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Wednesday, 20 March 2013 12:36

Leadership as witnessing to the cross

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Sr Marlene was chosen for her compassionate leadership in the school as Principal of Our Lady of Lebanon College in Harris Park, her pastoral work in Our Lady of Lebanon Parish and her programs on the talkback show “Voice of Charity”.

Her contributions to the Maronite community were also reaffirmed in her inclusion in the state government’s 2013 Local Women of the Year Honour Roll presented on the eve of International Women’s Day on 8 March at Parliament House.

This cheerful and modest nun expressed great surprise at the honour. “I didn’t think I deserved it. I was surprised, but at the same time I was very thankful and humbled,” said Sr Marlene. “It motivated me to serve better, to deserve this award.”

“I thought that the award is good for the community. The recognition is not just for me, but for the community I work for.”

Her work as Principal of Our Lady of Lebanon College in Harris Park requires her to oversee and minister to 1200 students in the primary and secondary schools, already a full time job. Yet it is also her work as a mentor, counsellor and model to women that have made her a beloved member of the community.

Dr Margaret Ghosn mshf, Deputy Principal of the Secondary School at Our Lady of Lebanon described Sr Marlene as a pastorally sensitive leader, one who always has her door open and always willing to listen to the concerns of staff, students and parents.

“She has and continues to offer spiritual accompaniment to women facing family strife and she has been a listening ear to numerous staff and students,” said Dr Ghosn. “With her deep prayer life, constant smile, strong intellect, musical and creative talent, she is a source of wisdom and inspiration to many people.”

Sr Marlene came to Australia 34 years ago after she took her final vows with the Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family in Lebanon, which she joined when she was 15 years old.

“When I was young, I lived beside the Maronite church in our village back in Lebanon,” said Sr Marlene. “I was brought up in a very devout Maronite family and it influenced me to join the religious order.”

The Maronite Church is an Eastern rite Catholic Church that shares the same Apostolic Faith, Sacraments and recognise the authority of the Pope as with Roman Catholics throughout the world. However, Maronites differ from Roman Catholics in their spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law, particularly with their use of Syriac and Aramaic languages.

Maronite spirituality is ecumenical in character, characterised by an attachment to the land and its emphasis on a spirituality of the suffering, crucified and risen Christ. It is a spirituality that is strongly rooted in its monastic character and in the cross, allowing Maronites to understand and internalize the persecutions they have endured in the Middle East.

“When I came to Australia, I didn’t know any English, but I felt that I was called to serve the Maronite community, especially the new arrivals from Lebanon who couldn’t speak the language here who needed help,” said Sr Marlene. “I was very happy to serve them. There were no counsellors then, so families would come for counselling and support.”

To respond more effectively to the needs of her ministry, Sr Marlene went on to further study while teaching in Australia. She completed her Certificate in English as a Second Language through the Adult Migrant Education Service in 1978 and went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts at The University of Sydney and a Master of Arts – Theological Studies at the Australian Catholic University.

She first taught at St Maroun’s Primary School in Redfern, before moving to Our Lady of Lebanon College where she taught and served as Secondary LOTE Coordinator. She was then reassigned to St Maroun’s as Deputy Principal, where she helped the school transition to a K-12 College.

Sr Marlene’s musical background allows her to sing at masses, weddings and funerals in the parish. She also finds time to do a weekly radio programme on the Maronite community station every Saturday morning. Her talk-back radio programme engages the community members on contemporary issues and provides Sr Marlene with an insight into the most pressing needs in her community, especially those that pertain to social justice. 

“What do we need to do with Jesus today in our community?,” she said. “I feel that we need to be with people more and sacrifice in service, rather than be enclosed.”

“We need to witness rather than be cloistered.” 

(Photo, top right: Sr Marlene with NSW Minister for Community Services and Women Pru Goward MP during the awarding ceremony of the 2013 Women of the Year Awards)

Read more about the the Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family and other Lebanese Maronite religious congregations through the CRA website.

By Giselle Lapitan