Four Catholic women will receive both financial and personal mentoring support in their theological studies this year thanks to a Good Samaritan scholarship program. The women spoke to Debra Vermeer.
The Good Samaritan Study and Mentoring (SAM) Leadership Program aims to promote women’s leadership within the Church. It offers support to mature-aged (age 30+) Catholic women as they undertake undergraduate or postgraduate theological or spiritual study at a recognised theological institution.
Sisters of the Good Samaritan Spirituality and Mission Animator, Dr Monica Dutton, says the SAM program honours the very foundations of the Good Sams.
“Since its foundation and throughout their 160+ year history, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan have been committed to the flourishing of women,” she says. “The Sisters have educated girls and women from preschool to tertiary levels. They have also been engaged in adult education and adult faith formation.”
Monica says the Sisters have not only educated women, but also accompanied them as mentors, counsellors, spiritual directors and friends.
“The Good Samaritan Sisters recognise the need for women’s leadership within the Church, because only when women contribute their experience and wisdom can the Church truly fulfil God’s mission. The Church suffers when women’s gifts are not called upon,” she says.
A core component of the program is the opportunity for regular personal support, spiritual direction and/or mentoring. Participants will also have the opportunity to gather twice a year to share their experiences and to explore questions arising from their study in conversation with experienced women leaders in the Church.
Anita Biddle from Sydney is one of this year’s participants in the SAM program and says she was inspired to apply for the program because of the impact of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
“I was inspired by the Good Sams’ actions of outwardly thinking about how they can reach the wider community with a focus on women, and the support they can offer so that personal growth occurs,” she says.
“At the same time the program empowers women to carry forward some of that charism that the Good Sams espouse, which I would hope I reflect in the way I interact with others and how I go about my work and everyday tasks.”
Through the support of the SAM program, Anita aims to complete the Graduate Diploma in Theology, which will enable her to enrol for the Licentiate in Canon Law through the Broken Bay Institute. She says this will assist with her professional role as the Safeguarding Officer for the chancery and parishes of the Diocese of Broken Bay.
“By engaging with this study, I hope I will be provided the opportunity to analyse the text of canon law in light of women and children’s rights and how these are reflected and represented in canon law – and if not, then to consider how they might be,” she says.
“Also, my role as Safeguarding Officer gives me the opportunity to provide safeguarding education to both clergy and parish communities, therefore, greater depth of knowledge in theology and canon law can only strengthen my message, making it relevant to the audience and applicable to the actions of developing a culture where communities of safety and care are paramount.”
Anita says that on a personal level, she hopes to connect with people who encourage her to think and reflect on her own spirituality and its relevance to the work she does.
“I also just want to experience empowering and inspiring women of the Catholic Church and listen to their thoughts and views of a contemporary Church.”
Jaren Malales who lives in Bacolod City, the Philippines, says she was invited by Sister Donna Ferrer SGS to consider the SAM program.
Jaren works at the University of St La Salle in Bacolod as a Senior Office Associate and actively participates in her parish as a member of the Parish Core Group and as Youth Adviser in the Youth Ministry.
She is planning to pursue the Master of Arts in Religious Studies/Education at the University of San Augustin in Iloilo City and says the study will give her a firm foundation for her work and ministry.
“As a youth adviser in the parish and as a catechist, my further studies will give me a deeper faith and more knowledge which I can share with our youth in the Church, as well as a new approach to teaching,” she says.
“My hopes are that I can contribute to the start of change, providing a new approach to teaching, a youthful way of teaching, and have confidence in teaching since I will have formal study in my Master’s degree.
“I hope I can help in propagating evangelisation to the youth and to the rest of my community in and out of the parish.”
Bernadette Ho from Sydney says she was first alerted to the possibility of taking part in the SAM program by her former parish priest and employer at Our Lady of Dolours Parish in Chatswood, Fr Jim McKeon.
“I had been praying for and desiring a mentor within my ministry and was initially attracted to the accompaniment aspect of the scholarship,” she says.
Bernadette is enrolled in a Master of Theology degree at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
She says her most important and rewarding vocation is being mother to five beautiful children. Her professional background is in occupational therapy, however, in recent years she felt a call to move into ministry and took up an opportunity to serve in a welcoming and hospitality ministry at Our Lady of Dolours. She currently supports Monica Dutton in her role with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan on a part-time basis and is open to where God leads her through her studies.
“I do recognise that I possess a heart for evangelisation, relationship and a deep love of the Church. I possess a passion for renewal and am excited by invitational programs that help people discover and grow in relationship to God,” she says.
“My deepest desire is to continue to deepen my relationship with God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to continue to experience God’s love for me.”
Amy Sullivan from Orange in the Central West of New South Wales says that when she heard of the SAM scholarship she was struck by the mentoring aspect of the program.
“I am really looking forward to building relationships with and gaining insight from other women who are living their faith through their work and ministry,” she says. “I also hope to be able to share my experience of leadership as a woman in a rural parish with others.”
Amy is Director of Ministries for the Parish of St Mary and St Joseph in Orange. She is studying for a Master of Theological Studies with the Australian Catholic University.
She says that being part of the Ministry Formation Program with the Diocese of Bathurst, which involved theological, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation, inspired her to continue studying and pursue her love of learning about her faith.
“My studies will help give me a solid theological foundation for my role,” she says.
“My hopes are to continue on my journey of faith, to learn and experience what God has in store for me; to build relationships with others in the program and to gain practical and personal insight that will help me to serve the people of God in Orange.”