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A new way to communicate? The Sisters react to their new, on line portal

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Sr Maryanne Confoy: A reflection on the expereince of our RSC Portal [1]

Our Heritage: As a sixteenth century follower of Jesus, Ignatius based his Spiritual Exercises on his own reading of the Bible, enriched as this was by his own personal gifts. He asked questions of the texts and drew conclusions that were at times inevitably different from ours. This, along with the Foundational text of our RSC Constitutions is the backdrop I believe to our own Congregational and communal approach to the Portal.

Mary Aikenhead chose Ignatian spirituality as the foundational spirituality for the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity with our four vows, the service of the poor giving shape and direction to our mission and ministry. This has flourished in our Australian Congregation and it has been integral to our narrative and purpose.

Mary Aikenhead’s motto: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Phil: 4, 13)

OUR PRESENT ECCLESIAL CONTEXT: Pope Francis’ Encyclical, FRATELLI TUTTI.

‘With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”.

In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.

OUR RSC MOTTO: Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor 5, 14)

– the approach of the Portal draws on the recognition that the dynamism of the Spirit is both from within and beyond our Congregational, communal and personal experiences, and it is enriched by our personal and communal openness to the sharing of our experiences.

THE RSC PORTAL: We received an inclusive invitation from Clare and Council to each and all of us as Sisters of Charity in the past six years. (The term ‘portal’ – gate, door, entrance) we are invited to enter into our personal, communal and congregational experience as Sisters of Charity, particularly in the past six years.

THE DYNAMIC PROCESS: An Overview:  The Prayers, Reflections, Questions for Contemplative Dialogue, our Congregational gathering with the diverse levels of input from within the Congregation and from those who work with us in supporting and continuing our heritage has raised our consciousness in terms of data provided that gave us the “Big Picture”. These were also clarifying in opening us to essential details that have been foundational to our ongoing experience as Sisters of Charity in the past six years, taking the past, present and possible future into reflection and discussion.

Conversations in and beyond the Portal have been shared after the experience offered, formally and informally.

VARIOUS COMMENTS & REFLECTIONS FROM SISTERS OF CHARITY – RECEIVED BOTH IN THE PORTAL EXPERIENCE IN GROUPS AND IN CONVERSATIONS SHARED:

  • The experience opened us to: challenge, inclusivity, connecting, understanding of the past, present and future directions, growing trust, new hope, some doubts, anxiety initially in the experience, but gratitude as it became easier, some questions and concerns, good to hear other Sisters of Charity and meet up with each other again, at least in this way of connecting.
  • Some Sisters, realising (because of age, circumstance or state of health) that they were unable to continue at the Portal level, expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to discuss the experience with those who were well enough to continue.
  • Gratitude for the opportunity to experience the prayers, hymns, reflections which were new for some of us.
  • The careful preparation for each session was recognised and appreciated.
  • Questions, both those proposed and those that came under discussion in the group sessions were helpful. E.g. “What is the “More”? “What is our flourishing?” “What do we need to let go of?”
  • Our personal experience of Contemplative dialogue brought new insights.
  • Are we opening up to a new culture of conversation / of connectedness?
  • Presence to each other – we are grateful for this new way of connecting.

SOME FURTHER REFLECTIONS – PERSONAL, COMMUNAL

What experiences personal and / or communal did we bring with us, personally, or communally in conversation perhaps to the Portal, on separate occasions, or on the experience as a whole?

Who or what experiences from the past, or hopes for the future, might I personally have brought with me in terms of memories, fears, hopes, – concerns for our past heritage and accountability for the present and future for us as Sisters of Charity?

Is this perhaps related to the discussions that have brought the topic of “shadow” into past and perhaps present discussions that have followed the Portal experience?

Shadow: Is the ‘shadow’ – personal / Congregational – something that we might need to discuss further?

Discipleship – Our Congregational identity is a call to discipleship. Our present experience, especially in this time of the Coronavirus might be bringing us to similar questions, fears, loss of hope or identity that the disciples experienced at Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

After experiencing the death of Jesus, they had to open themselves to new levels of understanding what their discipleship meant.

Our personal and communal understanding of our following of Jesus may also be an experience of both loss and gain that we, as Sisters of Charity, are sharing at this time as we face significant changes and new challenges in our understanding of our commitment to mission and ministry.

