The Sisters of The Good Samaritan http://www.goodsams.org.au Sun, 29 May 2016 22:33:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sister Patricia Satterthwaite (1926 – 2016) http://www.goodsams.org.au/sisters-who-have-died/sister-patricia-satterthwaite-1926-2016/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/sisters-who-have-died/sister-patricia-satterthwaite-1926-2016/#respond Fri, 27 May 2016 02:41:59 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19479 Patricia Satterthwaite SGS

Patricia Satterthwaite SGS

Patricia Mary Satterthwaite was born on August 25, 1926 at Waverly NSW, the eldest child of Favel and Mabel (nee Stevens) Satterthwaite. The younger children were John (to become Bishop of Lismore) and Joan. Both parents were born in NSW, Favel at Cobar and Mabel at Pyrmont, Sydney.

Favel was a civil engineer and for the first two years of Patricia’s life he worked on irrigation for the Murray River and then as shire engineer at Ashford, near the border of Queensland and NSW.

Patricia started school at Ashford Public School and in Grade 5 transferred to St Scholastica’s at Glebe Point where her mother was a past pupil. Her grandmother had been educated by the Good Samaritan Sisters at Pitt Street.

Patricia was fortunate to have Sisters Clare Slattery and Philomena Gallagher as her teachers in her senior years. She continued at St Scholastica’s to complete her secondary education in 1942 and was awarded a scholarship to Sydney University.

In 1945 Patricia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and then did the NSW Training Course for the Public Library of NSW. She worked at the Mitchell Library until she decided to enter the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Her home parish at this time was Forest Lodge.

At 24 years of age, Patricia entered the Good Samaritan Novitiate at Mount St Benedict’s Pennant Hills on July 2, 1951 and was given the name Sister Mary Scholastica. She made her first profession of vows on January 6, 1954. Later, when given the opportunity, she reverted to her baptismal name and was known as Sister Patricia.

After teacher training at St Scholastica’s Teachers’ College, Patricia taught primary students and had some secondary classes for two years at Marrickville. She then taught secondary students in Queensland at Lourdes Hill (1957-64), in Victoria at Hamilton in 1965, and then at the new St Monica’s College at Epping (1966-1972).

From 1973 to 1975 Patricia served the College as librarian. At that time she began part-time study in theology and was to go on and study in areas of interest, which included business law at Preston Tech, legal studies at La Trobe University and church history at United Faculty of Theology Melbourne.

In 1976 Patricia studied theology at Mater Dei Institute Manly. Returning to Victoria in 1977 as assistant librarian at Santa Maria College, she also taught ESL. From 1983 Patricia lived at Thornbury, but continued her library and ESL work at Santa Maria until 1987.

After a spiritual renewal program at Baulkham Hills, she ministered in adult literacy classes at Mt Druitt and lived at Windsor, NSW, until 1992. For the next four years in Moruya she continued with adult literacy and parish visitation.

Moving to Whyalla Stuart in 1996, Patricia was again involved in parish visitation until being asked to be assistant librarian at Mt St Benedict Centre Pennant Hills. Her scholarship inspired those who came to the library during the years she was at the Centre.

Patricia’s great love of learning throughout her life, her fidelity to the Gospel and her love of Saints Benedict and Scholastica had a profound influence on her life and her outreach to others. She encouraged and supported with great kindness and respect, many Good Samaritan Sisters, her family, colleagues and students, especially those who were new to this country and needed a patient and understanding teacher.

Patricia moved back to Melbourne in 2007 to retirement at Marian House Northcote until, with failing health and in need of more care, she graciously made the decision to move to Villa Maria Bundoora in November 2010.

Patricia died peacefully on May 20, 2016 after a short illness. She is survived by her sister Joan and family, and remembered with love, respect and gratitude by all her Good Samaritan Sisters.

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De-identifying asylum seekers isn’t always about protection http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/de-identifying-asylum-seekers-isnt-always-about-protection/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/de-identifying-asylum-seekers-isnt-always-about-protection/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 20:27:00 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19298 Sarah Puls SGS

Sarah Puls SGS

“In Australia, conversation about people who seek asylum often feels disconnected from the people – the real flesh and blood people – whose lives are most affected. The reasons for this are complicated and contested,” writes Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls.

BY Sarah Puls SGS*

In Australia, conversation about people who seek asylum often feels disconnected from the people – the real flesh and blood people – whose lives are most affected. The reasons for this are complicated and contested.

In the Australian community, those who know these people don’t use their real names or faces out of a desire to protect them. That’s because we know they are seeking safety from a country in which they are in danger and we don’t know yet whether they will be allowed to stay. Exposing their identity can be a risk if ever they are forced to return to their country of origin.

And there is another risk. If they speak publicly about their situation before they came to Australia, or while they have been here, the fact that they have done so might be held against them by decision-makers.

But the de-identifying of people seeking asylum is not always about protection. People who came to Australia to seek protection who are sent to other countries for ‘processing’ are removed from the sight of the Australian community with a thoroughness which is astonishing in the modern world.

Media and even human rights groups are prevented from visiting these places to meet the people and hear their stories, so they remain people who are spoken of in abstract terms, as numbers and nationalities.

They remain an abstract idea until we hear media reports of people who have tried to kill themselves, or of children harming themselves, or of a woman who was raped and beaten. These descriptions shock, but they remain descriptions. In fact, they remain people who are described rather than named until they reach a point where there is nothing left to lose.

We know the names Reza Berati, Hamid Khazaei, and Omid Masoumali – men who died while in the ‘care’ of the Australian government and associated entities. How tragic that it is only when their lives on earth are ended that we come to know more about these individuals and their stories.

I wonder about the connection between this de-identification and the brutalities of the conditions these people experience. The policies which successive governments have created and reworked seem to be aimed at making life so unbearable that people choose either to return to the terror of a country in which they are at risk, or to kill themselves. I wonder if we could allow these policies to be enacted upon people whose names and stories we know.

Even though in Australia we cannot tell stories about asylum seekers freely, telling them is still important, so I would like to try by sharing Azuvah’s story with you.

“Azuvah” is the word used by the Psalmists in the Hebrew Scriptures and translated as “forsaken”. This story of Azuvah is not the story of one woman, it is a story which picks up and reflects aspects of the lives of many who may well wonder if they have been named “Forsaken”.

