Melbourne Catholic - April 2016 - page 13

‘There’s the absolutely on-the-ground stuff that no one sees,’
Sr Michele says. ‘It’s going to see the mum who’s just had a
new baby and not feeling all that great. Maybe taking her out for
coffee or taking a cappuccino to her.’
According to Sr Michele, in pastoral ministry ‘the interruptions
are the invitations’ and parish life is full of such interruptions.
‘Someone can be diagnosed with a serious illness. Someone
can have a sick child. Someone can die. Maybe someone just
needs to talk. That’s the part of the work I love most.’
When she walks down the street in Hampton, Sr Michele often
bumps into parishioners who want to have a chat. For her these
are important opportunities. ‘It’s the opportunities to really grab
them. Community is really important, and we really have to
think about Church in a different way, beyond these four walls.
Especially for young families—how do we enable them to be
connected to the Church? Not only young families but young
adults too.’
Another aspect of being a PA is discerning people’s gifts and
drawing them into various roles within the life of the parish.
Sr Michele says that in any new initiative within the parish
she would always ask herself, ‘How quickly can I make myself
redundant?’ Similar to the vocation of teaching, being a PA
involves showing others the way so that they no longer need to
be shown. This means finding people with particular gifts and
inviting them to use those gifts in leadership roles in the parish.
‘I would come to Mass every day and I would notice new people
straight away. I would talk to them and you can hear what their
gifts are. Some people are good at visiting. Some people are so
good at being on a parish council, some are good at being on
the liturgy team.’
During her time at the Hampton parish, Sr Michele initiated
several pastoral programs including a lectio divina group, Lenten
and Advent reflection groups, a meditation group and a baptism
preparation team. ‘Priests haven’t got time often to put all those
things in place. When you’re working as a team you really can do
things,’ Sr Michele says.
A major achievement for Sr Michele during her time at Hampton
was designing and implementing the sacramental program
for parents of children preparing to receive the sacraments.
Sr Michele says initially there was some resistance from parents,
but the program has now been running for several years and
borne much spiritual fruit.
She discovered that many parents hadn’t thought about their
personal faith since they were at school themselves and the
program prompted them not only to think about their faith, but
also to connect with their children at a deeper level. ‘There was
one man who said it was the best thing that ever happened to
him. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he read his child
a story. So this was a real catalyst for having conversations with
his child.’ Sr Michele’s program encourages parents to have two
‘God-talks’ each week with their children.
While the PA role is all about nourishing the faith of parishioners,
Sr Michele found it also deeply nourishing for her own faith.
‘My faith is a growing thing. Hopefully people keep on nourishing
it. That’s the lovely thing about the sacramental program, you
really see people coming to faith. They’ve had to let something
die in coming to that new faith, almost another image of God.
I couldn’t live without my faith, I know that. I think faith is a gift—
not everyone has it.’
She is grateful for the opportunity to have worked in such
a role within the Church. ‘It’s an immense joy and such
a privilege being in this role and I’m so grateful, so grateful
to the Melbourne Church that it has the role of PA. So grateful
to the priests who engage PAs for their communities because,
while it’s very rewarding, it’s for the Church.’
Through her pastoral work Sr Michele has learnt a great deal
about ‘the lovableness of people, their humanity, their resilience,
their faithfulness,’ she says. ‘People teach me so much about
myself, they have nourished me in my faith and still do, and
affirm me. The bottom line is we’re all exactly the same. We all
need to be loved and accepted and cared for.’
Sr Michele has also witnessed the awesomeness of God
through her life’s journey and her pastoral work. ‘God is just
so big and so gracious. We have a really gracious God who’s
always wanting and waiting to be gracious to us.’
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