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Monday, 18 June 2012 10:42

Working for seamless transitions

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If helping people transition from one way of life to another is akin to building a bridge, then Sister Louise McKeogh fma is good at building bridges.  This becomes apparent from her work with Indigenous young people as they coped with life in a broader, contemporary Australian setting. And her Indigenous ministry and spirituality has prepared her for her newest role as Social Justice Coordinator at the Diocese of Parramatta.

Louise previously worked in Adelaide, where she supported young Indigenous people from the Anangul language group who moved to this urban setting for their secondary education. They came from remote communities of South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia where life was very different to that in Adelaide. Louise described, “My role as youth worker included supporting them at school. In the first year, they participated in a ‘bridging class’ of accelerated literacy and numeracy because they had missed a lot of school back in community.”

“It also included being a ‘house parent’ and having a great recreation program and getting them to the many medical appointments that were necessary. Many suffered from a lack of general good nutrition.”

“They also faced a lot of grief and loss. There would be family funerals back in community and this was an especially hard time for these young people to be away from home,” she added.

Before her ministry in Adelaide, Louise also worked with young people in Western Sydney, whose families were struggling with unemployment, poverty or having one parent in prison.

Her ability to build relationships and support young people throughout changes in their lives inform her work in social justice with a sense of continuity, adaptability and vision. Her experience in Indigenous youth ministry is inextricably linked to social justice advocacy which she presently handles in the Diocese of Parramatta.

“We are a very young diocese with a median age of 33. We are also a very multicultural diocese with Western Sydney being a focus for immigration. The diocese also has a significant population of indigenous people especially in the Emerton and Mount Druitt area. For many years they have been the heart and soul of the Catholic community there,” Louise said.

“This might show that the advocacy areas might be for the ‘newest’ and ‘oldest’ peoples in our diocese and country,” she added.

Louise finds inspiration in the spirituality of St Frances de Sales, St John (Don) Bosco and Maria Mazarello, the foundress of the Salesian Sisters. “St Francis de Sales was known for his humaneness, gentleness and kindness, and he worked for reconciliation in the church at a time when there was division,” she said.

She also cites Don Bosco’s Preventive System of “reason, religion and loving-kindness” as a guiding force in her ministry. She explained, “To Don Bosco, the individual relationship was important and the basis for any ministry. Maria Mazarello and Don Bosco both saw the needs of the poor and marginalised young people of their time and responded to them.”

She is also inspired by those years in Adelaide, and treasures the lessons she learned in her work with young Indigenous Australians. “I was struck by the resilience and dignity of the young people in Adelaide. I am also aware of many religious who have journeyed with Indigenous people in ministry for many years, and I admire them.”

“The things that strike me though are that the reality of lives of Indigenous people in remote communities is so very different to our own, especially in terms of accessing needed resources. The only way to understand this poverty is to actually visit some remote communities and spend some time there building relationships and listening to the people’s stories,” she said.

“I think that Indigenous people continue to need to have a voice in our communities.  They have a powerful story and many gifts to share with us.”

Read more of Louise’s reflections in her article, “Respectfully hearing each other’s voice”  reprinted in this edition of Pathways.

 

By Giselle Lapitan