Recently I was talking with Azuvah, a young woman who travelled to Australia by boat in 2013 in search of safety and a future. Azuvah believes she is a refugee. She believes that when the Australian government gives her a chance to explain why she came here that they, too, will see she is a refugee.

But Azuvah has not yet been ‘invited’ to tell her story and explain why she took the extraordinary risk of getting on a leaky boat. She has not had a chance to explain that she is terrified of the ocean, that she cannot swim, that her mother pleaded with her not to take the risk, and that she did it anyway because she could not bear the year-after-year helplessness of having no status in the country she lived. She couldn’t return to the country in which she was born because they, too, do not want her.

With no country to claim her and no hope of building a new life in any of the countries she had moved through, Azuvah decided she would rather die at sea and have no life at all than to live a long life with no hope.

Azuvah told me how she has been given a series of short-term bridging visas while she waits to apply for something more substantial. With only a bridging visa it is very hard to find work. Few people want to employ asylum seekers – those individuals so maligned by politicians, but even fewer will give an opportunity to someone who has only a short-term visa too.

Azuvah had casual work as a cleaner in a factory for some time. The hours were long, the smells terrible and the pay meagre. But she found some peace in knowing that she supported herself and that she was contributing to this country which she so longed would welcome her. It was hard work, but she was happy to have it; until she didn’t, and her housemates lost their jobs too, and no one could pay the rent. So she moved again, desperately looking for work. Any work.

Azuvah told me how she would go to apply for a job and would feel hopeful until asked: “Are you a permanent resident?” Her heart would sink, knowing that when she said “asylum seeker” she would be turned away. She told me of a ‘boss-man’ who said “Asylum seeker? What is asylum seeker? This is nothing. You are nothing”.

With tears in her eyes Azuvah looked at me and said: “They say I am nothing, that asylum seeker is not a person, but we are [the] same. You drink water. I drink water. You eat food. I eat food. We are [the] same”.

My heart aches for Azuvah because we are the same. And also we are not.

I can never understand the deep sense of helplessness which drives a person to risk their life so that they have just a small hope of a life worth living. I cannot understand. All I can do is know the truth of that, and respect the many, many things that I cannot understand.

I told Azuvah: “I can hear your pain Azuvah, but I cannot know what it feels like. I can hear your fear and your anger, and I can see something of how it must be for you, but I cannot know it like you know it. In this we are different.

“You have pain I cannot know. But I know that you are a person like me. You are human like I am human. I cannot fix the problems you face. I cannot change your situation, but I can be with you as a human being, with another human being.”

And I have to hope that there is some healing in that shared humanity. When Azuvah sees in my face my concern for her, when I see her next and remember her name and what she shared, when she next greets me as ‘sister’, I remind myself that sometimes small things bring healing.

* Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls is a social worker who is the casework team leader for Jesuit Refugee Service at Arrupe Place, which provides a welcoming space for people seeking asylum and in need of essential services in Western Sydney. She is also involved in ministry with asylum seekers and refugees in her community of Good Samaritan Sisters in Merrylands, Sydney.

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Sister Annette’s outback ministry honoured http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/sister-annettes-outback-ministry-honoured/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/sister-annettes-outback-ministry-honoured/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 18:13:58 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19281 Councillors Patrick Hill and Peter Craig present Sister Annette with not one, but two Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards (Photo: Elaine Labuschagne)

Councillors Patrick Hill and Peter Craig present Sister Annette with not one, but two Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards
(Photo: Elaine Labuschagne)

Good Samaritan Sister Annette Dever has been honoured with not one, but two Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards, for her service to the remote Western Australian communities of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton.

A very surprised and overwhelmed Annette received the awards last month at a dinner hosted by the Shires of Leonora and Laverton to honour and farewell Annette as she finished 13 years of pastoral ministry among the people of the WA outback.

Some 90 guests attended the dinner at Leonora, which followed the monthly Sunday Eucharist at Sacred Heart Church. Present and past residents travelled vast distances to express their gratitude to Annette. Also sharing the occasion with her were family members from Perth and Brisbane, and Bishop Justin Bianchini of the Geraldton Diocese.

“Words fail me at a moment like this. It’s too big!” Annette told those gathered.

“I am deeply overwhelmed by such love and support of the people of Leonora and Laverton Shires who have honoured me today. This moment will be remembered for the rest of my life.”

Annette first arrived in WA in 2003. Then based at Mount Magnet, her role was to reach out to the residents of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton. Each month she would travel for two weeks, spending about five days in each town providing pastoral care to the local people.

Annette leading her final Liturgy of the Word at Leonora (Photo: Kate Ferguson)

Annette leading her final Liturgy of the Word at Leonora
(Photo: Kate Ferguson)

Annette recalls an encounter with a mother of four young children soon after she arrived that had a lasting impact on her.

“She said to me when I went to visit her: ‘You’re great ladies who drive all this way just to come and see us, just to come and see how we’re going…’. And that was a profound statement which I carried with me,” Annette said.

“It meant so much to these outback women and it brought home to me the great gift of just visiting people, especially in the outback… It certainly changed me and affirmed me in what I was doing, that God was working through me, even though I thought I had very little to offer in my visit.”

In the absence of resident priests and therefore weekly Eucharist, part of Annette’s role was to prepare and lead Liturgies of the Word in the three communities. She also had the “amazing experience” of accompanying people on their journey to Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist, and the “huge honour” of presiding at funerals.

In 2010 Leonora became Annette’s base so she could serve the large asylum seeker community at the Lenora Detention Centre. While still continuing her outreach to the people of Leinster, Laverton and Leonora, she established a strong relationship with the asylum seekers until the centre closed in 2014.

“That was a very rich experience,” said Annette. “I was welcomed into the detention centre, then they came to liturgy with us in the Sacred Heart Church and the community welcomed them.”

Annette describes her entire experience in the outback as “rich in so many ways”.

The church was full for Annette's final Eucharist at Leonora (Photo: Elaine Labuschagne)

The church was full for Annette’s final Eucharist at Leonora
(Photo: Elaine Labuschagne)

“The people I have been privileged to meet and the experiences I’ve had have made me the person I am today. I give deep thanks for each one and I will treasure the memories and the stories forever,” she said.

Long-time Laverton resident, Maureen Hill, took the initiative to nominate Annette for the Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Award, which was wholeheartedly supported by both the Shire of Leonora and the Shire of Laverton.

