BY GABRIELLE McMULLEN
When I was appointed a Trustee of Mary Aikenhead Ministries in July 2011, I knew that there would be travel associated with stewardship of our ministries, which encompass education, health and aged care, research and welfare offered through facilities located in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Toowoomba.
These ministries, which represent part of the extraordinary heritage of the Sisters of Charity in Australia, were entrusted to the new public juridical person, Mary Aikenhead Ministries, by the Congregation in 2009.
As Trustees we do indeed travel to Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ colleges, hospitals, hospices, research institutes, aged care complexes, welfare agencies and other facilities. The Trustees conduct regular pastoral visits to the ministries and also attend liturgies, ceremonies and meetings at the facilities.
These occasions when we meet dedicated staff who are continuing the mission and living out the charism of the Sisters of Charity are a particular joy to the Trustees. But it is not about this type of journey that I want to focus here.
For the Trustees, ongoing formation for our role is of critical importance and we are blessed in our spiritual adviser, Br Joseph Smith of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God. He provides a formation session at the Trustees' monthly meetings, conducts a reflection day for us each January, and accompanies the Trustees on their annual retreat.
My first Trustees’ retreat took place soon after my appointment to the role when we journeyed to Hobart in the footsteps of the Sisters of Charity. Our reflective sessions there were interspersed with visits to the Female Factory (women's prison), the former Congregational school Mt Carmel College, the parish church of St Joseph and its presbytery which was previously the Sisters of Charity convent, and the pioneer sisters' graves at Cornelian Bay Cemetery.
The latter visit was followed by Mass in the cemetery chapel celebrated by Archbishop Adrian Doyle. A highlight of the retreat was an afternoon spent with Sr Josephine Cannell rsc, an historian who has spent over 70 years with the Congregation and gave us unique insights into their Australian story – the Sisters of Charity were the first religious congregation to come to Australia and celebrate their 175th anniversary of arrival next year on 31 December.
Our 2011 journey in the footsteps of the Sisters of Charity was a very special retreat for the Trustees but this year we anticipated “staying put” somewhere for our retreat. Then the suggestion was made that, as we were all travelling to Perth for the Catholic Health Australia annual conference, the six of us might make the trip there by train and have our retreat on the Indian Pacific.
This took some organisation, but 15 August saw us gathered at Central Station in Sydney with Br Joe, ready to set out on our pilgrimage. Br Joe focused the retreat on “Our Journey of the Heart”. As we traversed the almost 4500 km from Sydney to Perth. going from the continent’s eastern edge where we all live, and figuratively from life’s edge where we often find ourselves, to the centre, we explored our deeper recesses while we came to learn something of the heart of our land and the diversity and life of the deserts.
In the private meeting room that we had on the train, Br Joe invited us on the first evening to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Three days later, as we arrived in Perth, the words of David Tacey from Edge of the Sacred, incorporated by Br Joe into one of his sessions, resonated strongly with us: “In Australia, landscape carries our experience of the sacred other”.
My most recent journey of discovery with a fellow Trustee was last month to Timor-Leste – the purpose of our visit was to meet with members of the Society of Jesus, which is establishing a secondary school and teachers college as well as a clinic and sports and other community facilities at Kasait, 18km west of Dili.
The Jesuit school is due to open next year, followed by the teachers college in 2014, and subsequently the clinic. Mary Aikenhead Ministries is hoping to be able to provide some support to this Jesuit project “in the service of the people of Timor-Leste, especially the poorest” as, like the Jesuits, our ministries have the heritage of an Ignatian spirituality.
Ignatian spirituality – named after the Jesuits’ founder St Ignatius of Loyola – Ignatian spirituality seeks to foster a personal relationship with Jesus. It underpins the charism of the Sisters of Charity and of a number of other congregations, including the Faithful Companions of Jesus, Loreto Sisters and Society of the Sacred Heart (Sacré Coeur).
The founder of the Sisters of Charity, Mary Aikenhead, became familiar with Ignatian spirituality during her religious formation with the Loreto Sisters in York. She made it the spiritual basis for her congregation and, thus, the ministries of the Sisters of Charity now entrusted to the Trustees also seek to foster this tradition of Ignatian spirituality. Deepening our understanding of Ignatian spirituality has been a key focus of Trustee formation this year.
It has been a year of special and challenging journeys, leading to new insights and understandings. It is perhaps little wonder that the Trustees have titled their quarterly magazine, Journeys!.
Professor Gabrielle McMullen AM is Emeritus Professor, Australian Catholic University.
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