Sr Libbey Byrne: A passionate lifePrint
In late March, the Congregational Leader, Sr Clare Nolan, installed Sr Libbey Byrne as the new Director of Sisters in Temporary Profession in a ritual at the Bondi Junction offices of the Sisters of Charity.
The previous Director, Sr Regina Millard, handed formation documents to Sr Clare as symbol of ending and welcomed our Sister in Temporary Profession, Amanda Nguyen, to continue her journey with Sr Libbey. (Sr Amanda renewed her vows for two years during a liturgy in January.) Sr Amanda, and members of the Leadership Council, Srs Margaret Beirne, Cate O’Brien, and Suzette Clark, were also joined by the members of Sr Amanda’s new community in Sydney, Srs Frances Graham, Cecilia Kinsella, Jean Montgomery, Gaye Reynolds, and Margaret Valentine.
Sr Clare then called Sr Libbey forward and entrusted to her the Formation documents – a symbolic of carrying forward what had already begun.
It was a moving and heartfelt ritual, one which mirrors Sr Libbey’s long-term ministry of faith formation. Her role with Sr Amanda fits perfectly with her other ministry in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
As she told Tracey Edstein, the editor of the Diocesan publication, Aurora: “I’ve got this passion for helping people make sense of faith and life and link the two together…. Often, the people in the pews are the ones who miss out…. to reach everybody, you need to be in the parish.”
While Sr Libbey was talking about her role as parish leader at Myall Coast Catholic Parish (encompassing St Brigid’s, Bulahdelah; Our Lady of the Rosary, Karuah and St Stephen’s, Tea Gardens), it reflects the core of her expression as a Sister of Charity.
“While her home is at Tea Gardens, Libbey has pastoral responsibility for the communities that gather around each of the three churches, often participating in clergy gatherings along with other lay leaders. It’s nothing for Libbey to clock up 1000 kilometres in a week.” Aurora reported.
She wrote the Lenten resource for the parish this year, and is also chair of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese adult faith formation council. “That was a bit by default,”she said. The other person I was doing it with stepped down…. But it is my thing – formation in parishes. Formation is my passion.”
And she has other responsibilities – Sr Libbey is a member of a “dispersed” community of Sisters which includes Sisters in Ashfield, Concord West, and Bondi – with Sr Libbey in Tea Gardens. “We make sure that when we are all in Sydney for something, we spend time together afterwards as a group. That happens about once a school term. And then we can meet up on Skype.” (Useful that Skype: Sr Libbey also meets her Melbourne-based spiritual director regularly on the app.)
One of the younger members of the community, she became a Sister of Charity after she had finished her teaching qualification. “Previously, others had gone into the novitiate around 17 or 18. I was 26, so my own experience was very different from that of other, older Sisters, and even of Sisters who are around my age. It will always be completely different from Sr Amanda’s expereince, who is just turning 50.
“For instance, when I joined, the Sisters were not habited. When I was professed, I was given a veil and meant to use it on formal occasions. I am not sure I wore it much. At the next Chapter, the habit was completely out.”
She is aware there might also be other places apart from age and experience to tread sensitively in her new role. “Sr Amanda comes from a Vietnamese background, so I will have to be culturally aware, as well.”
Sr Libbey was professed 36 years ago – but it wasn’t necessarily a lifepath she was determined to have from an early age. Taught by the Josephites at St Gabriel’s Bexley, then the Sisters of Charity at St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Hurstville, then Bethlehem College, also in Ashfield, she did have an early, idle thought that “it might be nice to be one.”
That thought was quickly followed by ‘no, no, no, not me, Lord.’ I was having too good a time.” But eventually she did understand her call, and entered. No one was more surprised than Sr Libbey when she got to her Silver Jubilee of profession.
You might put her longevity in ministry to her passion – for the past 25 years she has worked on faith formation both within and outside the Congregation.
“Sr Linda Ferrington and I were on the ICVF (Intra-Congregation Vocational Faith Formation) team for the founding congregation in 2009, and 2011-12, we were involved in that ministry in Nigeria, the US, and Scotland.”
And Sr Libbey has been enabled to pursue that passion. She was away at Boston College, completing her masters in pastoral ministry and spirituality for nearly two years from 2000. On her return, she has been living on her own and ministering in places in and around Sydney. For the last three years, she has been in Tea Gardens.
“I used to be a raging extrovert; but I have become more of an introvert. I love the quiet and the solitude. As people age, they become more idiosyncratic and a little niggly so it’s good for me to have my own space, even if it can be a bit lonely at times.”
It’s worth it, though. One of her parishioners told Aurora: “Sr Libbey is not only committed in ministering pastoral care in a kind and caring manner but also demonstrates a passion to provide opportunities which help encourage continued faith development. No doubt working within three parish communities can be at times a heavy workload but Sr Libbey does this with dedication.”
She says, “You’re an enabler, not the be all and end all. You need to be empowering other people.”
And there is something else coming up… With Srs Margaret Beirne, Adele Cottrell-Dormer, Anne Taylor, and Tess Marcelo, she will be developing a new vocations and faith formation ministry for the Congregation. That seems like more than enough to keep the dedicated and passionate Sr Libbey busy!