A KEY QUESTION

  • What is “Our compelling, ongoing, evolving way of living the Gospel?” at this particular time in our Congregational Story? 

A REFLECTION SHARED IN THE PORTAL

Teresa of Avila: I have no body now but yours –

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now but yours:  no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

– St. Teresa of Avila (attributed) The Life, Prayer, and Writings of St. Teresa of Avila

Sr Colleen Jackson

With all the loss and heartache that the current pandemic has brought with it there are some hidden blessings. One is the new RSC Portal. It has been a great innovation at a time when physical meetings between us have become impossible. It has allowed us to meet and talk across boundaries – those of both physical distance, mobility and age limitations. The Portal’s function of linking us directly to Zoom meetings is just one of its benefits. It is also home – a one-stop-shop – to documents and previous meeting recordings, thus giving us easy access to revisiting material. The Portal is also home to key moments in the life of our Congregation. One such moment I especially appreciate is the access to live-streamed and recorded celebrations of the funerals of our Sisters. We can truly rejoice together in the celebration of lives well and faithfully lived. A bonus for me has been the inclusion of our partners in mission from whom we learn more of the intricacies of practical dimensions of our Congregation’s life and administration.

It has been a joy to be able to participate in discussion, via Zoom, with Sisters who would not normally be at state-based meetings where our physical presence is required. This brings a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. Who’d have guessed, a year ago, that a group of women whose ages extend into the 100’s would be bound together by technological devices like tablets, smart phones and computers! Of course, online communication has its limitations – we are tied to a structure and time limitations, missing the nuances and flexibilities, and graces, of face to face communications. And no one gets to see and admire my new shoes! But for the moment our Portal is a window to communication that would otherwise be inaccessible. And it has opened a yet-to-be-revealed window into communications into the future.

Sr Maureen Walters 

On 22 May 2020, the new Portal was launched. Plans for the 2020 Chapter were cancelled and the Congregation entered a new era for keeping in touch. Despite some trepidation, I found that clicking the right buttons enabled me to enjoy great presentations and more particularly, sharing in small groups with our Sisters across the four States. It was a joy to see my dear friend Sr Dawn and others on the screen in front of me.  I feel I have never experienced a Chapter preparation as we have received these past months.

The Portal enabled us to share a special moment in our history with Sisters of Charity from eight Nations when we linked up to celebrate the 162nd Anniversary of Venerable Mary Aikenhead. Although for the Australians it was 4.30am It was a great joy to hear the words of welcome from Sr Patricia Lenihan, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity. What a great heritage our first five Sisters left us.

 

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits the Portal has brought is the opportunity to listen again to the   from previous meetings and access to many documents.  On a more personal level, the opportunity afforded by the Portal to be present at the funeral Masses of Sr Rose Anne, Virginia and Dawn has been a most precious gift. My gratitude is expressed to all who have not only provided the Portal but to James who walked with us through the various problems we encountered.

 

Sr Margaret Guy

Along with so many changes due to Corvid restrictions, our congregation could not have our regular ‘Contemplative Dialogue, Conversation Circles” meetings which this year would be leading up to our Chapter in September, also postponed.

Our Congregational Leader, Sr Clare’s dream for  a “TV channel” for our sisters, came to fruition through our I.T.partners,Conal and Bruce Stephens.so our portal was launched on May 29.This has enabled our sisters from all states to “meet  “ at the same time on a regular basis through the gallery on Zoom. Sr Clare introduces the session, the Council Members also facilitate and we pray together before the presentations which have covered our revised Constitutions, our Property and Finances, our Congregational Leader and Council’s Report and  lately the mandatory training program on “Safeguarding Children and Adults at Risk” in Oct/Nov.

I like the portal even though it is second best to meeting face to face because it allows sisters from all states to be present at the same time including many  who would not be able to travel to a particular place. There has also been great IT support from our RSC office staff and sisters to those who find the portal a challenge digitally. Break out groups also  allow sisters from across the  states to share on focus questions with some feedback from leaders given instantly Sessions can be viewed at a later time if any sister is not able to be present at the “live” presentation or simply if any sister wishes to review same.

