When Good Samaritan Sisters Elizabeth Brennan and Christine Manning look back on their time at the Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills, it is with deep gratitude for the people they met and the partnerships they forged over the years, but they are also looking to the future with hope and excitement.
Christine finished her role as Deputy Director of the Centre in December and Elizabeth steps down from her role as Director this month.
Their departure heralds a new chapter in the long history of the 90-year-old site, which served for many decades as the Good Samaritan Sisters’ novitiate before taking on its new persona as a retreat, spirituality and conference centre.
From early June, the new Director of the Mount St Benedict (MSB) Centre will be Ms Natalie Acton, the first lay person to hold the position. For the past four years, Natalie has been working for the Mercy Ethos Office of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea. She was previously the coordinator of the Broken Bay Diocesan Synod and has a close connection with the MSB Centre, having been a member of the Advisory Committee in planning for its future.
“It’s been a wonderful 11 years, but we are certainly excited and hopeful about the next stage for the Centre,” said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and Christine took on their roles at the MSB Centre in 2006 and 2007, following a review of all the Congregation’s centres.
“The Congregation made a deliberate decision at that time to redirect Mount St Benedict and we were very blessed to be a part of that,” Elizabeth said.
Their first task was to work on a new vision statement for the Centre, in which they identified that it would offer hospitality, education and support for life’s journey by sharing its Benedictine traditions and resources.
Since then, the Centre has become known as an oasis of hospitality and peace for a huge range of groups and individuals who’ve passed through its doors.
“We have certainly been able to welcome many different groups of people,” Elizabeth said.
“Generally, they have been people seeking and searching for something, for a deeper spirituality, for something more in life.
“For me, that’s been the most enriching thing, meeting these people who are yearning and searching and thirsting for the ‘more’ of life. They come to the Centre to reflect on their lives and nurture their spirits so that they can live life to the fullest.”
Among those who come to use the Centre are Catholic Education Offices from various dioceses, who hold teacher and staff formation days. A special partnership also exists with Good Samaritan Education (GSE), whose teachers, mission leaders and others make use of the Centre for their formation.
The Centre is home to reflection and planning days for parishes (including Anglican and Uniting Churches and Asian Christian Communities), school boards and an enormous range of spiritual and community groups.
Religious congregations make good use of the Centre, including the Sisters of the Good Samaritan themselves, who hold formation and reflection days, retreats, renewal, planning and governance days there. The well-stocked theological and spiritual library also attracts regular visitors.
“We have developed many good partnerships and have really tried to foster an atmosphere of hospitality and peace in the place,” Christine said.
“There’s something about the beautiful grounds and the beauty of this building, something stable and grounded that can hold the prayer, commitment and fidelity of all these years here, all the lives that make up our 90-year history.”
Along with the groups and individuals who use the Centre, both Elizabeth and Christine said they valued the excellent working relationship with colleagues and volunteers.
Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon said Elizabeth and Christine had brought a wonderful spirit of hospitality to the Centre.
“There is always a welcome at the door and then beyond,” she said. “Both women carry a deep spirituality in the Benedictine tradition which overflows to those who experience time at the Centre.
“I have great confidence as the Centre moves to a new phase because of the grounding and atmosphere that Elizabeth and Christine have given to their ministry of sharing spiritually and how they have welcomed those who hunger for more.”
Elizabeth and Christine said they would still have plenty to keep them occupied in other areas of ministry. Elizabeth will continue her work in liturgical consultation and Christine will continue teaching the Rule of St Benedict to Good Samaritan novices, coordinating an Oblate group, as well as contributing in formation and governance for GSE.
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