Sister Clare Condon will end her 12-year term as Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan at the upcoming Chapter feeling blessed by the opportunities she’s had, but ready to move on and let others guide the Good Sams into the next phase.
Clare said while leadership within the Church and across society is becoming increasingly challenging, she had always tried, both personally and across the Congregation, to act from Gospel values.
“It’s really strong for me that we’re not only committed to the Gospel, but we act out of Gospel values, always, and that’s the guiding influence,” she said.
“[St] Benedict, in his Prologue, says, ‘Let the Gospel be your guide’, and I think that has to be there every day. And of course, we fail, and we have to pick ourselves up and start again.”
Clare, who entered the Good Samaritan Sisters in 1969 and was professed in 1972, was elected superior at the 2005 Chapter and re-elected at the 2011 Chapter.
“I feel that I’ve been blessed to have these 12 years,” she said. “It’s given me a great opportunity to experience religious life, church and the broader society, at a number of levels.
“Particularly, I have valued the opportunity to be a member of the International Communion of Benedictine Women, which has given great opportunity to visit communities in various parts of the world.”
She said she had appreciated having a 12-year term, which allowed a sustained effort to accomplish things.
“I think it gives you an opportunity to do the big things, you know, to be able to create Good Samaritan Education as a separate ecclesial community for the future, to oversight canonically the ten colleges, and to do all of that in a way that has consulted people effectively and brought in the participation of those that are there within the schools.
“You need time to do those things and I think it’s afforded us the time to do that well.
“I think in these last six years, we were able to develop a theology of mission and what the implications of that is for our sisters going forward. We were able to consolidate our presence and ministries in Kiribati and the Philippines. So, I feel good about that.”
Clare also nominated the growth of the Good Sams’ oblate movement as a pleasing development, as well as consolidating the use of a new Liturgy of the Hours prayer book for the Congregation’s common prayer, the ministries to women and children through Good Samaritan Housing in Brisbane and The Inn in Melbourne, extension of work alongside Aboriginal Australians, the establishment of the Wivenhoe Conservation project to protect the Cumberland Woodland at Camden, and revamping the Good Sams Foundation as a significant partnership for the future sustainability of some of the Congregation’s ministries.
“I think the other area that has been wonderful is that our sisters have a great love of their ageing sisters and are making sure that they are well cared for in their elderly years, or in sickness,” she said.
The withdrawal of the Good Sams from areas where they have ministered for many years was both an occasion for sadness and joy, Clare said.
“In some ways that’s been sadness, but also a sense of joy and satisfaction that the sisters have been able to stay in some of those remote communities for a long time.”
Another key milestone was the transformation of the ‘mother house’ at Glebe from a residence for the Sisters to the congregational offices, and now building a new community house appropriate for the future.
Clare said one of her key learnings from her time as congregational leader has been a huge shift in terms of what society expects of religion, an area particularly highlighted through the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
“I think things that perhaps the Church almost took for granted about processes, are no longer acceptable; that society expects all religions to have strong safeguarding child protection processes.
“We’re expected to comply with the increasing civil demands on all organisations in regard to how an organisation is run and is accountable to society.
“We live in a complex world and I don’t think the role of any kind of leadership, whether it’s in religion, in Church, in other organisations, is for the faint-hearted today.”
On the question of the changing face of religious life in Australia, Clare said it would continue to play a small but significant role.
She said in the past, religious life was defined by what people did, for example in education, welfare and health.
“I think religious life in the future will be defined by how religious themselves live together, their commitment to God through prayer, and then the outreach that they engage in as a consequence of that.”
Looking to the future, Clare said she will go on retreat and have some space for reflection.
“Then I’ll work out with the new leader what I do in ministry going forward. I’m not worried about that; it’ll happen… I’ve enjoyed the time. I’m ready to move on and to let others guide us into the next phase.”