April 2024

Author and educator Ann Rennie: ‘I thank God for whatever the day holds’

For Ann Rennie – writer, “mad reader”, educator and book author – the invitation to speak at The Good Oil Writers’ Workshop next month came as “a beautiful surprise” and it took her no time at all to say Yes.

By Debra Vermeer

Ann said she is at a stage in her life when saying Yes to unexpected invitations is opening up a range of new experiences and adventures.

“Every day when I get up, I thank God for whatever the day holds,” she said. “So, when this invitation to speak at the Writers’ Workshop came along, I was delighted. It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk about the thing that is my passion, writing.

“I’m really looking forward to being a part of the day, along with Michael McGirr, whom I know, and sharing some of my experience and insight into writing and being published. It will be lovely.”

Ann is the published author of three books and countless articles in major metropolitan newspapers, and Catholic media outlets. She also teaches English and Religious Education at Genazzano FCJ College in Melbourne, which is the same Catholic school that she, her mother and daughter attended.

Born in England, where her parents were working at the time, the family moved back to Melbourne when she was just three months old, and she grew up there with her six siblings.

She said she had a “fantastic experience” as a student at Genazzano and developed a strong relationship with the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) Sisters.

“My time at school with the Sisters was so formative for me and profound,” she said. “I’m now an FCJ Companion in Mission (lay associate), which is a great joy for me.”

After school, Ann obtained an Arts Degree at Melbourne University and then took a job with the Victorian Ministry of Housing for five years doing tenancy work on the public housing estates.

“Coming from Kew, a middle-class suburb, it was a really eye-opening experience; to see how others lived, the reality of other lives,” she said.

When she was 26, Ann headed overseas and ended up living in the UK for eight years, doing a range of jobs, including picking daffodils and singing in a rock band.

During that time, she wrote long letters home and found this life giving. She returned to Melbourne at around age 35 and enrolled in a professional writing and editing course.

“I met my husband, Robert, in that course, and he proposed to me by letter, slipped across the back of the classroom. It was so romantic!” she said.

Keen to pursue her writing, but realising the need for more regular employment, Ann completed a Diploma of Education and started teaching. Over the years this was followed by a Master’s in Religious Education and a Master’s in Educational Leadership.

It was in the classroom, while teaching Year 11 English at Mater Christi College, Belgrave in the late 1990s that she wrote her first piece destined to be published.

“I had asked the girls to write something,” she said. “And I’m a great one for modelling what you are teaching, so I decided to do the writing exercise with them.

“I want them to see the whole process – not only the writing, but the refining of a written piece, being your own editor. I really think it’s important for the students to see you working through it, struggling to find the right words, polishing what you’ve written, but eventually you come up with your best effort.

“I always teach my students the three Ps – Punctuate, Proofread and Polish. And I tell them that when you write something, your name is on it, but also, your soul is in it, so you want it to be your best effort.”

After writing the piece with her students, Ann submitted it to The Age newspaper, and they published her article. The Age (and its syndicated papers in other states) has continued to publish several of her articles each year.

In 2010, Ann started working with Garratt Publishing on a book of prayers and reflections published annually for teachers. She also contributed to a book on Pope Francis.

Her other published books include The Secret Garden of Spirituality, with Michelle Anderson; a book written for the FCJ Sisters, called Grit and Grace, about their foundress, the Venerable Marie-Madeleine d’Houët; and a couple of small projects for other people.

Author and educator Ann Rennie. Image supplied.

In 2021, she published Blessed: Meditations on a Life of Small Wonders (Laneway Press), a book of encouragement born during the COVID-19 pandemic and described as “a miscellany of musings, ranging from the serious to the whimsical and the spiritual to the serendipitous”.

Most recently, Ann has co-authored a book with Dr Bernadette Mercieca, called Witness, Specialist, Moderator: The Critical Role of Catholic Educators in Our Changing World (Garratt Publishing).

“It’s a book for RE teachers,” she said. “And it was a wonderful experience working with Bernadette, it just flowed.

“This book is giving some of our own experience and also looking to the future. We needed to say, at the end of our careers in Catholic education, who are going to be the people keeping the faith alive in the future? We know many young people are not going to Church. They are very good people, but they are not practising the faith, so we’re not getting many witnesses through into the classroom.

“So, the book explores that role of witness, as well as the role of specialist religious educator and the role of moderator, of being in dialogue with the secular world, and asks, how are we going to navigate the times? How are we going to invite people in to hear our story, to be respectful of our story, even if they don’t take it up, without being Bible-thumping? It’s a kind of passing the baton on to the next generation and helping to propose the faith as a deep anchor for modern times.”

Over the years, Ann’s writing has appeared in many outlets, including Madonna magazine, a regular column in Australian Catholics magazine, and contributions to parish columns. Apart from her ‘Godly writing’, Ann’s travel writing has also been published in national newspapers.

Her latest adventure is a fortnightly radio show on Radio Maria, a Catholic digital radio station based in Melbourne.

“I’m at a stage in life when more often than not I’m saying Yes to things, rather than No,” she said.

“I find I don’t have to care as much what other people think, so I’m being a bit more self-directed about things that matter, which is wonderful.

“I’m really looking forward to saying even more Yeses to the invitations that come my way.”

There is no cost to attend The Good Oil Writers’ Workshop on 29 May 2024 in Sydney, however, places are strictly limited. Registration closes on 17 May. For more information and to register, click here

Debra Vermeer

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

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