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Tuesday, 19 April 2016 22:15

Deep yearning bears fruit for Gail

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Sr Gail Leslie sosj vowsA 67-year-old grandmother who plays lawn bowls every Thursday is the newest addition to the Sisters of St Joseph community in Adelaide.

Sr Gail Leslie made her final profession at the St Mary MacKillop Chapel at Kensington on February 27 in front of about 110 people, including Sisters of St Joseph from all over Australia, missionaries from other countries, family and friends.

Her journey to consecrated life began 15 years ago when her two children had grown up and she felt ready to follow a long-held inner calling to religious life.

“I was searching as a young woman,” said Gail, who was baptised when she was 18 years old. “But it wasn’t the right time for the journey; I married and had two beautiful children.”

Supported by her parish priest, Oblate Fr Leo Mifsud, the Dernancourt parishioner decided to attend a retreat day at Aldgate where she met her future mentor, Sr Genevieve Ryan, and Sr Eileen Taylor.

“I had a deep desire to inquire and now that the children had left home I went to the retreat day and asked how I could be involved in the Josephite community in some way,” she said.

Before commencing her discernment she first had to sell her house and quit her job of 41 years with a large retailer. There were legal and canon law hurdles to jump as well.

After several years working with Josephite Sisters as a volunteer in the dementia wing at Flora McDonald Lodge, she was invited to the novitiate in Quaker’s Hill, Sydney, where she was guided through the Emmaus journey by Sr Kateri Duke for two and a half years.

Returning to Adelaide, she broke with tradition by making her first profession in the Kensington Chapel, rather than Sydney, – the first one to be held there in 75 years. “It was amazing, just beautiful,” she recalled.

For six years she worked with adults with intellectual disabilities at Ain Karim, supervising during the night and taking clients on excursions when they weren’t working.

She described it as a very rewarding ministry: “They really bring you down to earth, they show you unconditional love and really challenge you to look at yourself,” she said of the Ain Karim residents.

“They are so open and direct, they pick up on your feelings before you know what they are – they are very perceptive.”

She is currently completing a Clinical Pastoral Education course and is working as a chaplain at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre. “It’s very humbling to walk with people at that stage of their life,” she said.

Asked what her children thought of her decision to enter a religious order, Gail said they were very supportive. Her son has two children and lives interstate and her daughter is a teacher in Saudi Arabia.

“They said I had done everything for them, and if this was what I wanted to do then I should go ahead,” said Gail.

“It’s very fulfilling to know that they can stand on their own feet.”

Some of her workmates were shocked when she told them she was leaving, but she had no such doubts herself.

“When I walked into my meeting with Gen and Eileen it was like I was coming home,” she said.

There are various pathways she could have taken such as the Covenant Josephites or Affiliation through private vows, but she said consecrated religious life was “where my heart’s desire was”.

Gail now lives in a small group of units at Hectorville and enjoys mixing with the other Sisters and gathering as a community.

“Each one has a different gift to bring and share,” she said. “It’s like being part of one big family.”

“I love hearing the older Sisters tell stories and reminisce about the days when there were 50 or 60 of them joining the convent at the same time – what rich companionship they enjoyed.”

While there may not be as many young women joining today, she is optimistic about the future of Religious life and said there had been strong interest from younger people as a result of World Youth Day and the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. “It’s really great to see them inquiring,” she said.

She likens her journey to Australia’s first saint who had to fulfil her duties to her family before she could go on her journey. “I am drawn to that because I had to wait for my family to be settled before I could go into religious life,” she explained.

Gail is unsure of what the future holds in terms of her ministry but is adamant that the journey “doesn’t stop here”.

“We are always journeying, time isn’t a factor…we are on God’s timetable.”

(Photo shows Sr Gail, left, receiving her ring from Sisters of St Joseph Provincial, Sr Monica Cavanagh at her final profession in the Kensington chapel.)

This article written by Jenny Brinkworth was first published in the April 2016 issue of The Southern Cross, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.