The Elmore community has marked the contribution of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters with a farewell mass and celebration.
Bishop Shane Mackinlay was joined by parish priest Father Ashley Caldow and priests from across the Diocese of Sandhurst, as well as other Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters in thanking the local members of the popular religious order for their role in the education and development of so many local children and for the service they have given to the local community.
They were joined by an estimated 100 current and former parish members and past and present students to farewell the DOLSH sisters, and to commemorate their 91 years of service to Elmore.
Sisters Shirley Gallagher, Lee Davidson and Lorraine Ryan were the special guests of honour at the celebrations, while Bishop Mackinlay paid tribute to all the sisters who had been part of the Elmore parish history.
"The Our Lady of the Sacred Heart sisters who served in Elmore over the past 91 years have been faithful witnesses to the core Christian affirmation of God's boundless and unconditional love, evoked in the focus on Jesus' Sacred Heart, and have encouraged us to show that same compassion and love in our encounters with those around us.
"I am confident that the commitment to proclaiming Jesus' love and compassion that is at the heart of the mission of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is a legacy that will continue not only in the name of the Elmore parish and in the OLSH associates group, but most importantly in the way that those in the OLSH school and community give flesh and blood to God's love through their care for those around them."
The Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart first arrived in Elmore back in 1929, but a lack of vocations and teaching personnel led to the Order surrendering the school's administration in 1981. Since then, the school has been overseen by the laity.
The Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart decided to withdraw from Elmore at the end of 1988, but returned in 1995, where they were greeted with much jubilation and warmth, and have played an important role in the school community ever since.
Bishop Mackinlay said the school community should always be indebted to the religious women who sacrificed so much to ensure parents of Elmore could access catholic education for their children, and that despite the reality that the Sisters no longer play a hands on role in the school, their presence in the community is highly regarded.
Fr Caldow said instead of lamenting the fact that the religious order would soon be gone from Elmore, the community should give thanks for the time they were such an integral part of the school, parish and the broader community.
A statement from Sydney-based DOLSH Provincial Sister Philippa Murphy was also read out at the conclusion of the Mass, detailing how Elmore was the DOLSH order's first foundation in Victoria, and that the people of Elmore hold a special place in the sisters' hearts.
More than 30 sisters spent part of their religious vocation in the Elmore community, and called the township home.
Their mission of service had been shared with other members of the clergy as well as the people of the Elmore district during this time.
The generosity of the local people dating back more than 90 years was also acknowledged, as was Sister Lee's involvement in the local library, health clinic and parish, and Sister Shirley's involvement in in many community events and celebrations, as well as her work with the school and parish.
"Thank you, goodbye and good luck and may God be with you wherever you go. Be assured we will continue to pray for the Elmore parish and the people of Elmore. Thank you and God bless you," Sr Philippa said.
In a statement posted to the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart primary school Facebook page, principal Liz Trewick said Tuesday's service was a wonderful celebration of the spiritual presence and friendship that Elmore has shared with the OLSH Sisters for 91 years.
"It was wonderful to see some school children attending mass during the holidays. A highlight for them was meeting Sr Mary Batchelor, past student and inspiration behind Mission Day."
The school plans to name its staff area in Sr Mary's honour.