“Sister Annette is an inspiration to others, with her gentle and compassionate manner, caring not only for her parish, but providing assistance and encouragement for the communities of the Northern Goldfields,” said Laverton Shire President, Patrick Hill.

“She has touched so many lives without realising the positive impact she has had. Sister Annette deserves the Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards.”

Leonora Shire President, Peter Craig, said Annette had provided “a stellar service” to the residents of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton.

“She was truly part of the communities she served and we are grateful for her presence, pastoral care and ministry since 2003. She travelled more than a 1,000 kilometres a week to minister, deliver liturgy, providing guidance and support, irrespective of the background or denomination of people.”

For Annette, the decision to finish her ministry in the outback was not an easy one. “But I knew it was the right decision and I knew it was the right time,” she said.

Speaking to those gathered at her farewell on April 10, Annette said, “I loved being here, celebrating liturgy, preparing people for sacraments, visiting you good people and attending to whatever came along.

“I will miss you greatly. You will be forever in my memory and my prayers.”

After a well-earned break, Annette will take up lighter duties in her home town of Brisbane.

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Restoring an endangered ecological community http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/restoring-an-endangered-ecological-community/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/restoring-an-endangered-ecological-community/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:51:20 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19347 Cumberland Plain Woodland CLICK ON THIS IMAGE TO VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY

Cumberland Plain Woodland
CLICK ON THIS IMAGE
TO VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY

Debra Vermeer recently visited the Good Samaritan Sisters’ Wivenhoe Conservation Project at Camden on Sydney’s southern outskirts, where she witnessed some of the “ground-breaking” work underway to restore the endangered Cumberland Woodland ecosystem.

BY Debra Vermeer*

“One of the things I love about my job is that it’s like being a treasure-hunter every day.”

Brendon Levot, of Toolijooa Environmental Restoration, is talking about his work on the Wivenhoe Conservation Project – an ambitious project to restore 190 hectares of the endangered Cumberland Woodland ecosystem located on property owned by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan at Camden on Sydney’s southern outskirts.

“We have found some endangered species regenerating on the site and it’s really exciting when you do come across them,” he says with enthusiasm.

And it’s not just plants that are regenerating on the site. Native birds are also returning, including the Swift Parrot, an endangered migratory bird. Four of the parrots have visited the Wivenhoe site in recent times, spending the winter there. The property is one of the only places in the Sydney basin that you will see a Zebra Finch these days, and the four wombats located in the bushland have been treated for their deadly mange, with at least one wombat couple now expecting the pitter-patter of tiny wombat feet.

All of these developments are signs that the Good Samaritan Sisters’ Wivenhoe Conservation Project is slowly but surely restoring the local ecosystem, which had become endangered through the growth of noxious trees and weeds, residential development across the western Sydney basin, farming and pastoral activity, and other modern threats.

Brendon Levot

Brendon Levot

“What we’re doing here is ground-breaking,” says Brendon. “We are not just going around and pulling out weeds, we are replacing the actual building blocks to allow the ecosystem to rebuild itself. It’s slow work, but we can see it is already paying off and it will pay off even further into the future.”

Good Samaritan Sister Bernadette Corboy says the Wivenhoe Conservation Project grew from the Good Sams’ long-held but growing desire to care for creation and a developing awareness that the 260-hectare Mater Dei property, owned by the Congregation since 1910, and adjoining the Nepean River, was home to one of the last remaining remnants of the Cumberland Plain Woodlands, which is listed as “a critically endangered ecological community”.

“The vision statement and mandate for the current Congregational Council when we assumed office in 2011 included a commitment to creation,” Bernadette says. “Consequently, a Creation Resource Team was set up to facilitate ongoing education and practical action.”

In 2012 the Sisters signed a formal agreement with the NSW Minister for the Environment, declaring 26 hectares of the property a BioBank site. The 26 hectares contains significant numbers of Grey Box and Forest Red Gum trees, both valuable and threatened plant species.

Under the BioBanking Agreement, the NSW Office for the Environment and Heritage (OEH) provides funds for the gradual restoration of the land. Each year, agreed outcomes, such as the removal of feral animals and weeds and regeneration of native species, must be achieved so that money can be released for further work. A second BioBank site on the property has just been commissioned, with work and funding set to begin soon.

According to the OEH, the first BioBank site will achieve a range of conservation objectives, including permanently protecting: 20 hectares of critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland and five hectares of the endangered Sydney Coastal River-flat Forest – known habitat for the Cumberland Plain Land Snail (endangered species), Speckled Warbler (vulnerable species) and Powerful Owl (vulnerable species), and potential habitat for another ten threatened animal species, including the Grey-headed Flying-fox, the Diamond Firetail, the Large-footed Myotis and the Hooded Robin.

Some of the funds raised from the BioBanking initiative will be invested to help pay for the ongoing maintenance of the bushland in perpetuity.

Swift Parrot

Swift Parrot

“We see it as our commitment to a sensitive area on our property which needs to be nurtured and protected for the future, in line with our commitment to creation,” Bernadette says.

“We have engaged Toolijooa to assist us with their expertise. Hopefully, it can be restored, regenerated for the enjoyment of bush lovers, and we can also enable the regeneration of endangered plants and animals.”

Realising that they wished to preserve the Mater Dei property for perpetuity, the Sisters established the Wivenhoe Trust and a board was appointed to oversee the development and care of the site, which is also home to the National Trust colonial home, Wivenhoe (1837) and historic stables (1834), and the Mater Dei Special School.

In 2011 the Sisters entered into a joint venture with land development company Mbark Pty Ltd to offer a limited number of freehold home sites on 120 hectares of conserved bushland on the northern edge of the property.

That land development, called Kirkham Rise, once paddocked land, is now home to an impressive community of eco-style residences with architectural designs and materials to complement the natural surrounds. There are no gutters on the streets, but rather plant filtration systems, which funnel stormwater into a series of ponds for filtration, so that it is clean when it ends up in the Nepean waterway. The neighbourhood features walking trails and wildlife corridors to complement the bushland setting and the funds raised from the development help to finance the conservation project as well as other works of the Congregation.

Bernadette says the Community Engagement Sub-Committee of the Board is encouraging the local residents to get to know the conservation project and to be a part of it.

African Olive tree infestation

African Olive tree infestation

“We want to share a gift that we have with others,” she says.

Judith Holt, who is Coordinator of the Community Engagement and Education Sub-Committee, says that community engagement is vital for the future sustainability of the project.

