Good Samaritan Oblate Peita Ward of Brisbane was one of five lay people invited to address the 2012 national assembly of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) in Adelaide last month.
Each year CRA, the peak body for leaders of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life in Australia, holds a national assembly to provide religious leaders with support, sharing and networking opportunities. The assembly is organised around a theme relevant to religious leaders and contemporary society.
According to CRA’s Director, Good Samaritan Sister Veronica McCluskie, this year’s theme, ‘Charism beyond borders’, explored the ways in which religious charism is lived, communicated and challenged in a post-Christian Australian society.
“With lay people increasingly ministering in partnership with religious, their voices were also heard, as this year for the first time, lay partners were invited to this gathering,” she said.
In her address to the 140-strong assembly, Peita Ward spoke about her commitment to the Benedictine charism as an oblate of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, but also acknowledged the influence of many other religious congregations in her life.
“As I look back over my life… I realise I have been quite a collector of charisms. I attended schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. In my 30 years as a teacher, I have taught religion at four girls’ colleges administered by the Sisters of Mercy, the Presentation Sisters, the Good Sams and the IBVM Loreto sisters,” she explained.
“I attend Mass each Sunday at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church, Coorparoo, run by the Carmelites; my sons attend St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane, a Christian Brothers school run in the Edmund Rice tradition; and I am a foundation Director of the Board of Iona College, administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.”
The 50-year old wife and mother explained how a deeper connection with the Good Samaritan Sisters, as a result of a meeting with a friend in 2005, led to her formal commitment as an oblate in 2007.
“It is a promise that has changed my life,” she said.
Peita loves “the ongoing nature of being an oblate” – the regular meetings, the face-to-face contact with old and new friends, the combination of prayer, Scripture, discussion and hospitality.
“Being an oblate has provided me with the calmness I craved when I first joined. I am truly humbled to have been embraced by the Good Sams in my adult life and shown how I can live, guided by their charism,” she said.
Peita also feels a responsibility to do what she can “to preserve and share” the Benedictine charism.
While attending the vigil service of her former music teacher, Sister Dympna Cullen, it dawned on Peita: “We cannot allow what these dear, devoted women have, to die or diminish in any way. This charism, which has so defined and shaped the lives of countless sisters and those whose lives they have touched, must be kept alive”.
Speaking about her experience addressing CRA’s National Assembly, Peita told The Good Oil she was “impressed with the camaraderie between the religious orders” and “overwhelmed” by their warm welcome.
“One word I heard over and over again during the conference was ‘re-energised’… It encapsulated perfectly the mood of those gathered,” she explained.
Peita said she felt encouraged that lay people would have a new role in the future assisting religious to take their charisms “beyond the borders imposed by traditional structures, age, experience and location”.
During CRA’s 36th national assembly, Sister of Charity Annette Cunliffe was elected as the new President, while Good Samaritan Sister Veronica Hoey, a member of the Good Samaritan Council of the Superior, was elected as the Victorian representative on CRA’s National Council.