My life has been a series of ‘calls’. I felt called to religious life, called to married life and called to oblate life as a Pastoral Leader, writes Cathy Jones.
The Catholic faith has been a constant throughout my life. From growing up in a big Catholic family and on a journey with the Good Samaritans spanning several decades, I have been nurtured, supported and challenged. Recently, I was appointed the first lay Pastoral Leader of the Inland Parish in the Diocese of Geraldton. My appointment follows the departure of Good Samaritan Sister Geraldine Boylan after 20 years in the parish.
I grew up in Melbourne with my mother, Mary, father, George, five sisters and two brothers. We went to Mass each Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation, but we didn’t have family prayer or rosary or prayer at mealtimes. My mother was a very reserved person, so her faith was deeply personal; she prayed the rosary and other prayers alone. She also had a mantra, “God give me strength!” which she needed with eight loud and active children and a husband who worked long hours to keep our family fed and clothed.
I attended Good Samaritan schools before moving on to Mercy Teachers’ College to study primary school teaching. Both my mother and the Good Samaritans who taught me nurtured my faith, but I also believe that faith is a gift. From when I was in Grade 3 at primary school, I began attending morning Mass while the rest of my family stayed at home.
The call to religious life was always in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t sure that it was what I wanted. Getting married and having children seemed like a pretty good idea too! I taught for 18 months before entering the Good Samaritans in July 1979. It seemed a big decision as entering religious life wasn’t a popular choice in the late 70s.
In Sydney, I did my postulancy with the Marrickville community and my novitiate in Pennant Hills. I had Good Samaritan companions who nurtured, supported and challenged me to grow in my faith and as a person.
As a Good Samaritan Sister, I taught at primary schools in New South Wales and South Australia. In my last year at Morphett Vale, I was overcome with tears during the Mass for Mother’s Day. Parishioners suggested I was missing my mother but later, I realised my tears were not because I missed my mother but because I missed not being a mother.
I was fascinated with the outback of Western Australia and would attend any presentation concerning Mt Magnet and the Good Samaritan involvement in the area over the past 33 years. After Sister Val Deakin left the parish to learn more about Aboriginal ministry, I applied and so came to Mt Magnet to help write a family faith program. We also supported the parish priest, Fr Bertus van der Geest MHM when he celebrated Mass each weekend.
Our Inland Parish comprises three towns: Mt Magnet is the most southerly town about 560 kilometers north of Perth, Cue is 80 kilometers north of Mt Magnet and Meekatharra is another 120 kilometers north of Cue. The main industries are mining and pastoral, although most of the sheep stations are now running cattle or have de-stocked.
The Jones family on Boogardie Station was a prominent family in the Catholic community. Josie and Henry had six children. Two sons worked on the station: Paul, married to Janet and with three small children, and David, who was single. Over time, I grew closer to David and thus began a period of turmoil for me. David’s qualities of generosity, honesty, great sense of humour, loyalty to family and the property were attractive attributes and he saw something in me that struck a chord.
This was a time of much walking among the wildflowers, praying wholeheartedly and reflecting deeply. I wanted to do God’s will and thought this meant staying a Good Samaritan Sister, but I was not at peace. A friend suggested that God wanted me to be happy. Those words were a revelation! I spent that night in prayer, hoping and listening for a word from God. During the night I made the decision to ask for leave from the Good Samaritans. Afterwards, I felt an utter peace and affirmed that I had made the right decision. The day I decided to ask for leave was 15 July – the anniversary of the day I had entered the Good Samaritans. This brought me comfort.
On 1 August 1993, David and I were married in St Joseph’s Church in Collingwood by Fr Michael Casey who had been my chaplain at teachers’ college and had remained a friend and mentor. Community life as a Good Samaritan prepared me well for generational family life on the Jones family sheep station. We lived with his parents and later, his two younger brothers. David and I had four boys – Connor, Gerard, Rhys and Anthony.
I continued to teach except for a four-year break when the boys were little. Later, they boarded at Mazenod College, administered by OMI priests in Lesmurdie, Perth. This was their first experience of a Catholic education and city life. There were ups and downs but generally we all survived the boys’ absence during school terms.
In August 2011, the boys and I were given the shocking news that David had been killed in a car accident. From now on there would always be one family member missing. Nevertheless, life goes on and we have managed to keep going and growing. God never gives us more than we can handle. That knowledge kept me going, along with support from family and friends. In 2014, I was asked to be acting principal at Cue Primary School for six weeks and then principal for five years.
Now I am embarking on a new journey and a new adventure to see where God takes me. The charism of the Good Samaritans and the Benedictine tradition has stayed with me. The West Australian oblates are a beautiful group of women who are amazingly supportive and great friends. Being a Good Samaritan oblate also provides nourishment for my faith and relationship with our triune God through access to reading materials, meeting with other oblates and having input from various people who come to Perth to work with the oblates.
As the new Pastoral Leader, I am trying to establish a routine and rhythm to best cater for each of the towns in the parish. Being in a rural and somewhat remote community has joys and difficulties. There is the joy of knowing all the parishioners and being with them in times of joy and sorrow. The difficulty comes with the vastness of the parish and having to wrestle with giving justly of my time to Meekatharra and Cue for liturgy and pastoral care. This is also mixed with my commitment to school chaplaincy.
It is not always possible for a priest from Geraldton to celebrate Eucharist on a regular Sunday each month. With the tyranny of distance and an intermittent digital service, I often use text messaging to keep the towns that do not have a weekly service informed.
When I was discerning the change from school principal to Pastoral Leader, a good friend Pastor Geoff said, “if God is in it, all will be fine!” I believe that when I am tuned in to God I am in the right place and carrying out God’s mission.
I am forever grateful for my lifelong association with the Good Samaritans and all they have done to nurture and support me. At this time of being Pastoral Leader especially, the sisters and oblates have offered to journey with me in this new way of being, offering both spiritual and financial support.