of Ireland, and is known as "the Mary of the Gael".
Throughout her life she exhibited great charity, giving away without a second thought anything which she owned, and reportedly on a few occasions things that others, including her stern father, owned.
Her great passion was to help the poor and those in distress.
She started the first convent in Ireland, at "Cil-Dara" (Church of the Oak) now known as Kildare and in time started numerous other communities in different parts of Ireland.
In the eighteenth century, the Penal Laws had almost devastated Ireland, depriving its citizens of much of their treasured education tradition, and forcing them to practice their faith "underground".
In response to this Father Daniel Delany, in the year 1807, after much prayer, decided to found an Order of Religious Sisters, and to place it under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Brigid, and to name it in honour of St Brigid. He started the Order with only six women.
The Coonamble Connection
In 1883 came a call from faroff Australia, to the Brigidines in Tullow, Ireland, for nuns to help in the education of Australian children.
Seventeen Irish Brigidines offered their services, and six were chosen.
The "Chimborazo" sailed from London on 20th April 1883, and after a relatively uneventful voyage for those times (although I'd imagine quite horrendous by present day standards of travel) arrived in Sydney on 7th June. On board the "Chimborazo" were Sister M.M. John Synan and five other Brigidine nuns (perhaps reflecting the six women with whom the whole Order had started in 1807) , as well as six priests.
Maitland Diocese's Bishop Murray, who had made the request for assistance, met the Nuns in Sydney, and took them by boat to Newcastle, then by coach to Singleton and Gunnedah.
On 21st June, many of Coonamble's citizens went out along the road to meet and greet the Sisters as they arrived.
One can well imagine the feelings of the Nuns, having left a beautiful lush green Ireland, and now having travelled for days within the one Diocese, quite probably through dry burned out country that they never knew even existed on earth.
For in those days, Coonamble Parish was bigger than the whole of Ireland.
One of the Nuns described the times as follows - "the heat ranges from 110-117 in the cooler part of the town. This with violent dust storms raging for 24 to 36 hours at a time.....at times the dust clouds looked like moving walls.."
Coonamble was thus the first place in Australia where the Brigidine Convents started, and for many years remained the Australian headquarters of the Order.
St Brigid died in 523, and is buried in Downpatrick, in the same grave as Sts. Patrick and Columba.