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Newcomer no stranger to Josephite spirit


The new manager of the Mary MacKillop Precinct at Kensington, Amanda Taverna, has big shoes to fill but her firsthand experience of the Josephite charism and the canonisation of Australia’s first saint is sure to hold her in good stead.

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Amanda (pictured) has replaced Sr Mary Ryan rsj, who successfully steered the historic site through a major redevelopment including the opening a state-of-the art interpretive museum in 2019.

In between guiding visitors through the exhibits last month, Amanda spoke to The Southern Cross about her journey of discovery which led to the decision to leave her position as a secondary teacher at Cardijn College.

Despite being “dragged” to Mass with her three siblings in country Victoria and being educated in Catholic schools, Amanda knew nothing about Mary MacKillop until she came to South Australia and began teaching at St Joseph’s Kingswood.

As part of her formation at the school, she came to know the story of Australia’s first saint and was lucky enough to represent Catholic education at her canonisation in Rome in 2010.

“I was actually on a bus doing a pilgrimage of Mary MacKillop sites around Adelaide and was at the museum at Kensington when I heard that CESA were looking at sending two early career teachers,” she said.

“Then I was in class supervising a NAPLAN test and I noticed an image of Mary MacKillop on the wall and her face seemed to be smiling at me.”

It was enough to make her apply but being a latecomer to Catholic education, she was skeptical about her chances of being selected as part of the small Catholic education delegation.

When she learned she would be making her first trip to Europe, Amanda said she felt “guilty” and “like an imposter” because she had only been teaching for a couple of years.

“Then I made it my mission to find out about Mary MacKillop; I read Fr Paul Gardiner’s biography and realised what an amazing experience it would be to take that knowledge and walk in the footsteps of Mary MacKillop,” she said.

“During the trip we would sit down at night and share our experiences of the day over dinner.

“Someone asked me how I would describe Mary in one word and I said ‘tenacious’.

“She really was ahead of her time, but I also feel she’d be crawling into a hole about all these accolades.”

Amanda proudly draped the Australian flag around her shoulders at the canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square.

Despite the “holiness” of the occasion, she said it was a celebration as well and when she looked back towards Castel Sant’Angelo she couldn’t believe how many people were there, many of them Aussies.

Similarly, she was moved when she first saw the five saints’ banners hanging on St Peter’s Basilica. one of them featuring “our Mary’s face”.

The experience gave her the impetus to continue to learn about Mary’s story and to talk about the saint and her work at Josephite schools.

Moving to Whitefriars Primary School, she met Sr Liz Koziol, the last Josephite Sister at the school, who was a “great influence” on her, as was principal Mary Hemmings who is a Covenant Josephite.

She also began volunteering at the Mary MacKillop Museum but was forced to stop about 18 months ago when her husband was diagnosed with cancer and the demands of teaching became too much.

Earlier this year she was commencing long service leave and about to travel overseas with her husband when she heard about the position of manager of the Mary MacKillop precinct. The prospect of working in the place where Mary MacKillop lived was too hard to resist.

“I knew there were aspects of my past working life (small business management and administration) and my education background that I could bring to this place,” she said.

Now in her second month in the role, Amanda said it was very special to work on “this holy land”.

“I feel very privileged to be able to do that,” she said.

“My head is still spinning – in a good way – and it’s a steep learning curve.”

Acknowledging the incredible contribution of Sr Mary in managing the precinct, especially during the difficult COVID period, Amanda said she was committed to following through with “her vision”.

“I am coming into the position with a different set of eyes but making sure that I honour what she (Sr Mary) has done and always honouring the spirit of this place.”

As she assists a teacher from Geelong who has come to visit the museum with his two daughters, chats with an Irish couple from Queensland and sells baptism cards from the gift shop, Amanda’s knowledge and passion for Mary MacKillop is evident.

“It’s not just something of interest to Catholics, it’s a piece of South Australian history,” she said.

“The story of Australia’s first saint is a story of a group of amazing women who worked hard to bring education and social services to the State.”

Increasing the number of schools visiting the museum and using Bethany for retreats and reflection days, encouraging people to visit the historic chapel and promoting the site to government schools and community groups are on Amanda’s list of priorities.

But for now she is focused on talking and listening to the
40 volunteers who are crucial to the running of the precinct.

“Their enthusiasm, dedication and belief in the importance of this place is inspiring,” Amanda said.

“Whether it be creating beautiful greeting cards, hosting visitors, running the gift shop or supporting schools when they visit, they truly live by the motto ‘Never see a need, without doing something about it’.”

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