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Friday, 15 November 2013 11:40

"Religion with its sleeves rolled up"

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Luke Evans, a teacher at St Joseph’s Campus, All Saints College, Lochinvar shares a significant encounter with the Sisters of St Joseph whose work in education and parish ministry has inspired many in the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle and played a pivotal role in his family's Christian life.

In a chance encounter whilst shopping, I ran into Sister Cabrini Boyle. Sr Cabrini was a teacher at my Catholic Primary School at Belmont and I met her in 1988, when I was in Year 3. Sr Cabrini is a force of nature. She zooms around the room at a million miles an hour, always working, always moving, ever-faithful and devoted to service. I had barely seen her since primary school, so I began with a rapid-fire reintroduction of myself – my hair is long and messy and I often don’t recognise myself – but she knew who I was. She asked after my family – Mum and Dad, my two daughters (she remembered I had two daughters!) – and we had some small talk. When I mentioned she was looking well, Sr Cabrini said that she was celebrating sixty years since first professing her vows as a Sister of St Joseph. Sixty years!

Sr Cabrini was one of six celebrating Diamond Jubilees, along with two who were celebrating their Golden Jubilees and three more celebrating Platinum Jubilees – seventy years of devotion and service to their communities. Sr Cabrini humbly smiled and said that her congregation was celebrating the following day and could I come? I said I would try. One of my girls had a party and I was looking after the other one; the little tornado who can’t sit still for five seconds!

I headed home and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Fifty, sixty and seventy years of service to others. Teaching, visitations, serving the poor and needy, Masses and celebrations, funerals and weddings, hospitals, churches and cemeteries. For a total of 670 years, these extraordinary women had served others in accordance with their beliefs in Christ and in their people. How much had they given? How much had they sacrificed? How much had they endured in their service to others? So many years of service were unfathomable to me. I was going to that Mass.

Sr Cabrini was one of the first Church-going Catholics I encountered. I met her at Belmont Primary School in the time set aside for voluntary religious studies. Sr Cabrini encouraged me to join the class, saw something in me and encouraged my family to have me switch schools. As a consequence, my family returned to the church after an absence of ten years. Sr Cabrini and our local priest, Fr Peter Brock, supported our family through my sister’s cancer and through my mother’s journey back to her much-cherished faith. In time, my father also joined the church. The roll-on effects of that act for our family are incredible.

Sr Cabrini and her fellow Sisters are a powerful example of the good religious orders do every day. The Sisters of St Joseph arrived in this diocese 130 years ago and began teaching the very next day. In these times when so much scorn and ridicule has fallen on us as a faith and many are asking what, if any, is the benefit of religion to our world, we can proudly hold up our Sisters as an example of goodness, justice and love for the world. As Fr Reg Howard ssc said, preaching at the Jubilee Mass, “Australians like to see religion with its sleeves rolled up.”

I arrived at the church with my daughter and had to chase her around for most of it, much to the amusement of the Sisters and their guests. I was fairly ignorant of what I was attending, really. I hadn’t realised how ‘big’ the day would be and that almost all the ‘black’ Josephites would be there. Many of the Sisters from my school and my past parishes were there, faces I had not seen in years. One of the Sisters asked me if I was coming to lunch afterwards and I said I would. I hadn’t realised it was a formal affair though, with prearranged seating plans!

It was my intention to come in and say a quick hello. I was welcomed by the Sisters at the door who said they would find me a seat and when I saw Sr Cabrini inside she quickly ushered me to a chair at her table. What beautiful, incredible women these are! I saw in that room the faces of my entire Catholic life. Priests I have known and Sisters from all through my school and church lives, as well as the beautiful Sisters from Lochinvar where I now teach. I had a lovely time and amused the Sisters and their guests once again by having to chase my little terror around the room. She was a good little girl for me really and had a great time.

I came home and began writing immediately. I wanted to take some time to focus on this remarkable achievement. Over 670 years in the service of our community, not to mention the combined service of the entire congregation. Our community has been enriched by these incredible women.

Sisters, you have inspired me for years, and again today, and hopefully something in the service I give, lives up to your legacy.

(Photo shows Sr Carbini Boyle rsj on the left with Sr Patricia McCarthy rsj at the jubilee celebration.)

This first appeared in the October 2013 edition of Aurora magazine, the publication of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle.