Letter-Stories In Honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Part 1



I welcome a further contribution to the series of letter-stories in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour from the pen of a priest I know well. The book has the quality of a missionary crusade created by Apostolic zeal and supplemented by a method which is incisive and which pinpoints basic fact with great effect. Each story whether of misery, disappointment, courage or disaster is a sublime word of spiritual intervention and the peace it brings. One or other of these letters has a personal application to each of us for at times we have experienced similar episodes without perhaps recognising the spiritual significance because our minds have been burdened by worldly cares. Men have often laid aside their cares in search of spiritual happiness as participants in pilgrimages to sacred shrines but man will only make of the world a shrine when he makes of his life a pilgrimage. Such is the message of these letters and its basis is devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. We can never assess the reward of this devotion but we will be conscious of it in our being, and supremely happy in its promise, for Our Lady of Perpetual Succour will assuredly provide us with the guidance and protection that will mollify our lives and sanctify our duties on our pilgrimage to the glories of everlasting life.

Luke the Evangelist painted Me. .
The claim that St. Luke painted the original of the famous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour comes from inference as well as from historical consideration. St. Luke was a doctor of medicine and a most learned man. His gospel was written in classical Greek. He loved to paint portraits yet some will have us believe that during the years after the Resurrection of Christ whilst our Lady was alive and with whom Luke was in frequent contact, he did not paint her portrait. People in the time of Christ loved the portrait as much as the written word. Luke by profession and by his character was a personality who did what he thought best. Reasonable consideration demands that he painted the Mother of Christ. 1f he wrote, surely he painted? Again the strong tie of devotion that the early Christians had for Christ’s Mother guarded a likeness common to all her pictures. This basic likeness is apparent in the icons of Russia and Constantinople and the ancient images of Our Lady at Jerusalem, Antioch and the catacombs of Rome. Place the pictures of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Our Lady of Vladimir side by side and the likeness is quite obvious. Painters like St. Luke put on canvas to the best of their ability what was presented to their gaze. The era of the abstract was unknown. The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour came to Australia principally from Ireland. There it had been hallowed by blood and persecution. It is thus easy to appreciate why it is loved by Australian Catholic hearts. Even in our great love of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour it must not be forgotten that all icons ancient or modern have the sole objective of increasing our devotion to Christ’s Mother.

The First Prophecy
I will place enmities between thee and the Woman, between thy seed and Her seed. She shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel. Genesis ch. 3, v. 15.


Hast thou stayed, I must have fled.
He was an old priest and on Friday afternoons liked to stay in his room at the presbytery and devote an hour before the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. He looked upon it as “his private holy devotion for the week.” Sometimes he would pray continuously, sometimes he would read and sometimes he would sit and meditate. It depended on his mood. His hour’s devotion grew more compelling and appealing as he grew older. He did not like to be interrupted. In fact no interruption had occurred for his housekeeper (his sister) protected his privacy. However, one Friday afternoon his “phone kept ringing persistently, for his sister was ill. When he answered it, .he was told that a boy of sixteen who had T.B. for years had suffered a haemorrhage but had recovered. The doctor had advised there was no need for alarm or anxiety and so there was no need to hurry. The priest did not wish his devotions to be broken, so he said he would go around to the home after his evening meal. He went back to his room but found the bright glow and enthusiasm which had previously activated his devotions had departed. He looked at his Shrine but Our Lady had lost for him her usual appeal. In his annoyance he accidentally knocked over and broke one of the glass vases of flowers on his Shrine.

He seemed to feel that something was wrong. All his life he had loved a poem which the Christian Brothers of Gregory Terrace, Brisbane, in his school days had taught him. The Sisters of the Good Samaritan in his convent school often selected the poem for the principal item of recitation at their annual concert, for they knew how often he quoted it and how much it appealed to him. The poem told of a monk who was in his cell saying his prayers. Christ appeared. The startled monk marvelled and prayed with greater intensity, but Christ did not speak. The Monastery bell rang calling the monk away from prayer to do his duty. He became upset for he did not wish to leave the “Vision” and yet he knew he should obey the rule of the monastery. Finally he decided to go where duty lead and do what his rule commanded. He went and gave out the pieces of bread which had been set aside for the poor waiting at the monastery gate. Afterwards he came back to his cell and Christ was still there. All that the “Vision” said was “Hadst thou stayed I must have fled.” The priest now thinking of the poem became alarmed and felt an urge that he should go quickly and see the sick boy. He thought that by delaying he might be keeping the “Vision” away from the boy. He went, gave the last rites of the Church to the boy, who was now much better, and slowly walked back to his presbytery. He kept thinking how wonderfully holy was the expression on the boy’s face when he received the Christ he loved so well. As he entered, the “phone rang and he was told the boy had died whilst he was walking back. There had been a second haemorrhage.
He went to his room and Our Lady seemed to be radiant again. He sat down and thought of Christ’s words to the monk “Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled.” In the last years of his life the silent lesson often came to his mind for he was a very holy priest and he did not wish his own “Vision” of Christ to flee from him. One of his first acts after the incident was to quietly give away all he owned to holy causes. He died at the Mater Hospital, Brisbane, and someone who knew his love for the holy poem remarked that the Vision of Christ seemed to be very near him during the last moments of his life. The sole person he told of the incident was his aged sister who lived some years after his death.

