Sister Mary Walter Hickey, RSM, and John Gough are two remarkable individuals. Both live in the Elmira area and have for many years. John is a prominent and well-respected businessman and community leader. Sister Hickey has been principal of Notre Dame High School in Elmira for 32 years.
On Oct. 16, close to 300 people who are supporters of Notre Dame High School, and friends and admirers of Sister Hickey and John, gathered at the Elmira Country Club to celebrate their achievements and to present them with the McAuley Award. This award, named after the venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, honors those who have distinguished themselves in the service of the high school and the wider community.
Those who nominated John and Sister Hickey for the McAuley Award recognized in them an embodiment of the commitments which were at the heart of Catherine McAuley’s life and legacy — service to the poor, the sick and the uneducated. That triple commitment lives on not only in our Sisters of Mercy but in their women and men associates and in the lives of the countless people through the years who have enjoyed their presence and ministry among us.
I was privileged to make some remarks at dinner and to present to each of the two awardees a beautiful Steuben glass piece symbolic of the McAuley Award.
It was for me yet another experience of life in our local church that spoke of God’s lively presence and activity in the hearts of people of faith. We all recognized those gifts in Sister Hickey and John that night. But, I would guess that I was not the only person who drove home from the occasion with an awareness that the dining room of the country club held an abundant number of people who are generous disciples of the Lord, who spend themselves daily in service to the poor, the sick and the uneducated.
Among the elements of the evening that I have found to spark thought and prayer:
1) The genuine modesty manifested by John and Sister Hickey as they received the McAuley Award and the kind words of the people who gathered with them. They were both clearly pleased with it all and received the attention in graceful ways. But each always cited and credited others as essential coworkers in what they had accomplished.
2) The students of Notre Dame carry the McAuley spirit and charism. Among their outreach efforts are those devoted to a) reverence for the earth and its resources as gifts of God entrusted to our stewardship; b) awareness that we are all people of every age and every nation — made in the image and likeness of God. They focus especially on the genocide in Darfur and the plight of the people there; and c) helping to feed the poor by active participation in community groups that carry on that mission. To me that’s mercy alive.
3) Sister Hickey has served the people of the Southern Tier for 35 years. She has done it faithfully and lovingly. And, she has done it very well. I can’t help but locate her service in the larger context of the presence of the Sisters of Mercy in this region for the past 150 years — 10 years before there was a Diocese of Rochester. It’s impossible to measure the breadth and depth of their contributions to our lives over those many years; nor can we ever thank them enough. We would not have been the same without them.
4) If I can’t think of Sister Hickey without thinking of her sisters past and present, I can’t think of John without thinking of his wife, Ellie, and their beautiful family. I have known John and Ellie for many years and have developed deep respect and affection for both of them. They both are givers — to one another, to their family, to their church, to their community. To me they are wonderful examples of good stewards — people who recognize that all good gifts come from God and who demonstrate their deep understanding by pouring themselves out — time, talent and treasure for God and neighbor.
5) I told the group that night that in their presence I felt I was absorbing the generosity, good spirit, nourishing relationships and wonderful stories that marked the evening. I thank them, again, for all of those gifts and for the pleasure of their company.
Peace to all.