Sr Genny Walsh 

COVID-19, pandemic, world wide. No vaccine, no support, unprecedented times. The Northern Hemisphere absolutely overwhelmed. Hospitals overrun. Doctors,  nurses, carers, families devastated! Here in Australia, symptoms of the 1919 Flue Epidemic remembered! Hospital wards emptied fir action, population in lockdown, restrictions imposed and Australia/ Australians wait. In this darkness the Sisters of Charity, like many others, took stock, reflected and stirred. In  Chapter mode….hmm Chapter postponed. But surprise, surprise our Congregation goes Portal.

From Darwin to Hobart, we sisters became connected like we have never been connected before. Fridays dawn and laptops, ipads and iphones go into action. The Sisters gather, 9 am strikes and “join meeting appears,” everyone taps the screen and then each sisters appears, hellos resound and we sisters from the eldest, 102 to our youngest, are joyfully connected, united like never before. The meetings, the groups, the indepth learnings, how proud we are to be, to belong and to live our legacy.  The Portal is loaded, past meetings, documents, Masses are all on there to be reviewed, enjoyed and appreciated. We sit back and wonder, how amazing all this is …we are stirred to express wonder at our Portal Directors and Technicians, to express our gratitude to our Leaders  and to appreciate again.. ‘We are Sisters of Charity, Women of Mary Aikenhead, Contemplatives in action, Impelled by the love of Christ’. God bless the Portal!

 

Sr Margaret Fitzgerald

My introduction to the Portal began one Friday when I was at the Congregational Office. I’d heard mention of Sr Clare wanting to use the internet for the Sisters but had no idea what that entailed, the beginning of which happened on that particular day! I learnt that it was being planned to have a portal for the Sisters so meetings, information etc., could be shared with the us seeing we were in a social distancing situation. It sounded amazing, high tech, and I wondered if this dream was possible!  With experts like Connal and Bruce, including staff support, it began to take shape. It wasn’t long after that I was invited to share in a session with a few of the staff to learn about using Zoom. I wondered if I’d ever learn all the steps involved. Following that it happened that I was included in a trial Zoom meeting, which is when I began the journey with the portal! Having had a little practice this gave me some confidence when the portal was finally launched to assist some Sisters in our early days.

Naturally, there were some early hiccups as the Friday sessions began and we gingerly tipped toed our way with this technology, but over the weeks following those early days we have all grown in confidence, ably supported by our technical companions, in logging on, joining the input session as well as the small breakout meetings!  Being able to not only see, listen to and chat with Sisters from as far away as Darwin, Brisbane, Tasmania and Melbourne has been a little miracle in itself, apart from the variety, informative and enriching sessions presented by Sisters, Staff, Board/Committee members, has been a real gift!  Covid 19 has imposed so many restrictions here in our own country and all around the world and it seemed quite a catastrophe when it meant our Chapter preparation and Gathering would have to be postponed. But this courageous and creative initiative and implementation of an RSC portal has been another little miracle in giving the Congregation this platform to prepare for the Chapter. In my opinion, it has been a much broader, deeper and more engaging opportunity for all Sisters, regardless of their current situation, to be involved at the grass roots level, resulting in everyone being able to hear and contribute to the discussions. An added bonus is the availability of the records of the sessions, news, content videos and even Masses for us to re-visit at our choosing. For me the portal has been a real blessing. Thank you to Clare and Council and our Champions who enabled this to happen!

Sr Loretta Bani

The Portal has been a great idea for sisters to go directly to our various communication dialogue information, masses , Special content ,zoom conferences etc. pertaining to our congregation. The connection  with the sisters via zoom has been really great as normally due to distance etc we wouldn’t see each other so there is a feeling of a closer bond of connection, though it would never take the place of actual getting together this has been certainly a game changer for another way to meet discuss and form dialogue. The special content and masses recording is also wonderful to review whenever your free to do so in your own time not feeling constraint or in missing out due to inability to attend in actual time or place,  so the Portal has been really amazing and a big thank you to Conall and Bruce in getting it in progress and all those behind the scene who made it possible , an amazing team. Most grateful. Loretta Bani

 

 

 

 

[1] This was written in response to a request from Clare to write some reflections on the experience of the RSC Portal. I have spoken to several Sisters and reflected on conversations and other activities that have been integral to the Portal experience. (Maryanne Confoy)

THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
What we do ought to be done well.

The Sisters of Charity acknowledge the First Peoples and traditional custodians of this land where we live. We respect, value and honour their history, culture and spirituality. We are committed to standing in solidarity and to actively working for justice, peace and harmony in this land.

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