Since the time of St Benedict 1,500 years ago, men and women have sought a close relationship with the Benedictine family.
Not wanting to become monks or nuns, but wanting to deepen their spirituality without leaving family, home or occupation, people came to local monasteries asking for a formal connection. They were received by the community, made their offering to God, and were called oblates. (The word oblate derives from the Latin, for gift offering).
Today Good Samaritan oblates follow in the footsteps of other famous Benedictine oblates such as Pope Benedict XVI, social activist Dorothy Day and Saints Thomas More and Thomas a’ Becket. The Good Oil recently spoke to three women who have chosen to deepen their spiritual lives as oblates of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
Marilyn Maxwell is one of 46 oblates from across Australia. Married with five adult children and 11 grandchildren, she lives in Sydney, New South Wales, and works part-time, teaching senior secondary students with special education needs.
Describing herself as a mature Christian with a long association in the Anglican community, Marilyn was aware of an unnamed absence in her life. She describes it as “an unsettling restlessness” which she came to recognise as a desire for depth in her life, “a desire which is finding satisfaction in Benedictine spirituality as lived by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan”.
“While the restlessness continues it is now as a friend reminding me that more is possible,” she explains.
Marilyn first met the Good Samaritans at Daddirri Gwandalan House of Sacred Space at Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches. “It was here”, she says, “immersed in Good Sam hospitality that the seeds of Benedictine spirituality were planted and the possibility of a deeper life discovered.
“Here I ‘caught’ the Rule of St Benedict as lived out in the lives of the sisters.”
Marilyn says the spirituality ‘caught’ during visits to Dee Why is now a growing conscious awareness nurtured by Good Samaritan hospitality, prayer and conversation, along with reflection days, retreats and regular spiritual direction.
After a year of formal preparation, Marilyn became on oblate during evening prayer on November 13, 2010, the Feast of All Benedictine Saints at Saint Scholastica’s Glebe. “It was a real celebration,” says Marilyn, “with sisters, oblates and members of my family.”
Marilyn finds it difficult to say how becoming an oblate has changed her life. “Life is a one-day, one-step-at-a-time journey,” she says.
“My oblation was one such step. I have a sense of belonging to a community which supports and nurtures as I endeavour to integrate lectio divina, and personal prayer into my everyday life… I would say that I am becoming more aware of my need for God, more thoughtful about life, what I do and why.”
Colleen Mann, who lives in Gawler, South Australia, says an involvement in parish life, work as a catechist and a close association with religious sisters have led her on a long and strong faith journey.
Colleen was taught by the Good Samaritan Sisters and then trained as a nurse with the Little Company of Mary Sisters at Calvary Hospital. In that time she became very familiar with, and admired Mary Potter and the charism of the sisters. But her earlier connection with the Good Sams was rekindled when she worked with them as a secretary in a parish where they too worked.
“My faith journey has been a mixture of Good Samaritan, Little Company of Mary and Good Samaritan again,” she explains.
Colleen says she didn’t discover Benedictine spirituality until late in life. After the death of her husband and the last of her five children left home, she began her close association with the Good Samaritan Sisters and study of the Benedictine way of life. It was the balance of work, prayer and recreation that is emphasised in Benedictine spirituality that appealed to her.
Colleen became an oblate in February this year. Like Sydney oblate Marilyn, she finds it hard to put words around her oblate commitment, but says, “It’s enriched my life incredibly… it’s made me think more and reflect more”.
Despite retiring a few years ago, Colleen continues her life-long career of dedicated nursing. She answered the urgent call for nursing staff at the Gawler Health Services and continues to work several shifts a week as a triage nurse in the emergency department. Known by her colleagues as “Mrs Compassion”, Colleen obviously lives the Good Samaritan Benedictine charism of compassion and care.
Mary Clarke says she was attracted to the Good Samaritan Sisters’ spirit of hospitality, openness and practical Christianity. “It was really joyful to meet these large-minded sisters and I just clicked with who they were,” she explains.
“What I really love is their sense of justice; they just go out and do the job. They’re very practical, very generous and I loved all the different gifts that they bring to their community.”
Mary lives in Brisbane, Queensland, and is married with six children. She is a registered physiotherapist with experience in the rehabilitation of Multiple Sclerosis patients. She also has a Certificate in TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), and recently re-trained as a secondary teacher.
Mary became an oblate at the end of 2007 and says that her “sense of being an oblate is still in its early days”. She loves the retreats and the readings but is not altogether fond of the study involved. She would rather be “out there with people”. She adds, “In my daily life I’m just more aware, and in my job too I’m seen as an oblate”.
In 2009, while Mary was doing her teacher-training at Griffith University, she volunteered to go to Kiribati to teach English to young people preparing for their nursing studies. While there, she connected with the Good Samaritan Sisters and gained a brief insight into their mission.
She says she was moved to see the Benedictine charism of stewardship and hospitality, qualities that had intrigued her in suburban Brisbane, lived out so faithfully on this remote Pacific island.
Mary is now employed by Lourdes Hill College in a learning support role which, she says, “seems to be an area where I thrive”. She is known as an oblate in the school community and highly valued because of it.
Mary believes that the oblate movement will grow, albeit slowly. “There’s no need to pressure it. I think the goodness is there and the nature of the women themselves, and I know it is a growing thing,” she explains.