March 2024

Meet the Members of Council: Sisters Michelle, Kathleen, Ann-Maree and Meg

Meet the four Council members who will assist and advise Sister Catherine McCahill in her role as Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

By Debra Vermeer

For Sister Meg Kahler SGS, this is the second consecutive term she has been elected to serve as part of the Congregation’s leadership team, having served on the previous Council from 2017-2023.

Meg said that while every Council was a new experience, her knowledge of the leadership role would help prepare her for the task ahead.

“My experience on Council previously allowed me to understand the complexity of the Congregation and what we need to be able to live into whatever our future holds,” she said.

“It is a privilege to be allowed to be a part of the Sisters’ lives in this way, especially when they are most vulnerable. The connections and relationships, not just with the Sisters, but with those who share our Good Samaritan spirit, are life giving.”

Meg said the Good Samaritan spirit was alive and well in many places and people. “We journey as a committed community, in all its ups and downs, and embracing our diversity,” she said.

Catherine has appointed Meg as First Councillor and also as Delegate for Initial Formation.

The role of First Councillor involves taking on responsibilities when the Superior is not able to undertake them, for example if she is ill or out of communication.

“In the event that the Superior dies in office the First Councillor also has canonical responsibilities to start the leadership election process for a successor,” Meg said.

As Delegate for Initial Formation, Meg will have oversight of the formation process for Sisters who have yet to make perpetual profession.

“It’s making sure that they have a range of opportunities, including study, reflection and ministry,” she said. “We had a week at The Abbey at Jamberoo with those in formation in Benedictine communities looking at being whole and holy, followed by a week at the Congregational Centre in Glebe for planning, conversation, and input. It is a great way to stay connected to our Sisters in the Philippines and Kiribati.”

The re-election to the Council has entailed a move to Melbourne where Meg has pastoral oversight for the Sisters in Victoria, South Australia and the Philippines. She will also continue on the Finance Council.

Sister Meg Kahler SGS.

Meg is a proud Queenslander. Originally from Warwick, she and her family also lived in Bundaberg and Rockhampton before settling in Brisbane. After finishing school, Meg completed a Bachelor of Arts followed by a Diploma in Education.

It was during her first teaching position, a four-year stint at Ryan Catholic College, Townsville, that Meg first met and made strong connections with the Good Samaritan Sisters. After a year teaching at the Catholic school on Palm Island, Meg decided to see if religious life was for her.

Since joining the Congregation in 1996, Meg has had a rich mix of ministry placements, including five years teaching at Santa Maria College, Melbourne, two years as Director of the Kiribati Pastoral Institute, a year as Manager of the Good Samaritan Inn, Melbourne, and three months teaching English in Tanzania with a group of Benedictine sisters.

Meg was also part of the Good Samaritan Education Mission Team, which provides formation opportunities for staff and students of Good Samaritan Education Colleges in the history, values and spirituality of the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition.

Looking ahead, Meg said the issues facing the Council would require careful discernment as the Congregation charted its path forward.

“There are some conversations we will have to have as a Congregation,” she said. “As we continue to age and become smaller there are many questions for us to talk about, and depending on where we live, what work we do, how old we are, how well we are, the conversations have different starting and, presumably, sticking points. We will need to be patient, careful listeners!”

Sister Ann-Maree Nicholls SGS is a new member of Council, bringing to the role her extensive experience as an educator, both in teaching and leadership.

In fact, while serving on Council, Ann-Maree will also be working part time in the role of Director of School Effectiveness for Catholic Education Diocese of Cairns, a role she has been doing full time in since 2021.

Leadership roles loom large in Ann-Maree’s years as an educator and they have all been in Queensland.

Ann-Maree first met the Sisters of the Good Samaritan when they taught her at St Columba’s School, Charters Towers.

After four years working in a law firm in Townsville, she joined the Good Sams in 1985 as a 21-year-old. She moved to Sydney for her novitiate before heading to Melbourne in 1988 to continue her formation and begin teacher training.

Her first teaching appointment was at Our Lady’s Primary School at Craigieburn in Melbourne, followed by Ryan Catholic College in Townsville, before being appointed as Education Officer for Townsville Catholic Education Office.

Ann-Maree’s next role was a deputy principal position at Holy Spirit School, Cranbrook in Townsville. In 2002, she moved to Brisbane and took up the role as Principal of St Columba’s School, Wilston. Then in 2006, she was appointed Principal at Sts Peter and Paul’s School, Bulimba, in Brisbane. She held this role until 2020.  Ann-Maree then took up the role as Principal Adviser with Brisbane Catholic Education Office before moving to her current role in Cairns.

Sister Ann-Maree Nicholls.

Ann-Maree has had a long association with Good Samaritan Education having served as a foundation member of the Governing Council and up until the end of last year was a Member of the Good Samaritan Education Assembly.  She has had a long association with Lourdes Hill College in Hawthorne, Brisbane, as a Director of the College and was for some years Chair of the Company of Membership until the end of last year.

Ann-Maree said she saw her election to Council as a role of service to the Sisters. “I’m happy to contribute with my gifts and abilities to support Catherine and the Council,” she said.

“I’ve been very privileged to have had some great experiences and leadership opportunities and I hope I’m able to transfer those skills to the role of Councillor for the betterment of the Congregation.”

Catherine has appointed Ann-Maree as Delegate for Health and Wellbeing as well as Finance and given her pastoral governance responsibility for the Sisters in Queensland and Japan.

