The Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship is the essence of community, 24 year-old Fellowship participant Sally McEniry told the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
‘It’s inspiring in how it brings people together from across Australia into the Church and into a community,’ Sally explained.
A Regional Coordinator with Marist Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, it’s the Fellowship’s national approach and Sally’s desire to study theology at masters level that led her to apply.
‘For someone working on the ground in youth ministry, the study element gives credibility, but more importantly is the ability to translate knowledge and theological concepts to an unchurched young person in a way that’s relatable to their life.’ Sally believes the Fellowship will enable her to do this confidently.
This year’s Fellowship drew teachers, nurses, human resources and communications staff, women working in the public service, prison ministry and youth ministry.
Women from such a diverse range of careers and ages between 24 and 45 years old, gathered from 25 February till 1 March 2015, to commence the two-year Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship program.
These women are the fifth group of participants since the Fellowship commenced in 2006.
Organised by the ACBC through the Office for the Participation of Women, the Fellowship is funded through the support of religious congregations. The aim is to cultivate women’s capacity for leadership in the church and in society today.
The two-year Fellowship includes an online academic component, in addition to four residential weekends based at the Sisters of the Good Samaritan’s, Mount St Benedict Centre, Pennant Hills, Sydney.
Through the academic component, Fellowship participants choose to study for a Graduate Certificate or Masters in Theology through the Broken Bay Institute and the University of Newcastle.
Singapore native Charlene Sim moved to Australia to learn about the Catholic landscape. ‘My spiritual director encouraged me to apply for the Fellowship but I didn’t think I was the academic kind.’
Charlene recently worked for the Diocese of Broken Bay and the Marist Brothers. ‘My passion is to bring my marketing and communications skills to the Church.’ Describing her inspiration to apply for the Fellowship, Charlene said, ‘it was the Holy Spirit saying this is the time to bring all of your experiences to an understanding of the form and function of your faith. It’s an enriching of my faith.’
‘Who knows maybe I could bring some of these learning’s back to the Church in Asia, much of this will be about bringing a new language to the Church.’
It was the leadership aspect of the Fellowship that drew the attention of 30-year-old Christine Pace, a Communications Officer at a Catholic school in the Diocese of Broken Bay.
‘I was drawn to the leadership element and the opportunities it could bring, whether that’s leadership within the Church or other kinds of leadership opportunities. In terms of the personal development, I’m just open to whatever the Fellowship might expose me to.’
Reflecting on the second day of lectures, Christine said, ‘I really liked the presentation on how the Church works. These are things that you half know but you don’t really know. I think today has exposed me to all the things that I don’t know and that’s a good thing’.
‘It is good to know what the contemporary thinking in the Church is, because we all grow up with our own version of Catholicism. Knowing where the Church is at right now, I think the Fellowship is really good for that because it’s very modern thinking, that’s important to know in a mainstream catholic school. To make sure that we are all on the same page and giving out the same messages.’
The Fellowship is about ‘developing a critical understanding of my faith’ and ‘what that faith is based on in terms of the Catholic tradition’, secondary teacher Helen Jacobs from the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn explained. One of the strengths of the program is ‘being able to meet young women with similar and new ideas’.
Taking ‘the next step’ in her ‘faith journey’ involves a ten-hour trip for Kirby Heath to attend the Fellowship. Travelling from Katherine, Northern Territory encompasses a plane ride, bus and car journey to arrive at Mount St Benedict Centre where the Fellowship participants gather biannually for lectures, interfaith visits, prayer and reflection.
‘As a teenager, I became an Easter and Christmas Mass attending Catholic.’
Having returned to her faith, Kirby is currently a religious education teacher and sees the Fellowship as ‘an opportunity to explore my faith further’.
Andrea Dean, Fellowship Co-ordinator for the ACBC Office for the Participation of Women said, ‘during the first days of the Fellowship, we reflected on our experience of diversity in our lives because over the next two years, we will encounter diverse faith traditions and sometimes that can be challenging for us.’
‘Some people are using the Fellowship to confirm their career direction. Others are approaching it with a sense of openness that it might be leading to a path that is in keeping with their deepest values, where God is calling them,’ Andrea added.
If you are interested in sponsoring a young Catholic woman for leadership, please email Fellowship Coordinator Andrea Dean at: firstname.lastname@example.org