By Beth Doherty
In 2005, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference through the then Commission for Australian Catholic Women approved an inaugural fellowship which would draw together young women from across Australia for academic and spiritual formation.
This pioneering course was known as the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship.
The first program of its type in the world, the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship began in 2006, and has seen all of its graduates gifting the Catholic Church and society with a wide range of skills ranging from education to media, to social justice advocacy and youth ministry, to pastoral care and academic leadership in various forms.
A project of the Council for Australian Catholic Women, the Interfaith Fellowship ran in 2006, 2007 and 2009 with 27 young Catholic women graduating from the course.
Originally, the fellowship was run as a four-month intensive course in Canberra, where the fellowship recipients studied at Australian Catholic University’s Signadou campus.
In 2013 the fourth group of young women will come together in a new format to allow more women to get the benefits from this course. Initially planned for the second semester of 2012, the fellowship will now run from February 2013 through the Broken Bay Institute (BBI), sponsored once again by the Bishops’ Conference and a number of religious congregations, institutions and Church agencies.
Over two years, young women from their 20s-40s will study a Graduate Certificate in Theology. They will come together once a semester over two years, a program which will allow them to live their lives, continue in their professions and work as well as receiving rich academic formation in interfaith relations, Catholic leadership and theology.
The academic program will be supplemented by short gatherings at the beginning of each semester for prayer, meditation, reflection and personal growth at the Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills, an institution run by the Good Samaritan Sisters.
Director of OPW, Donella Johnston, said that the changes to the fellowship would make it more accessible for busy, young women.
“Young women lead full lives. Trying to juggle work, study, and relationships can make finding time to nurture one’s own spirituality difficult”, she said.
“Initially, we had planned that this fellowship would take place in the second half of the year 2012, but upon some reflection, we thought a new year with a fresh start would open it up to more people and give us more time to prepare an interesting and vibrant program.”
Bishop Peter Ingham, the newly elected delegate for the Council for Australian Catholic Women said that the women’s fellowship is one of the best things that the Bishops Conference has done for women in the Church.
“It truly responds to some of the challenges given to us by the Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus report on the participation in the Church which was released 12 years ago. The women’s fellowship affirms the important place women have in the Church and gives expression to their gifts. It provides women with solid academic, theological training and spiritual formation”, said Bishop Peter.
“At the foot of the cross, the women were the ones who stood by Jesus. They were the first to witness the resurrection, and in many ways, I think this gives us a scriptural basis for the lifting up of women in our Australian Church. To really support them and empower them to lead.”
Women between the ages of 25-35 are encouraged to apply for the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship by downloading the application and referee forms at www.opw.catholic.org.au on the front page.
Forms should be returned to email@example.com by 7 September, 2012. Women outside of this age range may like to make enquiries about their eligibility and these will be considered on a case-by-case basis.