“Obviously, I know the Queensland Sisters having lived in Queensland for such a long time, which makes it a bit easier, and with that comes a willingness to walk the journey with the Sisters with integrity,” she said.

“And as for Japan, I’m heading over there after Easter and I’m very much looking forward to spending time with the Sisters and getting to know them, their cultural context and story, and to look at ways where I can support them in the coming years.”

Ann-Maree said the delegation for Health and Well-being was an area of increasing prominence within Good Samaritan life.

“We have such interesting times ahead. They will be complex years because of the complexity of our ageing congregation and our presence in four countries, but it is a privilege to be a Member of Council and I will endeavour to give it my best.”

Being elected to serve on the Council in 2023 wasn’t something that Sister Kathleen Spokes SGS had envisaged, given that she had already served a term on Council almost 20 years ago, under the leadership of Sister Sonia Wagner.

“I didn’t imagine I would be back here again,” she laughed.

“I’m very aware that I’m the oldest member of Council. And I’m also aware that life is very different now than it was when I was on the Council before. Zoom had not been invented, for instance, COVID-19 hadn’t happened. We are addressing many more compliance issues now, and safeguarding is another dimension that is very important in our current context following the Royal Commission.

“And of course, the demographic of our Congregation has changed significantly and that brings new challenges.”

Born in Geelong and raised in various country locations around Victoria, thanks to her father’s school teaching profession, Kathleen first encountered the Good Sams when she boarded at St Brendan’s Primary School at Coragulac in her last two years of high school.

“They made an impact on me,” she said.

However, after school she worked in a fabric retail shop before deciding to join the Good Sams in April 1970.

Sister Kathleen Spokes.

Following profession, Kathleen taught primary school for 15 years before travelling to Boston in the US where she obtained a Master’s of Education, focusing on Religious Education. On her return she worked in Perth in the faith development of teachers, a job which took her as far afield as Kalgoorlie and Bunbury.

After obtaining a Graduate Diploma in Theology and training in spiritual direction, Kathleen’s ministry shifted from education to spiritual direction and, more recently, has also included pastoral supervision.

Kathleen’s new role on the Council includes being assigned as the Delegate for Ongoing Formation. She has also been given oversight of some of the Sisters in NSW who are living outside of Sydney.

“I’m looking forward to travelling and visiting the Sisters,” she said. “That’s my first priority.”

She said her role as Delegate for Ongoing Formation was about, “essentially being concerned for the ongoing life and mission of the Sisters”.

It might involve arranging retreats, seminars and opportunities for ongoing learning and study.

“And as our demographic is changing, we will still do that, but we might do it in different ways, perhaps looking at more online opportunities and simply being alert to the opportunities that already exist.

“Ongoing formation in interculturality and ecology are also important for us, given that our younger Sisters are not in Australia.

“I see the role on Council as finding ways we can invite the Sisters to continue to grow in their own spiritual life and to be enthused about our Statement of Directions. No matter what age we are we can still take an interest, be educated and informed and alert to the contribution we can make within our sphere of influence.”

Sister Michelle Reid SGS said while she was shocked to be appointed to the Council, she is looking forward to the experience.

“I am very positive and excited to be working with staff who are committed to the charism and wanting the best for all our Sisters in the Congregation,” she said.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Michelle entered the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in July 1975, having completed all her schooling in Good Samaritan schools: St Raphael’s at West Preston for primary school, St Monica’s College at Epping for secondary school until the end of Year 11 and Santa Maria for Year 12. 

Michelle had trained as a primary teacher with the Sisters of Mercy and taught with them until entering with the Good Sams. While at teachers college, she volunteered with the Sisters of Mercy, who were involved in outreach programs with families in high-rise units in Flemington and Collingwood. During her teenage years she had also taught catechetics with Sister Marguerite McIntyre SGS and other Sisters on the Motor Mission.

“I think that is where I fell in love with outreach and teaching,” she said.

Sister Michelle Reid SGS.

Following many years in teaching and leadership roles in NSW schools, her ministries over the past years have connected her with women, men and children living on the edges of life, often in very tough, precarious and complicated circumstances.

In the Philippines she lived with families in a squatter settlement near Bacolod, helping them to implement a scholarship program so that children were encouraged to finish their education.

From early 2000 until the end of 2005, Michelle lived in the newly independent nation of Timor Leste. For four of those five years she taught English and art at the Becora Prison for men in Dili.

In 2007, Michelle took up the role of Manager of the Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne. The Inn provides crisis accommodation for women and children who find themselves homeless, many as a result of domestic violence.

Following her time at the Inn, Michelle has worked ecumenically with the Brotherhood of St Lawrence as an outreach worker or child support worker and visited the homes of refugees and recent migrants.

She decided to take up studies in Spiritual Direction with the ecumenical Barnabas Ministry, which includes four residentials each year, and is half-way through the program.

“After the initial shock of being elected on to the leadership team, the next phase to negotiate was grief and leaving Melbourne, family, friends and the Sisters in Victoria,” she said.

“Needless to say, my tears eventually stopped and the warm welcome from the Sisters in NSW has helped me to settle. I commenced this year feeling very positive and more at home.

“I am also excited to be part of living out our Statement of Directions at all levels of the Congregation, with our wonderful staff, partners in ministry, and Oblates.

“The leadership team is getting into a working rhythm and we are learning to appreciate each other’s strengths and gifts.

“I have been appointed as a Delegate for Communications and the Oblates. These are both exciting areas and I am looking forward to seeing how this role unfolds.”

 

Debra Vermeer

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

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