More than 80 people from across Australia, and internationally from Japan, Kiribati and the Philippines, came together in Sydney earlier this month for a three-day gathering to deepen their understanding of the Good Samaritan Benedictine charism and to explore ways to carry that charism into the future.
Hosted by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan at their congregational centre in Glebe, this fourth Good Samaritan Partnership Gathering, held October 1-3, attracted a diverse group of people, including sisters, oblates, associates, colleagues, partners in ministry, and staff from schools founded in the Good Samaritan tradition.
In her words of welcome, Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon acknowledged the commitment of participants, many of whom had travelled significant distances.
“What a commitment all of you are making gathered here to share ideas, hopes and possibilities about stewarding a charism, the Benedictine Good Samaritan charism, into the future,” she said.
“This is faith and also confidence in one another.”
Clare reminded those gathered that through baptism, all are called to live their Christian vocation, and that there is no “hierarchy of vocation” in the Christian tradition.
“There is an equality of vocation here amongst us! We must hold onto that belief strongly,” she said.
“So I hope over these couple of days we can strengthen that equality which underpins our partnerships. And in doing so, we affirm each other and strengthen our individual and corporate identities as women and men of the Gospel, for whom Christ is the centre.”
Over the three days, the group participated in a variety of experiences, including keynote addresses, workshops, personal reflection, prayer and liturgy, all of which explored partnership from a theological, spiritual, Good Samaritan Benedictine perspective.
Australian Mercy Sister Elaine Wainwright, a New Testament scholar, delivered one of two keynote addresses, exploring the theology and spirituality of partnership. The other address was presented by Marie Milne, who reflected on living the Rule of St Benedict as a Good Samaritan Oblate.
“There was a wonderful atmosphere throughout the gathering,” said Sister Bernardina Sontrop, one of the organisers, “and from my conversations with participants from various walks of life,… all went away energised and enriched by the weekend”.
Bernardina said the evaluations of the weekend reflected a “strong positive acknowledgement of the input sessions and workshops”.
“There was also great appreciation for the rhythm of each day and the opportunities for participating in the prayer of the Church and the opening and closing rituals,” she said.
“Participants enjoyed sharing their experiences of partnership and living the Good Samaritan Benedictine charism in both formal and informal conversation throughout the days, during breaks and over meals.”
Melissa Gadaleta, a teacher at St Mark’s College, Port Pirie, in South Australia, “thoroughly enjoyed” the gathering.
“Although I took much information away from the three days, it certainly did not feel like any ordinary conference – it truly was a ‘gathering’,” she said.
“The camaraderie, fellowship, prayer and welcoming presence of all was there in each and every encounter.”
For Melissa, the Good Samaritan Sisters have been part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“I remember them in the community of Port Pirie and the Parish of St Mark’s well before they taught me at school. They continue to be a presence in my life through their parish work in Port Pirie and the wonderful world-wide web!” she said.
Melissa attended the gathering to learn more about the charism and the history of the Sisters.
“Our school no longer has any sisters on campus and we [at] St Mark’s College don’t want their story to be lost,” she said.
Melissa said it was “wonderful” to reconnect with sisters who had once taught in Port Pirie and to “meet many more inspiring sisters and associates”.
Pam Barlow, a Good Samaritan Associate from Magnetic Island, Queensland, described this year’s gathering, her third, as “excellent”. Connecting with other people living a Benedictine way of life is important to her.
Pam has known the Good Sams for many years, having first met them in 1978 when she and her family moved to Brisbane. Since 1991, however, Pam has been formally associated with the congregation.
“I’m one of the first, I believe, certainly in Queensland, to become associated as a result of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan reaching out to lay people who were interested in following the Benedictine spirituality,” she explained.
When Pam moved to Magnetic Island in 1996, she found others who were also interested in Benedictine spirituality.
“We formed a group up there; that was 21 years ago now. It’s not the same people, but we’re still going, meeting once a month, reflecting and reading the scriptures, just coming together and trying to live out the Benedictine life,” she said.
Pam is “eternally grateful” to “all those Good Sams” who have been part of her faith journey.
“I certainly have been rooted in the Benedictine spirituality because of these women and because of the people I’m now meeting when we come together [for experiences like that of the Partnership Gathering],” she said.
For Cathy Jones, who is on the journey to becoming a Good Samaritan Oblate, the Partnership Gathering was “a very positive experience”.
“And I think I’m still benefiting from it,” she said.
Cathy has known the Good Sams for most of her life. She was educated by them in Melbourne and later spent some 12 years as a Good Samaritan Sister, before marrying and raising her four children.
For the last 25 years she has lived in Mount Magnet in the Western Australian outback and is currently the principal of a small primary school in Cue which has a 100 per cent Indigenous student population.
She came to the partnership gathering to renew acquaintances with various sisters and to rekindle the “fire for the Benedictine way of life”.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not in some way lived in a Benedictine way of life,” said Cathy.
“I think [it] becomes unconscious that they’re your values and that that’s how you want to live your life. It was good to come and be with a group of people who have the same values, the same expectations and are striving to live that life to be the best person that they can be, and to I suppose, keep your faith alive so that it’s meaningful to you and can be expressed for the good of others.”
Cathy was struck by the invitation of the Sisters to all those gathered to work with them in preparation for their chapter gathering in 2017.
“They’re not just ‘talking’ partnership, they are actually ‘walking’ partnership,” said Cathy.
“They’re very real about this and they’re really committed to it. It’s not just in name… We’re in this together, and we are working with each other and I think helping each other to be the best – in a Benedictine way – that we can be.”