Joining the Good Samaritan Sisters probably seemed, to some, a logical step for Melbourne-born Judith Foster. After all, she’d been educated by the sisters throughout her school years and knew them well. But in the early 1960s, the young Judith was contemplating a few vocational options.
BY Stephanie Thomas
Joining the ranks of the Good Samaritan Sisters probably seemed, to some, a logical step for Melbourne-born Judith Foster. After all, she’d been educated by the sisters throughout her school years and knew them well. But in the early 1960s, while working for the public service, the young Judith was contemplating a few vocational options.
She considered joining The Grail, the international Catholic lay women’s movement (now ecumenical), which had influenced her significantly, mostly via her mother. “I loved the adult faith formation focus of The Grail,” reflects Judith.
But she was also drawn to the Daughters of Charity, having witnessed their ministry among the disadvantaged in her parish. “I loved their ministry of being with the people and visiting their homes.”
Ultimately it was the Good Sams who would most resonate with Judith’s spirit. “I chose the Sisters of the Good Samaritan because I felt called to community life which I saw in the sisters,” she explains.
“I don’t remember knowing anything about the Benedictine spirit and I did not think about being a teacher or anything in particular.”
Since making that decision 47 years ago, Judith’s life has followed an interesting path. Like many of her Good Samaritan Sisters, she started out as a primary school teacher. After ten years at schools in Sydney and Townsville, she moved into parish ministry, where she worked for another ten years, mostly in State school catechetics.
It was in the 1980s, however, that Judith’s ministry path began to take a new direction. In 1982, encouraged by her congregation, she began a three-month course in pastoral liturgy at Brisbane’s Banyo Seminary.
“I loved the learning and began to appreciate my own creativity,” Judith says.
Then, in 1987, she was invited again to do further study in pastoral liturgy, this time for 12 months in Ireland. On returning to Australia, she launched into freelance ministry as a liturgist and liturgy educator, especially through the Sydney and Parramatta Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. During this time she also began study towards an honours degree in theology.
“This took me across many areas of NSW, and I particularly loved the experience in places such as Bourke and Broken Hill,” explains Judith.
“I grew in my ability to develop structured courses rather than one-off sessions, since I could see the hunger of the people for solid teaching in a language they could grasp and in a conversational teaching mode. I wanted to share what I had been given through my congregation – opportunities which many people could not have.”
For Judith, liturgy is not just about what happens in the church; it’s also how we integrate that experience into our lives. She is particularly influenced by the early American liturgical movement and the renowned Benedictine monk, Virgil Michel, who said that liturgy is intrinsically tied to social justice.
“Liturgy impels us to do justice,” reiterates Judith.
So what does Judith regard to be the essential ingredients of good liturgy? “The documents of Vatican II talk about ‘noble simplicity’. This is a basis for me,” she responds.
“I think that while we use the ritual of the Church we need to look at the people who are celebrating and what is going to lead that community to prayer, then action in life. In every liturgical document there is provision for adaptation; this is often missed out. This is pastoral liturgy.”
Judith also believes participation in liturgy is fundamental. This doesn’t mean “incessant action, but may mean a community silence where we listen attentively together to God”, she explains.
For the past five years Judith has been working as a liturgical consultant for the Diocese of Townsville. It’s a wide-ranging role that includes working with the bishop, parishes and diocesan groups through visits and seminars, and assisting with liturgy preparation for particular occasions. The role also takes her to many communities throughout the 434,400 square-kilometre diocesan area – “from the Whitsundays to Ingham, out to Mt Isa and all in between”.
“I love seeing the growth in people through learning more about their faith. Meeting with people in small groups and sharing faith, prayer and scripture is enriching for them and for me,” she says.
Since coming to Townsville, Judith says connecting with the local Indigenous people, “particularly hearing about the history of Palm and Fantome Islands”, has had a great impact on her. While she doesn’t do a lot of liturgical teaching with them, she enjoys sharing her passion for the creative arts.
Last year, working with Joni McCourt, the diocese’s Indigenous project manager, Judith began running creative arts gatherings with some of the women elders in Townsville.
“Art releases the spirit in people,” says Judith. “I want to foster a sense of beauty and wonder and delight in people’s lives; that’s part of why I do it.” She also believes these gatherings are important forums for conversation among the women.
Judith says the exploration of her creative side began later in life. The establishment of a “dreaming group” by some of her sisters in 1987 was a turning point for her; it allowed her to engage with her creative gifts.
“I knew it was there, but it had never been really obvious,” she says.
“[The group] made me an artistic person legitimately… The support of that group was just fantastic”.
“That gave me the freedom to develop all the artistic things.”