“The local residents are going to be living in and using the area, with the bush paths and playgrounds, so it is important for them to understand how to care for it,” she says.

“And when the contractors finish their work on the property, we hope it will be the local community which takes ownership of it and really cares about keeping it sustainable into the future.”

On a four-wheel drive tour with Brendon through access tracks on the property, it is clear to see why the work is so important, and where the progress is being made.

On a section of track in the first BioBank area, the difference is stark. One side of the track is a beautiful scene of clear Cumberland Woodland, sparsely wooded with native gums and other trees and healthy, unimpeded grassland. On the other side of the track, in an area yet to benefit from the conservation works, it looks more like a jungle, with the trees and undergrowth choked by African Olive trees, a pest first imported to the area in colonial times.

“African Olive is a weed of national significance, which grows into a tree,” says Brendon. “It was originally brought out to Australia by John Macarthur who used it as a fencing plant. Slowly, it crept out from his Camden Park property and it is now the biggest weed in Western Sydney. It engulfs ecosystems and kills them.”

African Olive also destroys native ground cover, thanks to toxins that it drops, and it stresses the trees that it engulfs, leaving them susceptible to insect attack and fungal growth.

Matted Bush Pea, an endangered species that has been discovered on the property

Matted Bush Pea, an endangered species that has been discovered on the property

“These insects are called Lerps, and they destroy whole ecosystems,” says Brendon.

“The end result is a completely climaxed ecosystem such as you see here, and nothing can happen here now without intervention.”

That intervention has come in the form of Brendon and his team drilling holes in the Olive trees to kill them.

Because it takes a while for them to die off once drilled, it allows time for the birds and other animals to find new homes and so is kinder to the ecosystem than quicker removal methods.

Once the Olive trees are dead, Brendon and his team lay the branches in thatches across the ground to assist with erosion management.

“Then, we get native seeds in there and kick-start native regeneration of the area. It’s a technique not used anywhere else. The idea is that if you control the weeds, the natives will come,” he says.

“It means we have to go slowly, and I’ve been really grateful to the Sisters who appreciate and support the fact that we do have to go slowly to achieve the best long-term result.

“The way we look at it, we didn’t wreck this area overnight, it took a couple of hundred years, so we can’t fix it in a day either.

“It’s a big project, but it’s coming along.”

A bit further along on the tour of the property, Brendon stops to point out one of the endangered species that has been discovered on the property since the conservation works began. Named the Matted Bush Pea (Pultenaea pedunculata), it looks to the untrained eye like a small ground shrub, but for Brendon, its discovery was one of those “treasure-hunter” days.

Members of the community are participating in tree planting days and conservation workshops

Members of the community are participating in tree planting days and conservation workshops

“These little fellas are super important for the ecosystem,” he beams as he reaches down to point it out. “And they are endangered. So it has been so fantastic to find some growing here again. It says we’re doing something right.”

Apart from the threat of pest species such as the African Olive, the Cumberland Woodlands have become overgrown because of a lack of fire management, such as that used by Indigenous populations before European settlement.

To remedy that, Brendon and the team are working in conjunction with the Rural Fire Service to hold controlled burns on the site in the coming months.

“That should help clear out the overgrowth and really produce some quality native regeneration,” he says.

And with the bushland having been so choked for so long, there are no hollow logs lying around providing a home for all sorts of little creatures in the ecosystem. The conservation team is working with a local tree feller to bring in some hollow logs and restore this animal habitat to the area.

Judith Holt says the community is being invited to learn more about the treasures of their local Cumberland Plain bushland by coming along to regular tree plantings, as well as workshops on subjects such as conservation techniques.

“We’re also hoping to attract some funding and perhaps some help from community groups, such as the local Men’s Shed, for the restoration of the heritage listed stables on the property to transform them into a meeting place for workshops, community gatherings and education on the conservation effort,” she says.

“It’s all about helping the local community to understand how special this place is and to care about its future.”

Derek Steller, from the NSW Office for Environment and Heritage, says the Mater Dei property was among the first of the BioBank sites to be established, and there are now somewhere around 50 such sites across New South Wales.

A group of Good Samaritan Sisters on a tour of the site

A group of Good Samaritan Sisters on a tour of the site

“The work being done on the Mater Dei property through the BioBank scheme means that with ongoing management they will be able to return the land to what it was like 100 years ago, or earlier,” he says.

“When I first went out to visit the site, one of the sisters who lived on the property told me that when she was younger, she remembered being able to walk through the paddocks, down to the Nepean River to have a swim, before it all got choked up with weed.

“With the work being done through the BioBank scheme, there is now the prospect that once again we will be able to see the river, see the open native ground cover and walk down to the river, thanks to the restoration of the original bushland in that area, and that’s just wonderful.”

Find out more about the Wivenhoe Conservation Project on Facebook, where you can keep up to date about community planting days, workshops and other activities. The next Conservation Land Management Workshop will be on May 21.    

* Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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Alternative policies urgently needed now http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/alternative-policies-urgently-needed-now/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/alternative-policies-urgently-needed-now/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:15:48 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19296 Clare Condon SGS

Clare Condon SGS

Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies are like an infected sore eating away at the fabric of society, says Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

The imagery associated with a “running sore” is a stark one. An ulcerated leg or a protruding boil full of pus that cannot heal draws poison into the blood stream, into the whole body. Such a bleeding and infectious sore needs drying out and medication, and often requires the afflicted person to move to a complete change of environment if the whole body is to heal. For good health a radical change is required. A boil needs lancing.

For me, this is a tragic image for Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies. They are like an infected sore eating away at the fabric of society. The present policies supported by both major parties are like a running sore poisoning all of us. The body politic is like a bleeding boil. It will only be healed by a radical shift in thinking and a total change in policy. Our whole society suffers because of inhumane and brutal policies towards other human beings. We are being diminished as a nation and as a people.

Over the past few weeks we witnessed a 23-year-old Iranian refugee, Omid Masoumali, immolate himself through despair in Nauru. He died on Friday April 29. Then, on Monday May 2, again in Nauru, a young Somali woman named Hadon set herself alight and is still in hospital in a very critical condition. These tragedies, amongst many others, are the consequences of despair and hopelessness, where refugees and asylum seekers see no future way out of their desperate situations.

In the midst of these tragic situations, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea on April 26 declared that the detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal and called for the closure of these facilities.

