A new partnership is being forged between the Sisters of St Joseph, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, the Sisters of Mercy and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) peoples to strengthen their commitment to ministry with ATSI peoples.
Instigated by the Sisters of St Joseph, this partnership is still in its early stages and may involve other congregations as it develops. A steering committee, comprising representatives from each of the three congregations and a number of Aboriginal people, has been formed for a 12-month period.
Members of the committee are Annette Arnold RSJ, Raelene Baker, Kerry Charlton, Carmel Heagerty RSM, Darrell Henry, Graeme Mundine, Carmel Pattinson SGS, Mary Quinlan RSJ and Marianne Zeinstra RSJ.
The role of this steering committee is to respond to the research and recommendations presented by the Sisters of St Joseph and to develop the vision and goals of the project.
One of the main recommendations is to create a new entity, to begin as an inter-congregational agency, whose specific focus will be to work with ATSI peoples for long-term leadership and community development.
“It will be interesting to see how the partnership develops, but we know that it has to be respectful and that it has to be about reciprocal learning,” said Josephite Sister Marianne Zeinstra, who has been appointed as interim manager of the project.
Marianne said building the skills of ATSI people at the coalface – also known as capacity building – is paramount “otherwise you’re really not doing anything sustainable for the future”.
Citing another of the recommendations from the research and consultation report, Marianne said that sometimes in order to help build the capacity of ATSI people, it is important to address issues of trauma, grief, loss and dispossession in Indigenous communities, thereby freeing leaders to grow in their leadership.
“The other thing about this organisation, structure or entity, or whatever it’s going to be, is that in its first year of operation it must start employing Aboriginal people,” she said.
According to Marianne, news of the new partnership has been received favourably by those ATSI people connected with the Josephites.
“They’re chuffed,” she said. “The people that we’ve been walking with would say ‘about time’… They would also say ‘let’s get beyond the talk and show some action that has real outcomes’.”
Good Samaritan Sister Carmel Pattinson, who has just completed six year’s service on the leadership team of her congregation and is the Good Samaritan representative on the steering committee, is enthused by the possibilities of working in partnership with other religious congregations and ATSI people. She has a background in pastoral work and counselling and is strongly interested in responding to issues of grief and trauma in ATSI communities.
For many years sisters from each of the congregations have been working with ATSI people throughout Australia, either in full-time or part-time ministry, and across the spectrum of remote, regional and urban communities. However, as sisters involved in these ministries age, and increasingly there are fewer available to become involved, Carmel said it was important to strengthen the ministries for the future.
“We want to be committed to strengthening our work and partnerships with ATSI people and being more and more enabling of Indigenous to take on many of these roles,” she said.