During their 26th Chapter Gathering at St Joseph’s Retreat and Spirituality Centre, Baulkham Hills, in Sydney, from September 24 until October 2, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan discerned a new Statement of Directions and elected a new leadership team for the next six years.
BY Stephanie Thomas
Of the 208 Good Samaritan Sisters who live and minister in Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Kiribati, 115 were present for the nine-day Gathering which explored issues of importance for the world, the Church and the congregation now and into the future.
The newly-elected leadership team responsible for the governance of the congregation until 2023 is Congregational Leader, Sister Patty Fawkner, and the Members of Council are Sisters Catherine McCahill, Meg Kahler, Marella Rebgetz and Veronica McCluskie.
“I’m humbled to be called by my Sisters to this ministry of leadership, but also, I’d have to say that I’m proud to be asked to lead this congregation which I love so dearly,” said Sister Patty Fawkner.
“I’m aware that leadership at this time in our world and in our Church is a mixed blessing. Organisations evolve to greater complexity, and this is true for us as Good Samaritans even though we are diminishing in numbers.
“So I’m amazed at how much at peace I feel. I know that I have the love and prayerful support of my Sisters and that fills me with confidence.”
Patty said the congregation’s new Statement of Directions for the next six years, which grew from a 15-month period of dialogue and discernment, is faithful to the Good Samaritan Sisters’ charism and tradition of ‘seeking God and being neighbour’, and focussed on the needs of the contemporary world.
“As Good Samaritans, we listen to the Spirit calling us to act boldly and courageously: nurturing a culture of mutuality; committing ourselves to ecological conversion; fostering an ecclesial community; embracing God’s mission in partnership,” the Sisters’ 2017-2023 Statement of Directions said.
“[This Statement] challenges us to work in partnership to respond to the needs of those people who are often left on the margins of society’s care and concern. This includes care for our fragile planet and our bruised and wounded Church,” said Patty.
“We recognise the conflict and animosity that exists between nations and sectors of society and we want to nurture a culture of mutuality, starting with ourselves.”
“This Statement is a vision for us, so we will need to spend time unpacking it and exploring its implications for our priorities, policies and projects. We are a small congregation… but we do have human and other resources to contribute to God’s mission.”
Patty described the overall experience of the Chapter Gathering, which was facilitated by two US-based process consultants, Donna Fyffe and Catherine Schneider OSF, as “fresh, engaging, energising and outward-focussed”.
“I was struck there was never any talk of diminishment. We were realistic about our capacity, but eager to contribute in whatever ways we could to God’s mission,” said Patty.
“There was a strong feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ and we want to be mutually responsible for our life and mission.”
Sister Judy Margetts of Palm Island in North Queensland said the Chapter Gathering was “an experience of learning, of engaging, prayerful listening and struggling to articulate”.
“We are such ‘a mixed bag’, and it is wonderful that we can do it – all of us – come up with a Statement of Directions and elect a Superior and Council, and each really feel a vital part of the process,” said Judy.
“For that I thank [Sister] Clare [Condon] and the outgoing Council, the Chapter Planning Committee, the contribution of all sisters, partners, oblates and friends in the lead-up to the Gathering, and the Chapter facilitators, Donna and Catherine.”
That spirit of inclusive engagement with participants in the Chapter process was strongly evident for Sister Margaret Ann Connelly of Adelaide.
“It was a wonderful experience, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I think the thing that struck me was how interactive it was… The whole way that we were engaged was wonderful.”
For the first time, a representative group of 22 oblates and ministry colleagues participated in part of the Chapter Gathering and were invited to collaborate with the Sisters in discerning the future directions for the mission of the congregation.
“I had a sense that this was a great step out in faith and courage for the Sisters,” said Natalie Acton, Director of the Mount St Benedict Centre in Sydney.
“I felt welcomed by everyone that I engaged with and was struck by the intent listening and honest sharing that I witnessed in the group discussions, which to me emerged from the deep engagement and commitment in this process for all who were there, and a deeply held desire to be attentive to the movement of God’s Spirit at this time.”
Natalie said a highlight of the Gathering was the panel discussion on cosmology which included four experts from the fields of theology, climate change, Scripture and Indigenous culture and spirituality. The panellists were Jess Sinnott, an Aboriginal Wailwan and Yuin woman, and the Education Officer at Koori Kinnections Aboriginal Cultural Education Centre; Denis Edwards, an Adelaide priest and theologian who has long been engaged in the dialogue between science and religion; Maria Tiimon, an iKiribati woman and the Outreach Officer for the Pacific Calling Partnership; and Catherine McCahill, a Good Samaritan Sister, scripture scholar, theologian and chair of the Good Samaritan Creation Resource Team.
“The panel process allowed for an interplay of ideas and understandings held about our relatedness to God, each other and all creation from ancient wisdom to contemporary theology,” said Natalie.
“I again was able to appreciate how the spirituality of people of the land, such as the Australian Aboriginal people and the people of Kiribati have so much to offer us in terms of rediscovering our sense of oneness with all things and how that may be a source of inspiration for our own journeys of continued ecological conversion.”
The experiences of prayer and ritual which punctuated each day of the Chapter Gathering were a highlight for Sister Margaret Ann Connelly. So too was Bishop Vincent Long’s homily at the opening Eucharist of the Chapter [download a copy here].
“Bishop Vincent Long’s homily was very thought-provoking. In fact, the first thing I did when I came home was download a copy of it. I thought, ‘I need to have a look at that again’. It was very challenging and very honest and direct to religious women,” said Margaret Ann.
Sister Judy Margetts said a “special aspect” of the Chapter Gathering was being a ‘companion’ to a sister not able to attend the Gathering.
“Each day I was able to speak with my companion, Sister Katie Lee, and tap into her interest and enthusiasm for the Chapter Gathering as she and the sisters at Carseldine, in Brisbane, cheered us on with their prayerful and loving support,” said Judy.
The Sisters of the Good Samaritan will come together for their next Chapter Gathering in 2023.
“I was reflecting the other day and I thought, in six years’ time I’ll be 80. I hope I can still go to the Chapter,” laughed Margaret Ann.
“What will the world look like? What will be the issues that we’ll be dealing with then?”