Some 20 Good Samaritan Sisters from various communities throughout Australia travelled to Lawson in New South Wales last month to celebrate the eightieth birthday of their long-time friend and ministry colleague, Father Arthur Hackett.
A priest of the Port Pirie Diocese, Father Hackett is known to many Good Samaritan Sisters who have ministered in South Australia over the last 50-plus years, but particularly among those who worked in the Whyalla Stuart community where he was parish priest for about 25 years.
Sister Jill O’Brien said the birthday celebration on July 24 was also an opportunity to pay tribute to Father Hackett and to give thanks for all he had been to the sisters over many years.
“[The gathering] was a mark of much love and respect and gratitude,” she said.
In 1974, Jill was the first of a number of sisters to work with Father Hackett at Whyalla Stuart, then a fast-growing housing trust suburb of Whyalla. But significantly, Jill was the first from her congregation, and among the first women religious in Australia, to become a “parish sister”, these days known as a parish pastoral associate.
“It was the beginning of a whole new movement,” she said.
“They were extraordinary times in the Church. It was the 1970s; the new liturgical rites were coming out [the Rite of Reconciliation and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]… and we made the liturgy our focus. We said that that’s how we’d spend our energy because that was when we met the people… So we had to do that as well as we could.”
Jill said this new ministry experience at Whyalla Stuart was “very collaborative”.
“It wasn’t just, I did my thing, he did his thing and the other priest did his. We worked together. That was a wonderful experience. As I look back on it I know now it’s a fairly rare event.”
According to Jill, Father Hackett was widely loved and respected by the people of Whyalla Stuart, many of whom were new migrants who had flocked to the area to work at the BHP’s burgeoning Whyalla steelworks.
“They loved him. He had respect for people’s knowledge. He respected people tremendously. He would make it his business to know people by name,” she said.
“[Today] there’s a lot of dissatisfaction about things in the Church. They were halcyon days in many ways, I think, full of promise and good things happening.”