‘I have never met a Passionist Sister before’ is often the response we receive in new gatherings.
This is not surprising especially as our Passionist presence in Melbourne is both small and recent. We have had a presence in Endeavour Hills since 2007 where we have pastoral involvement together with the Passionists at St Paul Apostle Parish and also at Holy Cross Retreat Centre in Templestowe.
Like many Congregations in Australia we are a small international group of apostolic women committed to making a difference for the sake of the Gospel. Our roots as a Congregation go back to 1852 in Manchester and to an English woman and a convert to Catholicism called Elizabeth Prout. Elizabeth saw the needs of her time particularly those of the poor in the industrial North of England where she, with a small group of companions, shared the compassion and love of Christ.
Though Elizabeth would have been twenty two when St. Mary MacKillop, the first Australian saint, was born these two women would have been kindred spirits as they shared a passion for the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.
Elizabeth established a Congregation devoted to the providing education and safe accommodation for young people who were working in the mills in Manchester and its surrounding towns. In establishing the Congregation she met with many obstacles, not least the criticism of the local clergy, but with faith, determination and support from the Passionists she persevered against the odds. In more recent times our ministry has been diverse and our charism finds expression in a commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
Through a variety of ministries the Sisters endeavour to live out the corporate mission of the Congregation to be prophets of the Paschal Mystery in the midst of the sufferings of the world by witnessing to the reconciling, forgiving and compassionate love of God in terms which the world is able to understand. Our presence here in Australia has broadened our horizons and has given us the privilege of meeting people from many cultures and nationalities. We pray that we will be open and alert to the needs of our time and continue to respond in collaboration with the many people who are entrusted with being carriers of the Good News.
Being a Sister of the Cross and Passion continues to be a challenge and a privilege. My vocation has its roots in my Irish catholic family. I grew up in Co Kerry, in South West, Ireland, a part of the country steeped in Celtic spirituality where we had a strong sense of the presence of God especially in nature.
Secondary education was not easily available in country areas so I attended a Boarding School run by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. This decision was possibly the most significant decision made by my parents. I got to know the Sisters and I was inspired by their humanity and commitment.
When I came to leaving school and making a decision about the future I felt that I had to at least give Religious Life a try. My parents were supportive but one of my brothers, newly married, thought I was taking an easy option! I didn’t let that put me off! I had a sense that God was calling me to dedicate my life in this way and felt drawn to the Sisters. They seemed to be down to earth and human and they were all very different individuals yet there was something that they had in common which was attractive and I wanted to be part of it. Later I knew that this was the charism of the Congregation based on the love and compassion of Jesus and his concern for all especially the poor and disadvantaged.
My journey as a Sister of the Cross and Passion has given me many opportunities and challenges in living in community and serving in various ministries. After initial training as a Novice and Profession of vows, I did Teacher training and taught for a number of years. The school I worked in closed because of a re-organisation of Catholic education and it was then that I changed direction to Social Work. This training and the experience of working as a Social Worker gave me a great insight into the struggles of people with all sorts of issues in their lives mostly in English cities. The two strands of training proved invaluable in many different situations and helped me to adapt to the various changes and challenges as I was called into different ministries of service including hospital and prison chaplaincy.
Prior to coming to Australia I worked in Hospice Care for twelve years which was an amazing experience! Working with people at the end of life was as inspirational as it was challenging. The Hospice was a place of learning, a place of humour and fun, a place of stress, sadness and anger on some days, but mostly a place of life where the simplest gestures were appreciated and where people mattered till the very last moment of life.
My journey as a Passionist Sister has been life-giving and fulfilling and this continues here in Australia where I have the privilege of doing pastoral work in the multicultural area of Endeavour Hills and being part of the Retreat Team with the Passionists at Holy Cross. I have seen many changes in society, in the Church and in Religious Life but through all these changes the core values of the Gospel continue to inspire and challenge as we try to respond to the needs of people coping with living their lives according to Christian values. Together, we try to respond to the needs and challenges of our time as Elizabeth Prout; our foundress did when she began our Congregation back in the mid 19th century. There are many ways in which the charism of the Sisters can continue in the 21st century in the lives of men and women who, inspired by the Gospel, respond to issues of justice and the needs of people in these times.
More recently we have been responding to a call from women in Vietnam who are interested in exploring our way of life and I feel privileged to have been a small part of that journey. A seed has been planted which we hope will grow. This adventure is sign that in Religious life we are called to be open to the unexpected and also called to foster new life wherever we can and we are called to do this even in our years of growing older. What better time to share the wisdom we have learnt along the way and be part of nurturing something we may never see?
Religious Life is a call to faith, to hope and to love, it is a call to put Christ at the centre and to work for a more just and equal society so that all people will have the dignity they deserve.
My hope is that people reading this website may be inspired to be themselves and be true to the gifts they have been given to unwrap, that they may discover God’s call and respond with generosity.
For further information please contact Bridget at firstname.lastname@example.org