Q&A with Bridget Kennelly

South Australian teacher Bridget Kennelly recently spent a month living and working with the Good Samaritan Sisters in Kiribati. It wasn’t her first visit to Kiribati, though. Last year Bridget was one of 12 teachers from South Australia who participated in a 12-day outreach experience in Kiribati.

Known as the “Kiribati Commitment”, a special partnership launched in 2015 between Catholic Education in the Port Pirie Diocese and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, the outreach program aims to provide young teachers in the Port Pirie Diocese with an opportunity to live and work alongside the Good Samaritan Sisters in Kiribati and to be immersed in broader community life.

Bridget found last year’s experience so good – “brilliant” in fact – that during her long-service leave from school this year, she returned for a month. We caught up with Bridget recently to find out about her recent visit to Kiribati.

How did you find your month-long experience in Kiribati with the sisters and connecting with the local people and place?

Bridget: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kiribati. I find it hard to put into words as it was such a moving and influential time for me. It was a very different experience to being in Kiribati the last time (part of the Port Pirie Diocese Kiribati Commitment in July 2016). Going by myself this time as part of my long-service leave from my teaching role at St James School, Jamestown, enabled me to be engaged more personally in the daily life of the sisters and to establish closer relationships with the sisters and the iKiribati people.”

What was the purpose of this extended visit/experience?

Bridget: “The purpose of my visit was to have a ‘renewal time’ from my 15-year teaching career: [to] explore and enrich my own faith journey; renew my perspective on life; and to experience the sisters’ way of life, both spiritually and practically. It was a time of personal reflection and to learn from the iKiribati people and the rich culture they have. I wanted to offer my time and talents to the iKiribati people, yet I found they offered far more in return, in the way they taught me simplicity, generosity and humility more than I could have imagined.”

What did you do while you were there?

Bridget: “While I was in Kiribati, I spent two weeks with the sisters at Temaiku, and two-and-a-half weeks with the sisters at Abaokoro. Whilst at Temaiku, I took part in their community ministry: praying Lectio Divina in a variety of contexts; visiting the prison, the mental health ward; praying with the local enquirers; and various other community works. I particularly enjoyed being part of the ‘Faith and Light’ ministry, bringing together the disabled people from South Tarawa in prayer and community. I was also there for the Marist brothers’ 200th anniversary, of which the Good Sams attended and celebrated with the Marist and OLSH communities this significant milestone.”

“At Abaokoro I participated in their daily pre-school ministry, and various works around the Abaokoro convent. I also spent time with the pre-novices, teaching them English and supporting them in their faith journey. I visited the local primary school and junior secondary school with the pre-novices for religious instruction. We also had time together to relax with fishing, swimming, talking and learning from each other and time with the villagers, joining them for Lectio Divina and various community celebrations (1st birthday and 21st birthday). I was fortunate to be at Abaokoro for their ‘cultural day’, where the children marched and took part in traditional games and events.

“Each and every day in Kiribati was a joy, beginning with morning prayer together, and ending with evening prayer together, giving thanks and praise to God for each new day. We enjoyed our evenings with many a game of Rummiking and Uno and shared so many laughs and conversations together, getting to know each other more and sharing our lives and experiences.”

How has this experience impacted on you, shaped you? Has it shaped any future directions for you?

Bridget: “This experience has had an enormous impact on me. ‘To live happily and simply’ is the most succinct way I can put what I learnt from the people of Kiribati. The iKiribati people are only too happy to welcome you and to make you feel at ease. The sisters have a charism of such enormous hospitality and compassion. I was so refreshed by the unconditional love they have for everyone: each other; the most disadvantaged in the community; the children and adults they work with and see each day; and any visitors they have. The sisters truly act out the Parable of the Good Samaritan and also Matthew 25:40 ‘Whatever you do to the least of my people you do it to me’, in some of their most significant ministry to the disadvantaged, such as the disabled, the prisoners and the elderly, and the children. I look forward in the future to recognising and answering to any opportunities which may arise in answering God’s call to the disadvantaged and to be open and compassionate to all, be this in Kiribati, in my own community or elsewhere.

“I have come back to Australia with fresh eyes, yet again. My heart has a very special place for the sisters and the people in Kiribati. They opened my eyes, and my heart from my last visit in 2016; from this visit, it is only ‘more’ open now to the call of God. The sisters in Kiribati are such a breath of fresh air in a busy world. Their hearts shine with compassion and love for all they meet and I feel truly blessed to have experienced the ‘Hands of God’ in Kiribati through my stay with the sisters.”