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Sunderland's Sisters of Mercy to open historic Oaklea convent at St Anthony's School for visitors and a 'comfortable cup of tea'

Members of the public are to be given a rare chance to visit a convent as part of Sunderland’s Heritage Fortnight.

Sunday, 15th May 2022, 4:55 am

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The Sisters of Mercy are to open the doors of their Oaklea Convent, in Tunstall Road, to the public on Wednesday, June 1, and Saturday, June 4, between 2pm and 4pm.

The open days, running as part of a scheme called Mercy in the City, are expected to be of particular interest to past and present pupils of the adjoining St Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy, where many nuns who have lived in the convent over the years were previously teachers.

The sisters will talk about the Walking Nuns who came to Sunderland from Dublin at the height of a cholera epidemic in the 19th Century, inspired by their pioneering founder Catherine McAuley.

The Sisters of Mercy at the Tunstall Road convent, cheering up the neighbourhood during lockdown.

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There will be a tour of the convent and a chance to put questions to the Reverend Mother, Sister Adrienne, over a “comfortable cup of tea”.

Catherine McAuley told nuns gathered round her death bed in 1841: “Be sure you have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.”

The comfortable cup of tea has since been a symbol of the Sisters of Mercy, which Sister Catherine had founded in 1831.

In 2020, the sisters raised spirits during lockdown by performing uplifting hymns outside their home, earning themselves national and international coverage from the BBC and CNN in the US.

The nuns are very much looking forward to welcoming visitors.

Sister Adrienne said: “We're very excited to be welcoming the local community into our convent after the pandemic and telling the story of how our community, the Sisters of Mercy, came to start in Sunderland in 1843.

“The community has seen many changes and developments from 1843 until the present day, as we continue our ministry of mercy and service to the people of Sunderland.”

The open days are part of Sunderland Heritage Fortnight, which runs between Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, July 3.

Other events will involve the Museum and Winter Gardens, Maritime Heritage Sunderland, the 1798 Donnison School in the historic East End, the Antiquarian Society, the Old Rectory in Houghton and Washington Old Hall.

Places are limited at Mercy in the City.

Call 0191 567 4653 to book a place.