Elaine Walley, a Yamatji Elder from the Western Australian community of Three Springs near Geraldton, is the first Aboriginal woman to become a Good Samaritan Oblate.
During a ceremony in Perth last month, Elaine and three other WA women – Bev Agar, Kathy Beeck and Jan Gorza – formalised their commitment as Good Samaritan Oblates. In doing so, they made a public commitment to deepen their spiritual lives in the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition and are now part of the almost 70-strong group of Good Samaritan Oblates across Australia.
“I know it’s a big thing and I’m very privileged that it’s me that has done it, Elaine told The Good Oil.
“I just hope some of the other Aboriginal people, whether they be in West Australia or over in the east, take up this course as well.”
Elaine first encountered the Good Samaritan Sisters about eight years ago when she met Sister Anna Warlow at the House of Welcome, a community outreach initiative in Three Springs, which provides care and support for Indigenous, rural and mining families.
Since then, Elaine has become a member of the Good Samaritan Rural Outreach Team. Together with Anna and fellow oblate, Kathy Beeck, the team provides support for the liturgical life of small, isolated communities in the wheatbelt of mid-western WA, as well as offering retreats and gatherings, especially for women.
Elaine agrees that being a Good Sam Oblate complements her work with the Good Sam Rural Outreach Team.
“I really enjoy doing this with the Good Sams and I find peace by doing it,” she said.
Bev Agar, who recently retired with her husband to the WA coastal community of Dongara, having lived most of her life inland at Morawa (near Three Springs), has also come to the Good Sam oblate movement through a connection with Anna. The two met about 11 years ago in the early years of Anna’s ministry supporting remote parishes, like Morawa, without resident priests.
“She was great value for us, explaining the Gospels to us, and really opened our minds up,” said Bev.
“From there she introduced us to lectio divina – and that’s where my faith journey really took off on a much deeper level. The Gospels really started to speak to me in a deeper way and my spiritual life escalated from there.”
For Bev, discovering the Rule of St Benedict has been “awesome”. “When I started to read the Rule, I was just so absorbed by it; I couldn’t get enough of it. And you know, you’re supposed to slow yourself down and just read bit by bit – well I was going full bore ahead,” she laughed.
Bev said her faith journey has been “quite a lonely one”, but now she’s an oblate, she no longer feels that’s the case.
“I’ve got people on the same path who are accepting of me and my faith, and that’s pretty important as you’re getting older,” she said.
Both Bev and Elaine described last month’s oblate ceremony as a “beautiful” service. Among those gathered were family and friends of Bev, Elaine, Jan and Kathy, Good Samaritan Sisters, including Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon, and a group of Good Sam Oblates who travelled from other parts of Australia.
“I felt so humbled that those other oblates from the eastern states came over for the evening,” said Bev. “We knew a couple were coming but I didn’t expect there to be quite as many as there was.”
Sister Anna Warlow is delighted about the recent celebration and the development of the oblate movement in WA, describing it as one of the best weeks she’s had during her 13 years of ministry in WA.
“I think it’s been great. I’d say it’s been happening over about 11 years. I think that the strength of it is that I’ve been meeting with these people in their little towns in different ways over the years, and then those who have been looking for something deeper and really seeking to strengthen their own faith life, have gravitated towards this,” she explained.
“Because I use our Good Sam history, our Good Sam way of life and the Rule of Benedict often in our programs, they’re struck by it, that’s what has encouraged them.”
Anna is moved by “the sincerity and the depth of the faith” of the women and the strength of their commitment – something she believes other women are drawn to.
For Anna, the oblate movement in WA is growing in a way that she would never have thought possible.
“It’s something that is just flowering absolutely beautifully,” she said.