I retired at 58, the earliest age I could take my superannuation. I had worked for 20 years as a senior psychologist in Sydney and I was burnt out. However, I was not ready to give up working altogether, and I was looking around for something either in the church or as an aid worker. Bishop David Walker the then Bishop of Broken Bay wrote an article in the Broken Bay News asking women to come forward and join a new community. The aim of the community was to give women a chance of leadership roles in the diocese and to bring a feminine influence to the diocese. We were told we would be under the same conditions as the diocesan priests. Four women were accepted. We made two promises, celibacy, and obedience to the bishop. We were to live a simple life and we were to live together in community. We were to called Ecclesial Women and our group Mary Star of the Sea Community. The name later changed to Mary Star of the Sea Association. The Bishop said that we would be given ministries according to our gifts. I was appointed to work in a parish as a pastoral worker and this has been my main role for the last 11 years though I have also worked in schools and at Catholic Care.
How do you understand your role in relationship with your baptismal calling and your response to God’s action in your life?
I believe that my response to my Baptismal call is by serving God and my neighbour. In my work, I try to serve God in numerous ways, by conducting Bible study groups, Children’s Liturgy, Communion Services and preaching. I hope that I serve my neighbour by listening and trying to understand their concerns, by visiting them when they are sick and by caring for the homeless. I furthermore believe I am called to help women in their struggle to gain recognition in the church. I have done this my trying to be a strong presence in the church and by conducting Adult Faith Formation events especially for women.
What training and formation have you received for the role?
I have a Batchelor of Arts (University of NSW) and a Master of Arts in Psychology. (University of Sydney). I trained as a Psychodynamic Therapist and had weekly supervision for twenty years. I have a Master of Divinity (Catholic Institute of Sydney) and a Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction from the Listen into Life program.
I have received formation from Bishop David Walker for the last 12 years. Initially this was weekly I now see him monthly.
What support and fellowship have you experienced?
Sr Philomena Tiernan was a companion to the group for about four years until her death in the Ukraine Plane Disaster in 2013. We saw her monthly. Fr Vince Casey was my support person for about a year after Sr Phil died. I have an outside supervisor paid for by the Diocese. I see her monthly. I have also had monthly Spiritual Direction for many years.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of your role?
Working with the priests is the most challenging aspect of my role, compared with that everything else is easy. The things that make it difficult are clericalism, my own envy, and lack of understanding from the clergy. I find it upsetting when I have done at least half the work and ‘Father’ gets all the praise and reward. I get envious when ‘Father’ is swamped with bottles of wind, spirits, fruit cakes, jams, chocolates etc. and I am lucky to get a homemade coat hanger. I also do not like always having to play a secondary role to the priest and knowing no matter how much hard work I do it is unlikely to change soon. I do not feel that many priests understand how it is for a woman in the church.
Share one of your greatest joys in your role.
My greatest joy in my role is helping with Sunday Masses and Children’s Liturgy. I love greeting people and making sure everything is ready for Mass. At 10 am mass, I help with Children’s Liturgy and this gives me enormous pleasure. I also enjoy standing outside the church after Mass to say goodbye and to catch up with people.
Share one of your best experiences of collaboration between lay and ordained in ministry.
My best experience of collaboration between lay and ordained in ministry was when the parish priest I was working with agreed that we could set up and train a team of women preachers. We had eight women in the parish who had Theology degrees who wanted to preach. The priest said he would be happy for the women to preach at all his masses one Sunday a month. We had a woman preacher come and give a workshop and the priest and I gave help with the Reflections if asked. This has been extremely successful, and the parish priest has received no complaints from parishioners.
My best experience
My best experience was being part of organising an Ecumenical Service. It was the first one held in that parish and all the parishioners came together to make it a wonderful event. It was held in July and freezing. The men built a bon fire outside the church to welcome everyone. We had over 100 people turn up.
What is a particular learning or insight you wish to share with others in this ministry?
Do not expect to be friends with the priests. Make sure you are not caught doing all the washing up.
What other comments do you wish to share about lay pastoral ministry at this time?
I love lay ministry and find the work very satisfying, but it can be very emotionally challenging and draining.