From Sepember 25 until October 2, 190 Sisters of the Good Samaritan from various parts of Australia, Kiribati, the Philippines, Japan and Timor Leste will converge on Sydney for their twenty-fifth general chapter gathering, a significant event in the life of a religious congregation.
The eight-day gathering, which takes place every six years, is the culmination of 14 months of intense preparation – of reading, reflection, prayer and discussion – by all sisters.
“It’s significant for us to review the past, to look at our future directions and to choose the leadership for the next six-year period,” said Good Samaritan Superior Clare Condon.
Within the Benedictine tradition all professed Good Samaritan Sisters “belong to the chapter” and are eligible to attend the chapter gathering, but some choose not to because of age, health or an inability to travel.
For this chapter gathering 70 per cent of the congregation will attend.
Clare described the chapter as a “very democratic” and “collegial” process. “When we all come together like this in chapter every voice is of equal value.” However, rather than adopting a parliamentary debating process, she said the chapter deliberations take place within an environment of prayerful discernment and consensus.
With sisters spread throughout Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, Clare also described the chapter gathering as an important expression of unity and a celebration of congregational identity.
“I think of sisters who are working at the edges of society in some fairly difficult ministries often on their own or with only one other. [The chapter gathering] is an opportunity for them to come together and to re-bond and celebrate our identity,” she explained.
“For our newer shoots, like our I-Kiribati sisters and our Filipina sisters, it’s an opportunity for them to get to know the broader congregation, who it is they’re joining, and what are the values and how we live them out.
“But we have to learn from them as well. They bring the richness of their culture, the richness of their experiences, and I include the Japanese sisters in that. We can tend to be a little Australian dominated, so it’s good for us to receive and to be re-shaped by the richness of the other cultures.”
For Clare the last six years have passed very quickly. In her time as congregational leader something that stands out is the level of energy within the congregation.
“Like all orders of religious women in the Western world, we’re an ageing group and we have diminished in numbers but that to me doesn’t seem to affect the energy within the group, particularly in the ministries that the sisters are engaged in, in their prayer life, in their commitment to the essence of religious life, which is the seeking of God and their service of one another and others.
“I have a lot of confidence in the congregation and I always believe, if it’s God’s work, it’ll survive,” she said.
The chapter gathering will be held from September 25 to October 2, 2011 at St Scholastica’s, Glebe.