Sr Margaret Fitzgerald: Ministries in education, health, communityPrint
- When did you know you had a vocation?
Only a few months before I entered. The question was raised by different people a few times over the six months period, which gathered momentum, within those last few months of 1961, when I was finally asked by a Sister of Charity in a school where I was working as a lay teacher, “Have you ever thought of entering the Convent? My initial response was ‘no’ but the thought began to niggle inside me and just wouldn’t go away despite my many attempts to bargain with God about why I shouldn’t! After much discernment I found peace when I finally said ‘yes!’
- How did your family react?
Various reactions! Initially, when I announced my decision to my parents and two older brothers, as we sat around the kitchen table one Friday evening having our tea towards the end of that year. My mother wasn’t happy because she thought she would be losing her only daughter; my father cried; my eldest brother asked if I was entering because he hadn’t become a priest and my other brother thought I was joking! For some time, my mother wouldn’t mention it because she thought the idea would go away. But by the time I entered in February, 1962 they were accepting and happy for me., even though each bi-monthly visiting Sunday my Mother would say – “You can always come home!”
- What was the process like in 1961 of joining the Sisters of Charity?
The same Sister of Charity made the arrangements for me to have an appointment with the Superior General to discuss the possibility of entering. She had obviously already filled her in, as even the detail of my driver’s licence was raised by the Superior General with the suggestion that my parents keep it going, as it was still in my home address. In those days, very few Sisters had a licence and as I loved driving, the thought that I would be able to continue at some stage in an unknown future was a delight. It was agreed there & then that I would enter on February 2, 1962.
Once accepted it was a matter of purchasing what was on the list; complete appropriate forms, acquire my Baptismal certificate, including the other Sacraments, purchase black serge material etc. On the afternoon of February 2 my family drove me to the Novitiate at Wahroonga.
- How many joined with you, how many left?
Ten entered on the same day, seven were clothed six months later. Two years after, seven were professed and there were still seven for final vows five years later.
Now there are three of us – one has died and three decided to leave.
- You were a teacher – what were you keen on pursuing?
I was a trained Infants/Primary Teacher and taught for three years before entering. I was trained in the first year of the Catholic Teacher’s College, North Sydney, started by Monsignor Slowey and after training was sent to a primary school conducted by the Sisters of Charity. All my schooling had been with the Ursuline Sisters, so this appointment, as a lay teacher, was my first introduction to the Sisters of Charity. It was in my third year there that the question re-entering the Convent was posed.
- What is the major difference you see in Religious Life compared to when you first entered.
As a result of Vatican II, major changes happened. Prior to that Religious life was very structured and regimented. Today, there is far more freedom which brings with it greater individual responsibility. The Eucharist and Prayer are still central. Gradual changes with the habit over some years to now where we are free to wear ordinary clothes, minus the veil. Our distinctive crucifix, ring and crest have remained.
Community Living has also changed to either still living together with a group of Sisters in a Convent or living individually within a complex or else completely alone in a unit.
Many Sisters, are still involved in various grass roots ministries, outside of our big Institutions of Health, Education and Welfare, where the majority were when I first entered.
7. What was your most challenging time
When I was asked to be the Executive Director of the Sisters of Charity Outreach, a role I was in for nine years. It was also a time of personal growth and development.
- Was there a time that was more than usually rewarding?
Although I loved teaching and being with children, when I switched across to Health after 35 years in Education, I completed the three units of Clinical Pastoral Education at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney. Then I joined the Pastoral Care Team at St Vincent’s Private and soon realised what a privileged role it was to have the time to be with, listen, in confidence, and share in the patients’ journey at such a vulnerable time in their lives.
- When people discover you are a Religious Sister what is their reaction?
Varied responses… surprised, because of not being in the habit… not surprised, because they sometimes say “I thought so”… delighted because they have never met a Sister before and sometimes unsure because of preconceived ideas of a Religious Sister! Mostly delighted, because of not being set apart by the habit.
- What do you see as the future for apostolic life in Australia?
I believe that it will be different! I believe that the changes in Religious Life are an essential ingredient that in time our Church will become the “Church of the Poor.”(Pope Francis)