The permanent presence of the Good Samaritan Sisters in Western Australia will come to an end next month when Sister Anna Warlow returns to the eastern states, writes Debra Vermeer.
But the impact and spirituality of the Sisters will live on through a network of Good Samaritan Oblates. In fact, the Sisters’ farewell from the West in April will also be an occasion for celebration as Iocal Aboriginal woman Ivy Dalgety takes her promises as a Good Samaritan Oblate.
The Good Sams have been in the remote rural areas of WA since 1986, supporting the people in their liturgical, spiritual and everyday lives.
Anna, who has been in the Diocese of Geraldton for 18 years, regularly driving huge distances between the communities she served, says the Sisters’ withdrawal from WA is “a big wrench” on a personal level, but she is confident that the work will continue to flourish under the care of the region’s Oblates.
“I didn’t realise how much the whole ministry has really seeped into my system,” she says. “Although it wasn’t always beer and skittles, it has become a big part of my life. There’s no doubt that I gained so much more than I’ve ever put into it.
“The privilege of seeing people work through their struggles and challenges, and to be with them through that, was very beautiful and humbling.”
Sister Val Deakin SGS, who was a member of the foundation community that went to Mt Magnet in 1986, says her years in WA were transformational.
She spent six years living in Mt Magnet and travelling extensively to places such as Cue, Meekatharra, Sandstone, Leinster, Leonora, Laverton and the pastoral stations, before moving to Wiluna and spending a few years walking with the traditional Mardu People.
After spending 10 years in the Nauiyu Community, Daly River in the Northern Territory Val returned to Geraldton to work throughout the diocese in Aboriginal ministry, as prison chaplain at the Greenough Gaol and to set up an Aboriginal Centre, which became known as ‘Yananyi’ where the Aborigines could gather.
“My WA exposure made me a completely different person in outlook and way of living and relating.”
“The families on pastoral stations lived simply, were in touch with the land and its needs, and they oozed generosity and hospitality,” Val says. The people living in the remote townships included the Sisters in all that was going on … race days, the historical society and souvenir shop rosters, money-raising activities, etc.
“All the churches worked together too. I loved the atmosphere of working with all people, not just Catholics. My outlook was broadened.
“Being with the Aborigines turned me upside down. The land was their mother and it provided them with every nourishment for daily living. They taught me the importance of listening and saying nothing; of looking and carrying what you see within you.
“Despite the remoteness and harsh conditions and going without the pleasures of city life I thrived and loved being with all these people. They taught me to live simply, think simply and reach out to all people. I am so grateful to have walked with them.”
Over the years, the Sisters’ ministry in places like Three Springs and Morawa expanded to include a small team of faith-filled, committed women from the local area who stepped up to the challenge of helping to lead not only the liturgical life of these small, isolated communities, but also provide retreats and gatherings for spiritual nourishment.
As Anna accompanied these women with Good Samaritan and Benedictine spirituality, they were drawn more towards it and, in time, they sought to become Good Samaritan Oblates.
There are 77 Good Samaritan Oblates across Australia, and thousands of Benedictine Oblates worldwide. The Benedictine Oblate tradition is ancient, going back 1500 years to the time of St Benedict. Local people came to the monastery and asked for a formal connection. They did not want to become monks or nuns, but they did want to deepen their spirituality without leaving family, home or occupation. These people were received by the community, made their offering to God (the word oblate derives from the Latin for gift offering), and were called Oblates.
Before making their formal commitment, the men and women seeking to become Good Samaritan Oblates have a formation process of at least 12 months.
Today there are eight, and soon to be nine Oblates in WA.
Despite the huge physical distances separating them, they have grown into a close and supportive network.
“They live four-and-a-half to five hours from one other,” Anna says. “Their commitment to each other and to faith and life and their camaraderie has been fantastic.
“So, the Good Samaritan spirituality is continuing through them, even though the Sisters are withdrawing.
“Things will be done in their way, and although it’s still something fairly new, I believe so strongly in it. I think there’s great possibility for it, not only out here but in other places where the Sisters have been as well.”
Val agreed that while the departure of the Sisters was sad, she held great hope for the future.
“Any departure or closure is sad but I am full of hope,” she says. “It is all in God’s hand and God will do what God wants to do.
“The Sisters have planted seeds in WA and they will bring forth fruit sometime in the future.”
The WA Oblates now include Penny Carroll, Kathy Beeck, Jan Gorza, Elaine Walley, Bev Agar, Barbara Hauesler, Cathy Jones, and Donna Cooper, along with Ivy Dalgety who will soon make her Oblation. A number of other people are also showing interest.
Last year, following the departure of the long-serving Sister Gerri Boylan SGS, the Bishop of Geraldton, Michael Morrissey, commissioned Oblate Cathy Jones as the new Pastoral Leader of the Inland Parish encompassing Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekathara.
Oblate Donna Cooper says the Good Sam Oblates in WA are a close-knit group and feel they have been prepared well for this new phase of their life without the Sisters’ permanent presence.
“Anna and the Holy Spirit have been nurturing us and preparing us all the way along for this time.”
“We met together in October, after the COVID-19 close-down, and all of us said that whatever our gift is, we’ve offered it to that group and to our communities,” Donna says.
“Our role is to carry on Anna’s hopes for us by building our community and our relationship with each other. Our Oblate network is also stretching into South Australia through spirituality retreats (there are two Oblates and one candidate in SA).
“I feel like the way we’re doing Church here with the Oblate community is the way of the future. In a way, we’re pioneers and I’m hoping some of these new ways might be picked up in other Oblate groups.”
Anna, who has faced significant health challenges in recent years, says she hopes to be able to head back West from time to time to provide retreats, spiritual nourishment and support for the Oblates.
She says that Ivy’s Oblation taking place at the same time as the Sisters’ withdrawal from permanent ministry there is providential.
“It is a sign of the Good Samaritan life continuing on in them, and that’s wonderful.”