May 2024

Good Samaritan Study and Mentoring Program goes from strength to strength

More women than ever before are taking part in the Good Samaritan Study and Mentoring (SAM) Program this year, with 10 women receiving full scholarships and another eight receiving support to assist in their studies.

Sisters of the Good Samaritan Spirituality and Mission Animation Leader, Monica Dutton, said the Program, which aims to promote women’s leadership within the Church, had continued to gain momentum over its four years of operation, expanding from four scholars in the first year to 18 in its fourth year.

“We have had increased numbers and interest every year, which has resulted in a broader scope of people who are aware of the opportunity,” Monica said.

“The program started under the leadership of Sister Patty Fawkner SGS, and it’s wonderful that the new Superior, Sister Catherine McCahill SGS, and her Council have really taken it up and supported it. The funding has increased significantly, allowing us to accept a greater number of scholars this year.

“So, we have 10 women on full scholarships, which includes funding for their studies, mentoring and spiritual direction. The selection panel was so impressed by the calibre of people who would be very worthy recipients that we were able to offer partial support to eight more women to help them continue with the courses they are doing.”

Monica said it was great to have the SAM Program participants, who come from various parts of Australia and overseas, gather together at the Good Samaritan Centre in Glebe last month.

The gathering began on Friday with Evening Prayer, followed by a dinner. On Saturday, scripture scholar Mary Coloe PBVM presented to the group on ‘Women in the Gospel of John’. Other presentations included Sister Meg Kahler SGS speaking on the Good Samaritan-Benedictine tradition, and the Director of Operations for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Natalie Acton, who spoke on the topic of Wisdom Women she had encountered in her life.

“It was an excellent gathering and we got wonderful feedback from the women. But apart from the presentations, just that chance to come together and share their stories is so valuable,” Monica said.

“It’s a rare gift to be able to take time out from their busy lives with career and family to talk with women who are in the same situation and interested in studying in theology-related areas too.”

A number of the participants said one of the key things that stood out to them in the SAM Program was the opportunity for spiritual direction and mentorship.

Rebel Clark. Image supplied.

Rebel Clark lives in Hawks Nest in Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, and works as Head of House (Stage 4) at Catherine McAuley Catholic College, Medowie, in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. She said that among the reasons she applied for the program was the “opportunity to connect with like-minded women in Catholic leadership from varying contexts and experiences”.

“I was also motivated by the opportunity of having a dedicated mentor and spiritual director assist me to set goals that would nurture my academic, professional and spiritual development as I navigate my path in educational leadership,” she said.

“The generous financial support was also very encouraging. I am genuinely filled with gratitude for this support as it enables me to continue my postgraduate studies without financial burden, a privilege for which I am deeply appreciative.”

Rebel said she hoped to sustain and deepen the connections she has established already with fellow SAM participants.

“I firmly believe that my involvement with this program will not only enhance my leadership skills, but also enrich my spiritual journey, ultimately enriching my ministry and service to others, particularly those in my Catherine McAuley community.

“By persistently spotlighting the challenges women encounter and the remarkable contributions they offer to Catholic leadership, I hope to cultivate greater understanding, recognition and appreciation for their pivotal role within the Church and in our broader society.”

Linsey MacDonald. Image supplied.

Linsey MacDonald, from Ballina in the Diocese of Lismore in northern NSW is a teacher and Leader of Sport at St Joseph’s Primary School, Alstonville, and is studying a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education.

She was drawn initially to the financial support of the SAM Program, but also loved the idea of empowering women in faith.

“While I’m surrounded by a number of women in my workplace, the majority of our religious leaders are males. I’m also relatively new to the Catholic faith,” Linsey said.

“My hopes are that this program will help me to build a deeper understanding of faith, both for my degree and myself. I hope that the leadership skills and spiritual guidance will help me to grow and, in turn, empower me to share these within my school community, especially with our non-Catholic families.”

Paige Bullen, from Marrickville in Sydney, is currently working as a Pastoral Care practitioner at St Vincent’s Hospital Darlinghurst and CatholicCare Sydney and is studying a Graduate Certificate of Arts (Chaplaincy). She said she became aware of the SAM Program through a mentor who suggested she apply.