Australians are now in the midst of a Federal election campaign. Yet neither major political party is prepared to address its damaging refugee and asylum policies. When will political leaders realise that these policies are unethical and immoral, as well as a breach of international law? These policies are the direct cause of hopelessness and despair for some of the most disadvantaged people in the world; people fleeing civil war, hunger and fear.

The current Minister for Immigration could only express anger and a certain hatred at these recent events. His face was as hard as flint as he faced the media to express the tragedy of Hadon’s condition. He attempted to divert attention from the real issue by blaming advocates who seek to support refugees.

But there are some amongst us who feel compelled to respond to the Minister’s seemingly callous response. In a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on May 4, Robyn Cupitt wrote: “Peter Dutton, how low can you go? Suicide is giving up, not the action of anyone given ‘false hope’ by anyone”. A few days later, Tom Ballard, also writing in the SMH wrote: “Minister Peter Dutton is so wedded to the current ‘solution’ that he’s deaf to any criticism whatsoever, instead preferring to slander senators and to blame everyone from refugee advocates to charity workers to the media for the scandals within his portfolio. It’s all justified by the ‘success’ of the policy. They’ve stopped the boats. Nothing can change. End of story.”

Despair and hopelessness drive people to unspeakable acts of destruction. It is hope that keeps us alive and psychologically well. Alternative Federal government policies are urgently needed now or there will be more deaths through self-harm from desperation.

When will our politicians put the lives of their fellow human beings ahead of their own political ambitions? In the meantime we all suffer from the damage to the social fabric of our nation. The infected sore continues to bleed. We become a lesser people! We are all diminished!

* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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Jasmine’s “very big heart for the poor” http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/jasmines-very-big-heart-for-the-poor/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/jasmines-very-big-heart-for-the-poor/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:05:19 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19303 Jasmine presents Sister Leonie with the laptop. Pictured also are Year 11 students Vanessa, Amelia and Eva who will attend the Good Samaritan Education immersion trip to the Philippines in September

Jasmine presents Sister Leonie with the laptop. Pictured also are Year 11 students Vanessa, Amelia and Eva who will attend the Good Samaritan Education immersion trip to the Philippines in September

Thanks to the efforts of a Year 8 student from Mount St Benedict College in Sydney, the Good Samaritan Kinder School, which supports children from one of the poorest areas of the Philippines, now has a new computer – and it’s very likely that a few more may follow.

Thirteen-year-old Jasmine Rheinberger first heard about the Good Samaritan Kinder School in Bacolod City during a school assembly last year, when senior students were sharing their experience of helping out at the school as part of an immersion program in the Philippines.

Afterwards, Jasmine “started researching [the Kinder School] out of interest, and I realised how much help they needed because they’re obviously from the poorest areas in the Philippines”.

Then later in year, Jasmine decided she would focus on the Good Samaritan Kinder School as part of a learning program at Mount St Benedict College, known as “MYBennies”, where students are encouraged to explore a topic they are passionate about.

After much research, she discovered, among other things, that the Kinder School provides about 130 children from very low-income families in Bacolod with pre-school learning experiences, as well as access to a health clinic and nutrition program.

With the aim of raising awareness about the needs of the children and the work of the school, Jasmine created a website, “Children of the Philippines”. She hoped to mobilise others to show their support. But Jasmine wanted to do more.

“So I asked my ‘MYBennies’ teacher and she suggested donating something [to the school],” she said.

Wanting to ensure that any donations were what the Kinder School most needed, Jasmine contacted Good Samaritan Sister Leonie Duenas, Principal of the Kinder School.

“We started emailing back and forth, and after a while, we got to the conclusion that they needed a laptop because they’ve had theirs since 2009,” she explained.

Jasmine presents her "MYBennies" project to her class

Jasmine presents her “MYBennies” project to her class

So Jasmine got to work to find out how a laptop (and others later) could be sourced from within the Mount St Benedict College community.

Earlier this month while Leonie was in Australia, Jasmine had the opportunity to present a new laptop to her personally.

“It was a lovely surprise,” said Leonie.

“I’m just so happy that we received this laptop, an additional one that we can use at the Kinder School.”

Leonie is very grateful to Jasmine and Mount St Benedict College for this new school resource.

“It means so much for us… It’s a very big thing for us”, she said.

The gift of the laptop highlights for Leonie the importance of the relationships that have been established between the Kinder School and individuals like Jasmine, and communities like Mount St Benedict College.

“They are really partners with us because we cannot do this on our own here in the Philippines,” she said.

Leonie is also struck by the fact that Jasmine, now in Year 8, was in Year 7 when she first began her project to support the Kinder School.

“I really feel that there is so much future for this young girl who is so passionate in doing something for the poor. I just hope and pray for a good future for her… I feel she has a very big heart for the poor in choosing this project,” said Leonie.

For Jasmine, engaging with the Kinder School has not been a one-off project. She is keen to continue her efforts to raise awareness and organise other donations for the Kinder School. She’s also planning to visit the school in Year 11 as part of her school’s immersion program in the Philippines. In fact, she’d like to visit before then.

“I’d go any day if I could!” she laughed.

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The wonderful mystery of conversion of life http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/the-wonderful-mystery-of-conversion-of-life/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/the-wonderful-mystery-of-conversion-of-life/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:00:56 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19289 Pam Grey SGS

Pam Grey SGS

“Not conscious that you have been seeking suddenly you come upon it,” wrote the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas in his poem “Arrival”. Has this ever been your experience, asks Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey.

BY Pam Grey SGS*

“Not conscious
that you have been seeking
suddenly
you come upon it…”
wrote the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas in his poem “Arrival”.

Has this ever been your experience? Have you caught sight of something out of the corner of your eye? Have you ever turned a corner and a vista beckoned?

While on a retreat at Morning Star Monastery in Kopua, New Zealand, I passed a particular fence post each morning. It had weathered many a winter and was stained with colourful moss. It was rugged and wrapped with a spiky band of fencing wire.

fence-post-barbed-wire

At first sight I judged it ugly and a psalm verse came to mind.

“So I left you
in your stubbornness of heart,
to follow your own design.” (Psalm 81)

A few days later a word from Isaiah 49 caught my attention as I passed the post.

“But I said: ‘I have laboured in vain.
I have spent my strength
for nothing and vanity.
Yet surely my cause
is with the Lord’.”

