April 2016

A professional role that’s deepened Marie’s spirituality

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.

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

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

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