“As well as the very practical financial support, which is so helpful, I was attracted to the spiritual and relational aspects of the program,” she said.

Paige Bullen. Image supplied.

“My three children are now young adults – I have been engaged with their learning over the years. I found myself at a stage in my mid-life, career, and faith where I finally needed to commit to my own learning. It was Mum’s time!

“But returning to academic study after a long break can be daunting, so to know I am not alone and to feel the motivation and support of busy, accomplished and unafraid women was important for me.”

Paige said her learning experience, made possible through the program, was already leading her to new challenges.

“Because of my Clinical Pastoral Education studies, which are ongoing, I am now working in the Pastoral Care Department at the hospital. It is just so exciting. I hope all this growing and stretching continues,” she said. “I also hope to offer other seeking women something of the care, inspiration and wisdom I have been so fortunate to receive through this program and my ministry, in the future.”

Helen Bachmann is a Munanjahli woman who has a background as a primary teacher but is currently living and working on Turrbal land in Brisbane’s north as an Indigenous Student Success Officer in the Indigenous Higher Education Unit at Australian Catholic University.

She holds degrees ranging from undergraduate to postgraduate in Visual Arts, Education and Theology and is currently studying a Doctor of Ministry through ACU, researching the connections between Aboriginal spirituality and the Catholic faith. She said she hoped this could be of benefit to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Catholics. Helen is also using her art training as a tool to understand difficult concepts.

Helen Bachmann. Image supplied.,

Helen said she would ground her research in “the planting of Christianity in Australian soil”, a concept raised by the Rainbow Spirit Theologians, a group of Aboriginal Christian leaders who have written about integrating the traditions of Aboriginal culture with the traditions of Christianity.

“My main reason for applying for the SAM Program was to access the spiritual direction that was offered,” she said. “I am hoping that through the support of the program, and my study in ministry, I will be better positioned to share a faith that I understand at a deeper level, to share it in an invitational way that will hopefully be life changing for others as well.”

Meanwhile, in western Sydney, Veronica Brogden is working at the CathWest Innovation College, which has campuses at Mount Druitt and Emu Plains, and is studying a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education with a view to completing a Masters in either Theology or Religious Education.

She said she applied for the SAM Program “as a leader who collaborates, innovates and creates opportunities within key organisations for myself and others to grow in spirituality, respect and gratitude”.

Veronica Brogden. Image supplied.

“In applying for the program, I was hoping for the opportunity to reflect more deeply upon and explore my personal spiritual growth and relationship with God under the gentle guidance of a mentor and director,” Veronica said.

“I look forward to engaging with the program’s spiritual director as a source of strength and as a partnership to set up strategies to work towards a balance and harmony in which to achieve the goals along the pathway to further growth and development as a leader, while continuing to support my family spiritually, emotionally and financially.”

Veronica said the fellowship aspect of the program was also attractive. “It gives all of us a place to reach out in faith in a way that may not be available to us in our career pathways,” she said.

Sister Colleen Leonard SGS, whose ministry has been in spiritual direction for many years, said she understands why the SAM Program participants are so eager to embrace the spiritual direction aspect of the program.

“It provides an opportunity for them to share their stories, their deepest desires, issues for discernment and to receive encouragement in their process of growth in human and spiritual development,” she said.

“As each of the women embarks on the search for intimacy with God, she has the opportunity to share her life story, reflect on experiences of vulnerability, and discern how the Spirit is moving in her life and in the awakening of her authentic self.

“It is humbling to accompany women as they grapple with the various challenges that they experience in their faith journey.”

Colleen said that after being part of the program last year, she is once again looking forward to the experience with the new intake of participants.

“I love the graced opportunity to journey with women who are open to seeking God in the ordinary events of daily life, and who desire to grow in their relationship with God. For me, it is a profound and humbling privilege of being on the holy ground of a woman’s unique journey of faith,” she said.

“It’s a joy to witness each woman’s desire to respond with trust and deep faith in the movement of God’s Spirit in their lives.”

Read about fellow 2024 SAM Program participants Mauz Kay, Jaren Malales, Madelaine Schumann, Samantha McLoughlin and Geetanjali Rodgers in next month’s edition of The Good Oil. 

 

Debra Vermeer

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

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