On the last day at Kopua I read the following words of Christian De Cherge OCSO:

“When the spirit has abandoned everything
the heart opens itself
and everything enters into it.”

And I thought of my ragged old post – a true listening post for me.

On an early walk along a Napier beach, I received this image.

Napier-beach

What can you see?
Frothing waves,
straight line of demarcation,

Then soft furrows
with scattered pebbles,

And copper-coloured, curving,
stretching, mingling boundary.

What can you hear?
Gathering whoosh of waves,
then tinkling, rolling pebbles
dissolving into silence.

What can you imagine?
Sophia shining
Her gaze upon her handiwork
and delighting in our company
for a moment of shared eternity.

The wonderful mystery of conversion of life is how the light gets in, while a photograph and a word may hold the memory.

* Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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Good Samaritan Education invited to host BENET 2019 http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/good-samaritan-education-invited-to-host-benet-2019/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/good-samaritan-education-invited-to-host-benet-2019/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19326 Good Samaritan Education (GSE)Benet-Rome-2016, the ecclesial community established in 2011 to oversee the ethos, mission and stewardship of the ten incorporated Good Samaritan Colleges in Australia, has been invited to host the next international conference of the Benedictine Educators Network (BeNet) in Sydney in 2019.

The invitation was made last month in Rome by Father Elias Lorenzo OSB, President of the International Commission on Benedictine Education (ICBE), at the conclusion of the seventh BeNet conference.

Held every three years, this year’s five-day BeNet conference attracted 170 educators from 21 countries representing 71 schools. Among those gathered was the biggest ever contingent from Australia – 35 in total – which included Good Samaritan College principals, teachers and board members, and GSE staff.

“BeNet was wonderful in its international quality,” said Leonie Keaney, GSE’s Executive Director.

“It’s genuinely international with representation from just about every continent, which is really impressive, and the shared experience is always wonderful. To meet people from the other side of the world and from such very different settings, and yet to share that common thread of story and spirituality and experience as educators, that was really wonderful.”

For Terry Stephens, who has served for 15 years as a Board Director of Mater Christi College in Melbourne, the BeNet conference was “exciting and stimulating”.

“The enthusiasm and dedication of all of the delegates to a Benedictine-based education philosophy was very powerful,” he said.

“I came away with an even greater sense of gratitude for the outstanding service that the Good Sams have provided to education in Australia. GSE is well placed to continue this valuable work.”

A representation of St Benedict's death, Monte Cassino, Italy

A representation of St Benedict’s death, Monte Cassino, Italy

When the idea of hosting the 2019 BeNet conference was raised, Leonie Keaney said the Australian contingent agreed that “yes, it was probably a little bit daunting and it would be a lot of work, but it would be a really good thing and everyone was enthusiastic about the idea”.

She said that among the BeNet delegates in Rome there was “a lot of interest” in the GSE model of governance and enthusiasm for learning more about its implementation.

After the BeNet conference finished, the ten principals of Good Samaritan Colleges remained in Rome for a three-day conference, which included two days with the internationally-renowned scholar of St Benedict’s Rule, Sister Aquinata Bockman OSB.

Immediately after the principals’ conference, GSE Mission Team members, Sister Meg Kahler and Monica Dutton, led a 12-day pilgrimage (the third one that has been held) designed to immerse participants in the history and spirituality of the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition.

The 23 pilgrims included principals, senior staff and those in governance roles from the ten Good Samaritan Colleges. Also participating were two representatives from schools formerly run by the Good Samaritan Sisters but now under diocesan auspices.

With Meg as their spiritual guide, the pilgrims discovered aspects of the life and times of St Benedict through visits to places of significance in Rome, Norcia, Subiaco and Monte Cassino.

Visits to Downside and Douai Abbeys in England gave the pilgrims time to explore the English Benedictine story and its links to the founding of the Good Samaritan Sisters in Australia by John Bede Polding in 1857.

Louise Yeates, Director of Curriculum at Stella Maris College in Sydney, said the experience was “fabulous”.

“I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the story of Benedict, to really understand the times he was living in, the environment and the influences on his life,” she said.

The pilgrims at Subiaco, Italy

The pilgrims at Subiaco, Italy

“I was in sensory overload most of the time. Some experiences were overwhelming and I really needed time alone on the bus to process everything I absorbed.”

Louise also appreciated the opportunity to connect with colleagues from other Good Samaritan Colleges.

“I think the pilgrimage allows time out from the regular demands of your job to share a laugh, a bite to eat, a wine or a fresco with a new friend of the same ilk and build stronger connections between our schools,” she said.

For Leonie Keaney the pilgrimage was “just sensational”. Having begun her role as Executive Director of GSE just four months ago, Leonie said the pilgrimage and the BeNet and principals’ conferences were “tremendously useful”.

“I felt a big shift in the depth of my understanding and knowledge of people and aspects of the work after that,” she said.

Recalling a conversation with someone afterwards, Leonie said she felt she was “no longer on the outside [of the organisation] looking in anymore”.

“I felt more in it,” she said.

The next Good Samaritan Benedictine pilgrimage will be held in 2018.

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Is there a place for solitude in our world today? http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/is-there-a-place-for-solitude-in-our-world-today/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/is-there-a-place-for-solitude-in-our-world-today/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 14:00:26 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19278 Patty Fawkner SGS

Patty Fawkner SGS

“I say that I need and desire solitude, but do I really? I know that I resist solitude and when I have the opportunity, do I know what to do with it,” asks Good Samaritan Sister Patty Fawkner.

BY Patty Fawkner SGS*

Has solitude become a luxury reserved for those who can afford to pay for it? Aren’t those who seek solitude anti-social if not mentally unbalanced? Shouldn’t solitude be presented as a positive and as a reward for good, rather than as punishment for bad behaviour?

The question that underlined these various perspectives on solitude aired on a recent Radio National program was: Is there a place for solitude in the modern world?

It’s a good question and an important question, and one that caused me to pause. Is there a place for solitude in my world? In your world? Would you agree that it’s becoming more of a challenge to find a place for solitude when so many of us have become time-poor, device-addicted multi-taskers?

We have the ability, and many of us the inclination, to be connected 24/7. So much connection and so much potential for distraction.

Perhaps it’s always been the case. “My soul is crammed through from top to bottom with the trite, the commonplace, the insignificant, the routine,” anguished the theological giant, Karl Rahner, in a decidedly pre-device era. “What will become of me, dear God, if my life goes on like this?” What will become of me if I never pause, never find space and never enter into silence?

