The 27th Chapter of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan has been hailed as a blessed, enriching, inclusive experience, providing an opportunity for reconnection among Sisters, partners and staff. The Chapter produced a mission-focused Statement of Directions and a new leadership team has been charged with helping to bring the Statement to life, writes Debra Vermeer.
Sister Catherine McCahill was elected to be the new Congregational Leader, taking up her role at the end of September. She will be supported by Council members Sisters Michelle Reid, Kathleen Spokes, Ann-Maree Nicholls, and Meg Kahler.
Outgoing Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner said the Chapter, which was the culmination of more than a year of prayer and discernment, was a wonderful experience.
“It was the most inclusive Chapter we’ve had, even though fewer Sisters attended in person,” she said.
“But the Sisters who weren’t there in person were able to watch the livestream and they were able to submit two names they felt would be suitable for Superior, which gave them real agency and they were delighted with that.”
Guest speakers were former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who spoke on the urgency of the climate crisis for the people of his country, and Dr Estela Padilla, a community organiser and theologian from the Philippines, who presented on frameworks for leadership in a time of change and transition.
Anote Tong called for the global community to facilitate ‘Migration with Dignity’ for his people and urged the Sisters of the Good Samaritan to keep working in the community on climate action.
“Climate change is the greatest moral challenge ever to face humanity and the question is, will those countries who have the capacity to do something about this step forward or not?” he said. “We have to face up to that challenge. The alternative is that people will drown. Climate change is not going away, it’s coming faster than we think. Let’s be proactive.”
Dr Padilla spoke on the topic of Being Ecclesial Women, affirming the Sisters for the quality of their reflection and discernment throughout the Chapter process, saying: “You are already living from an emerging future.”
She then identified the areas of Spirituality, Synodality and Solidarity as three ‘big ideas’ to explore, encouraging a leadership model that is attentive to those who find themselves “at the gap” between the old and the new during times of transition, listens to the voices that are not normally heard, and works with many partners, recognising the power that resides in everyone in a “companionship of empowerment”.
Patty said the Chapter displayed a real commitment to mission, which was reflected in the final Statement of Directions for the next six-year period.
“People were pleased with the Statement of Directions we produced. I think it will give us a mission-focused direction and some of the words in it are very potent,” she said.
“I’m delighted with it, and I feel that we have a strong, competent and creative team going forward to lead our mission.”
The Statement of Directions for the period 2023-29 says that: “Gifted by our Good Samaritan Benedictine charism, we are committed to living our relationship with God, neighbour and the universe through: ecological conversion which impels; interculturality which transforms; compassion which leads to justice; hope which empowers mission.”
“I think it says that we are women of hope, despite all the challenges we face in our four countries, and that’s our gift to the world and to the Church,” Patty said.
Marie Milne, a member of the Oblate Leadership Council, praised the Sisters for the inclusive nature of the Chapter and their willingness to share their charism.
“I think it’s about being the seekers that the Good Samaritans have always been, this whole embracing of Good Samaritans All,” she said. “There’s a sense that we don’t own a charism. The charism is there to be shared, to be expressed to others so that they catch something of what we have. It’s not something you teach, it’s something you live.”
The presentations at the Chapter also struck a note with those who attended in terms of looking to the future.
The Chair of the Good Samaritan Inn’s Board, Patricia Bergin, said Anote Tong’s call to action on the reality of climate change in the Pacific tied in with the Sisters’ ongoing work on ecological conversion.
“There’s no doubt that Anote Tong’s presentation … spoke to (the Sisters) in a way they were ready to receive,” she said. “I think they have been on an ecological conversion for some time in previous Chapters. Now … they are called to action. I also think there’s an emerging future happening within the Congregation, with Estela talking about living in that liminal space, I think that’s where they currently are. And what I see in this gathering, different to the last, is the emerging voice of the Sisters from Kiribati and the Philippines.”
Maritas Lagrito, the Principal of the Good Samaritan Kinder School in Bacolod in the Philippines, said she was humbled to be a part of the discussions, listening and discernment at the Chapter Gathering.
“I feel that this is what I need in order for me to continue the leadership back home and it’s really good timing that some of the topics, some of the activities were relevant for us there, and it is a challenge for me as to how I’m going to apply this,” she said.
Sister Juniko Toaua from Kiribati said the essence of the Chapter for her was the opportunity to be together with the other Sisters.
“We really know each other in that time because we have the chance to see one another and that’s the good thing, to be together,” she said.
Sister Hiro Kageyama from Japan, agreed, saying it was good to be together with the Sisters again and to discern the way forward.
“The Chapter is wonderful, to meet all the Sisters again and then to try to step out, walk forward, yes, a very special occasion, it’s very important and I’m very happy to have it.”
Speaking during the Chapter, Sister Gerri Boylan said she was excited to be part of what she felt was a transformational period in the Congregation.
“Something different is happening this time, because I think we are on the edge of something, like we need to be transformed, go through a transformation, individually, and as a community, and I just hope we can really listen to God in this time and be part of what God wants of us, so that’s exciting, as well as meeting old friends,” she said.
Following the Chapter, Catherine McCahill said she saw her election to the role of Congregational Leader as “an honour and a privilege”.
“There’s a sense of gratitude with the Sisters putting that sort of confidence in me, to ask this of me at this stage. It’s a special gift. The Sisters are allowing me into their life in a different way to act and speak on their behalf, so it’s always a privilege.”
Catherine said the Chapter was an energising time. “As Sisters, we always enjoy coming together, that’s always the first thing,” she said. “Then into that mix came people who are significant partners with us … and that is wonderful too.”
Both Anote Tong and Dr Padilla had delivered outstanding presentations, Catherine said, which helped set the tone for discernment of future directions in the areas of ecological conversion and leadership.
“One of the things about congregational life is that you have to stop at various points and pause, refocus and set new directions,” she said.
“I think our Statement of Directions from this Chapter is a call to action. The challenge to us is how do we keep that alive in what we do in coming months and years, so that it isn’t just words on a paper, but translates into what we do and who we are.”