A place by the sea

July 1911. The O’Connor family falls on hard times following the death of Charles O’Connor. His widow, Mrs Annie O’Connor, contacts the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Randwick and asks for Rev. Father Jeremiah Tierney msc, a fellow Cork native who knows Annie’s brother, Rev. Father Francis Kilgallin. In turn, Father Tierney asks Rev. Father Edward (Ted) McGrath msc, who has recently been appointed priest in charge of the Coogee parochial district, to assist. Fathers McGrath and Kilgallin arrange to move the O’Connor family from Redfern to cheaper premises five miles away at ‘St Elmo’ in Neptune St, Coogee. Eileen arrives in a horse-drawn ambulance but the rough roads jar her injured back, causing immense pain. She is unconscious upon arrival and spends the next three months falling in and out of consciousness. When Father McGrath sees Eileen again, he is completely unprepared for the shock of seeing her wasted body – or the awe of her shining spirit. “No one but God and the immaculate Mary knows what I felt at that moment, where it was made clear to me that I was face to face with an exceptionally saintly soul, encased within a pure and precious body wracked with pain. From that moment, I realised that that there were big things to be done in life for God and souls, and that I had found my helper in that frail-looking but deeply spiritual child of Christ and Mary.” Their shared commitment to establishing a community of Catholic women to serve the sick poor in their own homes will define the rest of their lives. Father McGrath, then 31 years old, will live to a grand old age; Eileen, then 20 years old, will die before her 30th birthday.