Solitude forms and transforms me. It cracks open the shell of the inner life, said the American poet May Sarton, and enables me to explore the mysterious terrain of my heart. Solitude is the realm of intimacy with myself, the precursor of intimacy with others and with God.

I say that I need and desire solitude, but do I really? I know that I resist solitude and when I have the opportunity, do I know what to do with it?

Solitude – even the thought of solitude – can be unnerving. During a demanding period of my life I would occasionally withdraw to a simple seaside cottage for a weekend of relaxation and bush-walking. Leaving the city I would always, always, feel ambivalent. Why on earth am I doing this? Won’t I feel lonely and bored? What if it rains? How will I fill in the time?

It wasn’t enough to change locale. I also had to make interior adjustments. I could be immersed in beautiful surrounds, and I could go a whole day without speaking, but my monkey mind would be elsewhere, generally in the future planning, strategising, and mentally rehearsing the coming week.

Being in the present moment is the easiest and most difficult thing to do. During these solitary weekends I had to school myself consciously and deliberately to be in the NOW, to be attentive, to free myself from the usual domination of crowded thoughts by focussing my senses as I wandered through the bush or along the sea shore. And when I did, a rich, beautifully diverse world presented itself to me, a world of textures, shades, tones and surprising patterns, a world which, in utter humility and simplicity, offered to companion me.

Slowly over these weekends I made the archetypal journey from loneliness to solitude. A journey from the pain of being on my own, to the delight of being on my own. Or, as Sarton described it, a journey from loneliness which is poverty of the self, to solitude which is richness of the self.

The Christian and Benedictine traditions have always cherished and promoted solitude. Throughout the centuries believers have been encouraged to retreat from the roles, responsibilities and the busyness of everyday life. We retreat, be that for a moment of prayer or for 30 days, in order to reflect more deeply on life and so engage more intentionally with life.

Have you noticed how many times the various Gospel writers tell us that Jesus retreated to a lonely place to pray? Certainly this time was often interrupted, yet we are presented with a man who craved solitude and carved out the necessary space, time and silence to enter into it.

Jesus needed solitude to discover who he was and whose he was. This, I believe, is the crux of solitude, its purpose and its fruit.

At his baptism, Jesus hears a voice proclaim, “This is my beloved child in whom I take delight”. Immediately, the Gospel writers tell us, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, the iconic place of solitude. There, for 40 days, Jesus has time to ponder these words which speak of his identity as son and beloved, and to engage with a God who delights in Jesus rather than a God who demands anything of him. For 40 days he is tempted to discount and negate this truth of who he is and who God is.

Jesus’ desert experience reminds us that solitude is not for the feint-hearted. It can be a purifying experience, stripping one of delusions and pretensions, while leading to a deeper inner truth, a deeper clarity about life and what is ultimately important.

Saint Benedict was another who craved solitude. We are told that as a student, repelled by the dissoluteness of Rome, Benedict journeyed alone to Subiaco. There, for three years, he lived a life wrapped in silence, prayer and solitude.

The wisdom gleaned from his experience of solitude is evoked in the Rule, which Benedict wrote many years later for communities of monks. “Listen with the ear of your heart” are the first words and the clarion call of the Rule. Know that silence is more than not speaking. Do what you can to “cultivate silence”, Benedict says.

There is no unhealthy dualism between solitude and engagement in the Rule. Honouring time alone and time together is the necessary alternating rhythm for life. Get the balance right between work, prayer and leisure, the Benedictine tradition urges, and do all of this in the service of seeking God and full human flourishing.

Like Jesus and Benedict, I too need solitude to discover who I am. I need solitude to enter the depths of myself, where hopefully, I will hear God speak a word of love to me. “Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist pleads. This is solitude’s gift to me, to know myself, the beloved of God.

Both Jesus and Benedict had their solitude ‘interrupted’ by others who stretched their vision and thinking about their mission and to whom they were sent. Like Jesus and Benedict, I too, need solitude to discover whose I am.

Solitude is not an exercise in self-indulgence and self-absorption. Rather, it leads me to realise my deep connection with others, such as my loved ones and those with whom I rub shoulders, and also those whom I may never meet but whom I bring to God in prayer: Syrian refugees, both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, those who have died and those grieving, our political leaders… My solitude is a gift for others.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh captures this evocatively in her classic, Gift from the Sea:

“Moon shell… You will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days; and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my centre, my island-quality. You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large”.

I need my own “moon shell” to help me find some structure for my solitude. Married or single, fully employed or retired, extravert or introvert, I need times of mindfulness and enriched stillness that follow the contours of my unique personality and life circumstances.

For some this may mean rising a little earlier in the morning or practising mindfulness on the daily commute. Some may choose to engage in lectio divina, journalling or spiritual direction. For others gardening, listening to music or playing a musical instrument may lead to a deep inner stillness. I know people who find precious solitude in swimming or walking – witness the ever increasing popularity of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. And then for our device-loving generation, there are meditation apps!

Solitude is fuel for life. I have experienced the gift of solitude and I continue to both desire it and resist it. I know that solitude takes discipline and commitment. Even more it takes courage. Will you join me in praying for the courage to embrace it?

* Good Samaritan Sister Patty Fawkner is an adult educator, writer and facilitator. Patty is interested in exploring what wisdom the Christian tradition has for contemporary issues. She has an abiding interest in questions of justice and spirituality. Her formal tertiary qualifications are in arts, education, theology and spirituality.

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A professional role that’s deepened Marie’s spirituality http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/a-professional-role-thats-deepened-maries-spirituality/ http://www.goodsams.org.au/good-oil/a-professional-role-thats-deepened-maries-spirituality/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 14:12:18 +0000 http://www.goodsams.org.au/?p=19121 Marie Mohr

Marie Mohr

Marie Mohr says her role as Health and Well-being Coordinator for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan is one of the best jobs of her life; it enriches her professional life and nourishes her spirit.

BY Debra Vermeer*

After a distinguished career in nursing and health administration, Marie Mohr was looking for a change when she took on the role of Health and Well-being Coordinator for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, a change which she says has given her one of the best jobs of her life – enriching her professional life and nourishing her spirit.

Born in the Queensland Darling Downs, Marie grew up with her five sisters and one brother in the small town of Taroom, about 463 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. She attended the local Catholic primary and high schools, until her senior schooling, when she boarded for two years at St Saviour’s College Toowoomba.

