Sr Jan O’Grady: A life of ministry in teaching and social welfarePrint
Sr Jan O’Grady was an educator for the first 35 years of her life as a Sister of Charity. She taught from Sydney’s Bethlehem College, Ashfield, to Melbourne’s St Columba’s College, Essendon, to Brisbane’s Mt St Michael’s College at Ashgrove. There she concluded her teaching ministry as Principal, a role she had also held at St Mary’s Liverpool. She was, says Sr Jan, a “born teacher” and loved her years in education.
But ministries take the Sisters in different directions. A five year period as the Congregational Secretary, from 1994 to 1998 was followed by an appointment as Director of Mission at St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn. When that period finished, Sr Jan took on a period of ministry as a volunteer teacher of English to migrants and refugees.
In 2010 her ministry took a decidedly pastoral turn when she was assigned to a role in what was then the Sisters of Charity Outreach, now known as Open Support. Here she acts as the Coordinator of Country Care Link, which provides a no-cost transport service for people in regional New South Wales who have to come to Sydney for medical appointments. Both drivers and office workers are volunteers, who delight in being of assistance to our country people, most of whom express their apprehension when told they have to travel to “the big smoke” when their health needs cannot be accommodated in their rural area. Knowing that they will be met by a friendly smile and driven safely to their destination takes a huge burden from them: not only because of the cost of taxi fares, but because they feel they can trust our drivers. These volunteer drivers are prepared to meet early and late flights and trains, and traverse the city from Hornsby to Manly, to the big 4 hospitals in Sydney’s CBD as well as out to Westmead and Liverpool. Most of the clients are elderly or young. The children are driven to Royal Far West at Manly or to a Children’s Hospital at either Randwick or Westmead, with an occasional baby going to Tresillian at either Canterbury or Kingswood.
The Sisters of Charity Outreach ministry was started in 1992 by Sr St Jude Doyle and had many aspects which continue under the change of name. Among other services, volunteers attend several courts to provide a friendly face in a strange milieu for many, offering time, a listening ear, an understanding heart – and a cup of tea (carried in an insulated container) and biscuits. It’s not far from the Time Out ministry of Sr Maureen Heffernan at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, where she sits one or two days a week with her colouring books, and is open to anyone who wants to have a break from the drama or the devastation of being at a hospital bedside.
The work at Open Support is obviously something of a departure from Sr Jan’s original ministry. In the early ‘60s she was teaching science at Bethlehem College, Ashfield, a subject she had not studied at school, nor at university where she earned a BA majoring in English and History. “Sr Austin would take me through the lessons for the week ahead, and that’s how I managed. Both students and teacher learnt together – a good combination, and an enjoyable one.”
Her ministry at Open Support is a three day a week role, mainly in administration, but also the occasional drive when no driver is available. The role also takes her to two Conferences a year. Each Conference is held in a different part of the State and provides the opportunity to get out into the community to spread the news of the service offered by Country Care Link. The last two years have seen her accompanied by Sonia Fingleton, manager of Chisholm Cottage, an accommodation house at Westmead run by Open Support. We visit local hospitals, community transport services, Aboriginal aid services – any group which may benefit from either of our services.
Over the years the service has grown, from averaging about 140 trips a month, to around 200. Some of the drivers have been with us for over 10 years, including one 86-year-old who normally takes the late and early drives to and from Manly each week. “He’s not in the best of health, but he keeps on going, and apologises if he ever has to regretfully decline a driver.”
The work done by staff and volunteers at Open Support continues the vision of Mary Aikenhead who wanted her Sisters to respond to need wherever they found it. No wonder Sr Jan, who retired from this ministry in December 2019, found her work fulfilling.
Find more about volunteers at Open Support here.