Over 200 people from diverse walks of life came together in Sydney last month to witness and celebrate the perpetual profession of Sister Sarah Puls as a Sister of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.
The richly symbolic Rite of Perpetual Profession took place within the celebration of Eucharist at St Scholastica’s Chapel, Glebe Point, which was presided over by Jesuit priest Father Andrew Hamilton.
Those gathered for the joyful and moving ceremony included Sarah’s family, friends and colleagues, staff and students from Good Samaritan colleges in Sydney, and many Good Samaritan Sisters and Oblates.
A small group of enclosed Benedictine nuns from Jamberoo Abbey on the NSW south coast were also present and formed part of the choir.
Those Good Samaritan Sisters unable to be present on the day gathered in prayerful support in their communities throughout Australia, in Japan, the Philippines and Kiribati.
Congregational Superior Sister Clare Condon said that in the days following the ceremony many sisters commented that Sarah’s profession had “brought them home to their own commitment and it was a moment of renewal for them”.
In her words of admonition, an address delivered by the congregational superior during the Benedictine Rite of Profession, Clare reminded Sarah of the seriousness of her decision – “to spend the rest of your life seeking God as a Sister of the Good Samaritan”.
She also reminded Sarah of the counter-cultural nature of her commitment as a religious sister to the vows of stability, conversion of life and obedience.
“In a secular world like ours there is little understanding of a lifelong commitment to seek God, let alone to vow obedience in a world where individual freedoms are paramount,” said Clare.
“Yet the word obedience means to listen, and to listen deeply to one’s own desires and the desires of others. It must be mutual and communal and not just individualistic. Therefore hope must be characteristic of such a counter-cultural stance.”
Father Andrew Hamilton, in his homily, reflected on the Gospel reading from John where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and tells them to do the same. He acknowledged the centrality of this particular story to the Christian faith – of serving others, but encouraged Sarah and all present to look again at the story: “First of all it’s about having your own feet washed”.
“You must, and we must, allow ourselves to be anointed as we would do unto others,” he said.
Sarah said she was surprised at how calm she felt during the ceremony, which was the culmination of ten years of spiritual formation and preparation. She attributed that calmness to “grace” and being surrounded by the support and encouragement of so many people.
“My experience really was of just being carried by the joy of all the people who were gathered: people who know me well and know the decision and the step well, and also people who don’t; people who know me from a different context and want to celebrate with me because this is important for me,” she explained.
Sarah described the moment in the liturgy where each sister comes forward to offer a sign of peace and welcome her as a full member as “powerful”.
“The sincerity of their greetings was just so moving,” said Sarah. “That strong sense as each one comes up of their joy for me, and their desire for my life and fullness of life and knowing God in this way; that they have joy in this and they’re rejoicing with me that I’m going to get to share that.”
Sarah, age 40, was born and raised in Melbourne. She attended Catholic Ladies College, Eltham for her secondary education and later completed undergraduate degrees in arts and social work at La Trobe University.
It was in her early 20s that Sarah first encountered the Good Samaritan Sisters while volunteering at the Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne, which provides short-term emergency accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness.
Sarah’s experience at The Inn proved to be significant in her journey toward becoming a Good Samaritan Sister. She was drawn to the “down-to-earth” nature of the sisters working there, and though they were very different personalities, she noticed there was “a particular character to the way they dealt with people – a respect that was deep, not something that they put on, but a genuine encountering of another human being”.
“It was such a blessed way to learn about what it is to be a Good Sam,” said Sarah.
Sarah’s formal association with the Congregation began in 2007, and in 2010, she made her first profession as a Good Samaritan Sister.
Since early 2015 Sarah has been leading a team of caseworkers at Arrupe Place, a drop-in centre for asylum seekers in Western Sydney, NSW, established by Jesuit Refugee Service in collaboration with other partners, including the Good Samaritan Sisters.
For Sarah, religious life is a way of life where she finds “fullness of life”, where she feels “fulfilled”, “happy”, and “at peace”.
“It’s not what it allows me to do, but who it allows me to be – that sense of it pulls or pushes or encourages, prods me to be not lazy. I know that I am prone to just going with the flow,” she explained.
“This way of life for me, being committed to prayer and community life, means that I can’t just blindly go off in my own direction. I am committed to listening to God with these women and doing my best to respond to what I hear from God, from the community, from society – to not just be about what’s good for me, but allow God to move in those other ways as well.”