Director of Mission
Do you ever take the time away from your busy life to reflect and take stock of who you are, what matters to you, and what gives meaning and purpose to your life? I had the privilege this year to do just that by participating in the Mary Ward Pilgrimage to Europe with my colleagues from Loreto Normanhurst, Sr Libby Rogerson IBVM and Ms Kerry McCullough, Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator, along with colleagues and leaders from the seven Loreto schools around Australia.
I grew up in Gundagai, a small country town in rural NSW, and I was blessed to have the freedom and space a country lifestyle provided and a big close catholic family to go with it. It wasn’t until last year, however, as I approached my 50th birthday, that I travelled to Europe for the first time with my husband. It’s quite ironic that I have spent my life teaching about religion, religious history and spirituality, all based on the lives and teachings of others, without experiencing any of the places these significant people had walked and journeyed.
My life has had many blessings and experiences, none more important to me than having children, educating them and working hard to provide the best I can for my family. My work has always been incredibly important to me and I know that working with teenage girls and stretching them to be the best they can be by developing a deep relationship with God, is what makes me happy and is where I find much joy and a life-giving energy. However, until the Mary Ward Pilgrimage, I had never experienced such a deep transformational experience that allowed me explore the deepest part of my soul and examine who I had become and why.
Our pilgrimage began in England, in the countryside surrounding York, where Mary Ward was born and lived before answering the call of her deepest desire to become a Sister. We traced her footsteps and crossed the English Channel to St Omer and Liege where she began her own order of Sisters, building schools and adopting St Ignatius’ rule of living outside the walls of a convent; a revolutionary path for a woman at the time. We then travelled on to Munich, where after the success of Mary Ward’s schools and the establishment of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she ended up arrested and a Papal Bull of Suppression was placed on her beloved order of Sisters and her schools were closed.
There were many moments, places and stories that touched me, but none more so than my experience at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Grace. Before we left the pilgrimage, each pilgrim was given a small wooden heart to place somewhere along the pilgrim route that had touched us personally. I would now like to share my reflection of this special place with you.
As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world a beautiful sense of slow mystery seems to gather and grow.
Arthur Christopher Benson
A great amount of trust is required of a pilgrim when they allow themselves to step over the threshold and through the doors of the unknown to experience another way of being. It is a trust in themselves, to be open to the possibilities that may await them; a trust in others and the pilgrims they share the journey with; and a trust in their God, who alone knows what is truly desired for them. I certainly had this sense as I stepped into the world of Mary Ward and her companions, into a life and time that was known only academically to me; I had not lived, experienced nor was fully aware of the depth and significance of her life.
Whilst the context of Mary Ward’s life was certainly set in the city of York around the Bar Convent, although this did not exist during her lifetime, my greatest insight came when I revisited the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Grace at the top of Mount Grace above Osmotherly. The revisiting came at the end of the pilgrimage when I rummaged back through my notes, journal reflections and my photos and was moved by the way Mary Ward returned to this tranquil site, a place for pilgrims to pray, including her own companions who prayed for her health here. I felt like a I had a brief window into her soul and I had a deep sense that after everything Mary Ward had encountered, at first some joys and triumphs, but then gradually all the suffering and disappointment that she had endured, the Shrine of Our Lady at Mount Grace was where she found peace and almost her final refuge. She placed, as always, her trust in God at this site. She gave thanks for the graces she had been given. It is a deeply spiritual place overlooking the landscapes of her life and time. A place where she journeyed, in prayer and reflection. A place where she walked, where she prayed and where no doubt she contemplated her deepest desires for her Institute and her companions.
I found myself coming back to that idea of trust, a trust of God, of self and of others. It was at Mount Grace where I had chosen to place my heart on the first visit. Walking in the pilgrim footsteps of those who’d gone before and tracing the Passion of Christ up through the trees, I was immediately struck by God’s presence. I was struggling through my own grief, with the loss of my mother, and when I became aware of God’s presence I felt a weightlessness. An acceptance that no one is on this journey alone. I placed my heart at Station Number 4, where Jesus Meets His Mother. It was at this time on his journey that Jesus needed all his strength to continue and so he comes face to face with his mother Mary who is his most powerful source of strength. It was their love and trust in God that united both of them to continue. So too this must have been for Mary Ward, I thought. She had journeyed, followed the way God had desired for her and yet still did not despair or turn to bitterness when all seemed lost. She remained faithful and trusted in God, she persevered until the end. I realised as Mary Ward did, that when we persevere and trust in God, and when we walk this way with our companions, we are never alone.
Make me a channel of your peace, where there is despair in life, let me be like Mary Your Mother, and bring Hope to others in times of difficulties.
I would like to sincerely thank Ms Marina Ugonotti for allowing me to be part of this beautiful life giving experience and I am positive the richness of the experience will continue to shape and form our school community.
As we enter into Advent and the Christmas period we look towards supporting those within our community. May our joy at this time lift the spirit of those around us who may be saddened and may we have compassion for all who are suffering in any way. If you would like to put your care into practical action this can be expressed by generously purchasing music performed by our students. All proceeds will go to the Bursary Fund. Click here for more information.
I wish all families a happy, safe and restful Christmas. May this time bring many blessings to all.
Mrs Libby Parker
Director of Mission