After leaving school, Marie completed her nursing certificate at Toowoomba General Hospital in 1977 and then gained her midwifery qualifications at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide from 1978 to 1979.

“After that, I spent a couple of years working and playing in Taroom, which had a 28-bed country hospital, before my sister and I travelled around Australia for nearly two years. We bought a panel van and 14-foot Millard caravan and just headed off,” she says.

Marie with a group of Good Samaritan Sisters at the Yarra Valley

Marie with a group of Good Samaritan Sisters at the Yarra Valley

After working at Peak Hill in western NSW for a while, the two sisters ended up at Uluru, known then as Ayers Rock.

“I took a job as the number two cook and Chris was pot-scrubber, I think,” she laughs.

“We happened to be working there when Azaria Chamberlain went missing, which was an amazing time,” she says. “When the word went out that the baby was missing, we went out looking for her that very cold night. Everyone was out there looking.

“It was always my personal belief that a dingo did take the baby, because I’d seen how the dingoes were, how they acted.”

After leaving Uluru, Marie and Chris headed across the Nullarbor Plain, working in a roadhouse for three or four months. When they arrived in Perth, Marie took a job in a nursing home.

“Then we travelled to Derby where we stayed for a period of time. That was a real country place, a little hospital with about 20 beds. We delivered babies there and did other small things. For car accidents or bigger medical emergencies people either were flown to Darwin or to Perth via the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“That was an interesting time. In the early 1980s it was very much the early days of tourism around Australia and the roads had no bitumen or anything like that.”

After reaching Darwin, the sisters returned home to Queensland for a while when their parents were selling their house, but before too long, Marie returned to Western Australia, to Kununurra and worked there, before returning to Perth and then finally heading across the Nullarbor to Victoria in 1986.

In Melbourne, Marie worked at St Vincent’s Hospital and completed her intensive care course. She stayed at St Vincent’s for about 15 years, completing her nursing degree and working in different roles, including 10 years as unit manager for the cardiothoracic ward at the hospital.

In 2001 Marie left St Vincent’s to take up the role of Director of Nursing at Broadmeadows Health Service in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

“It was a brand new facility which was something different for the people of Broadmeadows, which is in a low socio-economic area,” she says. “And it was an interesting role because there was a lot of change happening across health services in Victoria at that time.”

In 2011, Marie completed her Masters in Public Health and it was then that she found herself looking for something new.

“I was just ready for a change,” she says. “The hospital and health care sector is very frenetic and resource-poor and I was looking for something that was more in the community, and that’s when the role of Health and Well-being Coordinator with the Good Samaritans came up.”

Marie was no stranger to the Good Sams, having been on the board of the Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne for some years. Her aunt, Josie Logan, is also a Sister of the Good Samaritan.

“It was following the AGM for the Good Samaritan Inn in 2011 that Sister Veronica Hoey, whom I had known through a local parish connection previously, suggested that I might be interested in a new role that had been created for the congregation and which was soon to be advertised. It was serendipitous really.”

“It was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for where I could utilise my background and experience in the health industry and my connection with the congregation – a fantastic opportunity.”

Marie says the Good Sams had already employed health care consultants to work with the sisters in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, but this new role had a broader brief, to support the congregational leader and her council around future planning for health and well-being, including the demands of an ageing congregation.

“So the health consultants support the sisters on a day-to-day basis and I’m their go-to person, with support from Sister Veronica Hoey who has responsibility within the congregation for health and well-being,” says Marie.

“It’s an evolving role, and that evolution is challenging and stimulating in itself.”

“There are, of course, significant issues around ageing and the physical diminishment that comes with that, but what’s good about the congregation is that there is a health care framework to ensure that the best processes and support structures are set up for the changing needs of each sister.”

Among those structures is the Good Samaritan Ministry of Care, where sisters, known as primary carers, take on the role of pastoral support for older sisters who have transitioned to aged care. These sisters work closely with the health care consultants in meeting the needs of the sisters.

“So there are layers of care and support, which is wonderful,” says Marie.

“And my job is to ensure that all avenues of communication are open and relevant people are linked into the issues that arise.”

“It’s a very complex, but very satisfying job, and the relationships that happen with individual sisters and with communities make it very special.”

Marie says the Good Samaritan Sisters have been very welcoming to her and supportive of the role.

“I’ve been humbled by the trust that comes from it,” she says.

“You have your moments, of course, and tough situations, but predominantly the sisters are very gracious in their capacity to allow you in to their lives and to their vulnerability and it’s that trust that means so much.

“Sometimes the sisters who are vulnerable in their ageing or poor health begin to open up and have deep conversations with you. It’s that element of care and support which makes nursing such a fulfilling profession and you’re able to do a bit more of that in this role.”

Marie says that in the five years that she has been in the role, she has noticed an increase in the frailty of some of the sisters as well as an increased demand for the nurses’ care and support.

“So that raises issues for us going forward, such as making sure we can tap into the resources, and connections, and support that we need,” she says.

“And we always have to remember the particular environment in which we’re working so that we are accessing and providing services in the context of the religious women that we’re supporting.

“In the future with fewer young sisters, we will need to look at broadening these caring roles with lay people as we continue to grapple with and discuss plans for the future.”

Marie says ageing is not the only challenge facing her and her team though, with different issues facing the sisters in Japan, Kiribati and the Philippines, many of whom are younger.

Having been brought up in a Catholic family, Marie says she has always had a “robust spirituality”, but her role with the Good Sams has deepened her spirituality even further.

“I’ve been linked in with the Christian Meditation Community for some time, which has Benedictine roots, and I was exposed to Good Samaritan Benedictine spirituality through my work with the Good Sam Inn,” she says.

“But in the context of this role and the formation that comes with it, it has certainly deepened that aspect of my spirituality somewhat. One of the big things in Benedictine spirituality is humility, and I’m constantly amazed at the simplicity and humility displayed in the daily life of the sisters and to be exposed to that daily does have an impact on your own life.”

About 18 months ago, Marie and her colleagues took a small group of elderly sisters away to the Yarra Valley in Victoria for two nights.

“We had some of the most precious moments there with these fine women,” she says. “It was wonderful to sit back as they reminisced and talked and laughed. It was just beautiful.

“I felt really privileged to be there with them. These experiences are what make this role such an enjoyable one.”

* Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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