The Good Samaritan community in Victoria welcomed three new Oblates last month, in a beautiful celebration at Santa Maria College in Northcote, Victoria, writes Debra Vermeer.
Eileen Stevens, Monica Svab and Suzanna Kingsland had been journeying in the Good Samaritan-Benedictine way for some time before making their Oblation and say it has been a life-changing experience.
Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner SGS was able to attend, along with Oblate Coordinator Sister Sonia Wagner SGS, a number of Sisters, Oblates, family and friends.
Under the guidance of Victorian Oblate Coordinator Marie Mohr, each of the new Oblates had travelled a unique path to arrive at this point.
Eileen Stevens first got to know the Sisters of the Good Samaritan when she was taught by them at school. Recently, she retired from her position as a clerk at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital and began working at Marian House, a Good Samaritan community in Melbourne.
“I found I just loved being with the Sisters,” she says. “There’s something about them that I was just drawn to.”
It was that sense of being drawn to the Sisters and their Good Samaritan-Benedictine way of life that eventually prompted Eileen to approach Marie about the possibility of becoming an Oblate.
She says attending the Oblate meetings has become a precious source of personal spiritual nourishment.
“I have a large family of seven children, 36 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren and so family life keeps me busy, and I love that,” she says.
“But this (becoming an Oblate) has become something for myself, to grow my own spirituality. The Good Samaritan way of things all fitted in with how I feel about things and brought it all together for me.
“And it’s such a lovely group to be a part of too.”
During her Oblate formation, Eileen was accompanied by Sister Bernadette Corboy SGS, who remains her spiritual companion.
She says the Oblation ceremony was lovely. “It was just beautifully done. It was wonderful to have Patty there as well. It was all very special.”
Monica Svab also first came to know the Sisters at school and it was through a Santa Maria College school reunion that she came to explore the Oblate path.
“At one particular reunion, Sister Bernadina (Sontrop SGS) spoke and invited people to come and find out if becoming an Oblate might be for them,” she says.
“I really feel like the Holy Spirit spoke to me that day, and I knew right away that I wanted to do it, so I spoke to Sister Colleen (Leonard SGS) and I went and had a look.”
At her first Oblate meeting, the group was discussing a Benedictine book they’d been reading and a light-bulb went on for Monica.
“It was basically outlining a way to live life, and it just made sense to me and was so relevant and poignant,” she says.
“I realised that the Sisters and the other Oblates have this knowledge and lived experience and they were open to sharing that with me. It seemed to me that it was all about how to bring the Gospel to life in my own life, and that was what I’d been looking for.”
As a scientist who has worked in the area of dialysis for many years, Monica says she had been looking for something beyond science.
“Sometimes you have this inner thing, you want to connect with the Other, and make life more meaningful,” she says.
Monica has a son with disability for whom she cares and says she is grateful that her spiritual searching led her to the local Oblate group and to her “wonderful” companion, Oblate Margaret-Ann Pritchard.
“When I’m there with the group, I find you don’t have to explain yourself, there’s no judgment, it’s just an all-inclusive gentle approach. They just show me love.”
Suzanna Kingsland says she has been described as “a seeker” when it comes to spirituality. She was raised in the Catholic Church but explored a range of other faith and meditation practices over the years.
She first came into contact with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan when attending a retreat given by Sister Colleen.
“That retreat was a life-changing time for me. Colleen became my spiritual director and over time, spoke to me about Oblates,” she says.
“I had always wanted something – something that I had not identified. I did flirt with many different meditation practices for quite some years, but I never found the one.”
She says a meditation session given by a Jesuit priest and Zen master introduced her to the idea of meditation as prayer, an idea that helped connect her back to the faith tradition of her youth.
“So, I did come back to the Church because of something calling me back,” she says. “I liked the liturgy, and receiving the Eucharist again after so many years really hit home.
“I realised this is actually my faith tradition, whether I like it or not, and this, becoming an Oblate, was a perfect bridge back for me.
“During my searching years I had actually read a lot of Benedictine books by people like Joan Chittister and Esther de Waal and I loved what they were saying. I love those essential values of stability, obedience and listening to the call of God, and hospitality of heart.
“Also, the Good Samaritan parable is very deep for me. Every time I read it there’s something else in it, some aspect of myself or society.”
Suzanna describes the Oblation ceremony as “a beautiful day”.
“It was very moving and very simple. I’m not a great lover of formal ceremony, but I actually did find it very moving and that ceremonial aspect of it did make it very real, that I was making a promise, making an offering of myself.”
Marie says the day was “a wonderful celebration of the experience of these women”.
“It was really great to have Patty there for the occasion as well as Colleen, who has journeyed along the path with everyone.
“It’s been a collective journey for all of us. I think the COVID-19 situation had upsides and downsides, but it did allow us to all become more proficient at Zoom gatherings, which ended up being a really important point of connection for us all during the long Victorian lockdown. And it allowed us to include Margie, a prospective Oblate who’s currently based in Central Australia, to be a part of the meetings too.
“It was a beautiful day and a really wonderful celebration of the Good Samaritan-Benedictine spirit in each person’s life.”