St Charles Catholic Primary Ryde delved deeper into life and values of Catherine McAuley with the debut of a play it approached Blue Whale Theatre Group to create.
Students from Kindergarten to Year 6 at the school attended the performance of A Bright Light in the Darkness on October 21 in two sessions, and were invited to ask questions of the main character after each of the play’s three segments.
The play will become a resource for all schools to better acquaint their students with the life of the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy from Dublin, Ireland whose example is followed in schools and congregations to this day.
Religious Education Coordinator Michelle Keatinge said the play was part of the school’s journey to rediscover the Mercy values its vision is based on.
“I was looking for things for the kids to do and thought the best way to get to know Catherine McAuley was to have someone they could talk to about her,” she said.
“Theatre groups are always fantastic, and as a teacher we’d sometimes come dressed up as somebody and the children would ask questions. I thought wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had someone, or a group, who would depict the life of Catherine McAuley in a simple way. The email I sent ended up in Blue Whale Theatre Group’s hands.”
The play’s dialogue was informed by the book on Catherine’s life written by Anne Reid and previewed by about 10 of Mercy nuns before it was shown to students.
“It was so delightful to get the tick of approval from them, because they weren’t going to let anything through that they didn’t think was accurate,” Mrs Keatinge said.
“I really want the students to understand that Catherine McAuley was a woman – just someone who was a child like them at some stage, who really wanted to serve people.
“She didn’t become a nun until she was 50. She used to love to sing and dance and that comes through in the play – that she was a real person, with real passions and real loves. She just wanted to serve the poor.”
The audience followed Catherine, played by actor Jade Alex, as she grew from a child inspired by her father’s care for the poor into a young woman who went on to build a ‘House of Mercy’ which sheltered and educated hundreds of women and children in need of help.
They saw the women who both inspired and held different views to Catherine in the form of her sister Mary, friend and co-worker in the ‘House of Mercy’ Anna Marie Doyle, and ‘Sarah’ the servant girl whose appeal for help inspired Catherine’s building of the place. These characters were played by Joanne Coleman.
Roger Adam Smith played the parts of Catherine’s father, family friend Mr Callaghan who left her the fortune that enabled her to build the house and Archbishop Murray who invited her to become a nun and continue her work with the full support of the Catholic Church.
Year 4 student Justin Boustani said he found the play entertaining and informative.
“I loved how in between every section they gave you question breaks,” he said. “That helped the children and the teachers understand more about the play.
“I was surprised at how many diseases were around and that her father died when she was so young, because I thought he had inspired her throughout most of her life.”
Year 6 student Abby Gibson, 11, said she loved the different characters and the effort the actors put into the play.
“I thought it was really interesting. I learnt quite a bit and it was fun because it really brought you into what the characters were doing,” Abby said. “I thought it was surprising that Catherine kept on going, and kept believing in God and thinking ‘I can do this’ even though her family and friends had died. I learnt that she always treasured what she had learnt and what she had been given.”