P.S. The priest around whom the letter revolves was the late Rt. Rev. Monsignor F. Burton of Wilston, Brisbane.


On September 5th, 1960, a Sister of Mercy was buried at the Catholic Cemetery at Nudgee, Brisbane. Another Sister of Mercy at the funeral quietly put a small parcel and letter in the pocket of a priest. The letter asked the priest to keep the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and to remember the deceased nun in his masses and prayers. The ancient picture in its gold frame had been richly prized and reverently cherished. A few priests, some nuns and some orphan children were present at the graveside. There was also present one of Brisbane’s most renowned surgeons. That is how this story originated.

She was only sixteen years of age and she stood with forty-eight other girls and two nuns at the back of the Irish packet-boat which was preparing to leave Dublin for Liverpool across the Irish Channel. She had journeyed to Dublin from her home near Tullamore. The year was 1924. The nuns were Sisters Mary Damien and Brendan of All Hallow’s Convent, Brisbane, Australia. A large number of relatives and friends stood on the wharf. Practically every eye had the glitter of a tear for the forty-nine were leaving their homeland to labour for the cause of Christ in distant Queensland, which was many thousands of miles away.

The whistle sounded, the ropes were cast off and the packet-boat began to move. At a signal from one of the nuns the forty nine started the hymn “Hail, Queen of Heaven.” A stillness came down on ship and wharf. Every man took off his hat. All knew something of great consequence was happening to the lives of the forty-nine young girls. The number of missionaries in the exodus may not have been the greatest to leave the shores of Ireland, but the exodus was still a great spiritual adventure even when one considered the historical European monasteries thronged with Irish monks; and the countless Irish priests, brothers and nuns labouring in the mission fields of the world. Forty-nine young lives dedicated to God even without uniforms could not be despised. They were bringing timely and heavenly aid for the Cross of Christ to a distant land where it was greatly needed.

The boat gathered speed and journeyed out over the .channel. The young girl of sixteen years who waited with the others at the back of the boat to catch a last glimpse of her relatives and friends on the wharf and of Ireland before it faded away, held in her hand a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. She gripped it tightly for its roots went deep into the heart of the home she had recently left. Her mother had given her the small picture in its golden frame and told her “never to lose it.” It had been in the family home a very long time.
Now in Australia for nearly forty years the picture had been lovingly kept and had ever inspired by holy ideals and childhood memories the young girl who had become a Sister of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. At her work in a hospital, an asylum, an orphanage, and in the ups-and-downs of daily life she had placed her confidence in her Lady with its golden frame. She kept it hidden but it always gave her strength and uplift in difficulties and upsets. It kept the holy adventure of her life on a high spiritual level. The picture brought back recollections of her childhood days in her home near Tullamore, Ireland, and of simple joys and sorrows shared with her many brothers and sisters. In her picture she saw the green mountains and running streams which was the setting of that lovely hallowed spot. All the crimsons and purples of tropical lands could not compare with those green hills for they spelt home where she played as a child. In looking at her picture her thoughts might wander and fall back in reverie but despite distractions the Divine Mother with the Infant Jesus in her arms ever gazed steadfastly back in gentleness and affection at her devotion and sacrifice.
At the back of her picture in its strong golden frame there were three words, which always brought a lump into her throat and which were written by the hand of her Mother. They were “Ireland, Mother Ireland.” The nun always looked on the words as her mother’s silent cry of faith and love for her daughter in distant Queensland. Holy wisdom had inspired the hand of the Mother for she had rightly estimated the great spiritual power of Our Lady and the fierce maternal call of Ireland to one of her own when she gave the picture and wrote the words as a parting gift to her daughter. The ancient picture had been known in the family home as Our Lady of the Penal Times.

Now, at the end of life’s road in distant Queensland, at the Nudgee Catholic Cemetery, a small white cross marks the grave of a Sister of Mercy, who was one of forty-nine, and who came from a home near famed Tullamore. The good fight was over and the crown of glory won. As the renowned surgeon remarked, her passing was sudden and tragic but she left a wealth of noble memories to her community due principally to a small picture of Our Lady hallowed by limitless personal love and ancient family ties.

P.S. The young girl who came from Tullamore received the religious name of Sister M. Gonzales in the community of the Sisters of Mercy, Brisbane. The ancient picture now belongs to a former Queensland girl once called Jane, who is a nun in a Carmelite Monastery in South Australia.