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Leadership role for local Josephite

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As Sr Brigette Sipa takes on her new role as CentreWest regional leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, she will draw on her many years of experience as a school principal and director of Mission at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney.

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While no stranger to leadership positions Sr Brigette admits that it was quite a surprise when she was appointed regional leader in March following the completion of Sr Margaret Cleary’s six year term in this position.

Sr Brigette is responsible for 128 Josephite Sisters living and ministering in South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Timor Leste. Their care and wellbeing is “always my priority”, she says.

Also high on her agenda is ensuring that the legacy of St Mary MacKillop lives on through the new museum at Kensington and “enabling and involving” the laity in this ministry.

Sr Brigette says the museum creates excitement: “It is with the support and encouragement of our lay people that the living legacy of Mary MacKillop will continue into the future.”

She witnessed the impact Mary MacKillop Place had on so many who came to that sacred place. Adelaide too has a special connection to St Mary MacKillop and people come to the centre to be inspired and encouraged in their faith.

“As a Congregation of Religious we recognise that we are in a different space and need to look at the way we have done things in the past,” Sr Brigette says.

“We now need to rely more and more on the skills and expertise of lay people to support us in our various works and ministries.”

Sr Brigette was born in Adelaide to migrant Polish parents and was educated by the Josephite Sisters at Mt Carmel Girls’ School (now a co-ed college).

Sr Brigette considered joining the Order of Josephites when she left school but wanted to have some time to experience life. She worked in administration for a forklift company and her colleagues were quite amused and amazed when she informed them of her intentions to enter the convent.  She recalls the staff trying to counsel her.

Sr Brigette’s parents were also very surprised and tried to talk her out of joining the convent but were very supportive of whatever she and her three siblings chose to do. For many years her Dad would need to be reassured she was happy and said he would do anything she needed if she chose to leave.

Inspired by many Sisters she encountered at school, particularly her music teacher Sr Henrietta, she became a postulant in 1969 at the age of 19, entered the novitiate in 1970 and made her final profession in 1978.

Sr Brigette began her teacher training in North Sydney and completed it in Adelaide with her first teaching appointment at Croydon.

For the next three decades she taught primary grades in Josephite schools in the city, holding deputy principal and principal positions at Hectorville, Croydon and Mansfield Park.

In 2008 she was asked to be director of Mission at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney. This role included hospitality to visitors who came to the chapel where Mary MacKillop is buried, to the adjoining museum, the conference centre and the accommodation facility.

Sr Brigette says the ministry at Mary MacKillop Place was a huge learning curve for her because she knew nothing about the world of museums and hospitality. However, she recognised the similarities that she experienced in working with people in schools.

“I absolutely loved my ministry,” she says. “I was very inspired, overwhelmed really, by the faith of people who came to the site, particularly to Mary’s tomb. There was a wonderful spiritual sense of her presence and I loved the sacredness and energy of this place.”

It was a busy time to be in Sydney, arriving as she did in the year the harbour city hosted World Youth Day, followed by the centenary of Mary’s death and the announcement of her canonisation on October 17 2010. More than 5000 visitors gathered at Mary MacKillop Place including the NSW Premier and other dignitaries.

‘It was very special to be there on that day,” Sr Brigette says.

On her return to Adelaide in 2015, she was assigned the task of coordinating the events throughout Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Peru, for the sesquicentenary of the Josephite Order. In 2017 she was appointed to the CentreWest regional leadership team and in March 2020 as regional leader, just as COVID-19 manifested itself.

The pandemic has prevented her visiting parts of the region but it has led to other ways of connecting with Sisters via video conferencing.

Sr Brigette says the Sisters in Adelaide are looking forward to celebrating the feast of Mary MacKillop on August 8 with Adelaide’s new Archbishop Patrick O’Regan. He has a strong connection to St Mary through his families association with the Josephite Sisters in Perthville, NSW.

The 10.30am Mass on this day will be live streamed from the Kensington chapel with a video of the Mary MacKillop Museum featured beforehand.

Mary MacKillop College community is also pleased that Archbishop O’Regan will celebrate Mass at the school on August 7.

To view the live streaming of the feast day Mass in the chapel visit www.adelaide.catholic.org.au

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