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Women in Catholic ministry

Opinion

In December 2018, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart announced they would be withdrawing their administration of our parish after providing religious ministry for the previous 105 years. At the time I was chairperson of our PPC and in consultation with our community we formed a transition team to steer our community into uncharted waters.

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The Sacred Heart parish Hindmarsh-Findon has two Mass centres, with eight distinct Eucharistic communities, and six parish schools.

The Archdiocese of Adelaide did not have an ordained man who could be assigned to our parish and there was no intention to merge with a neighbouring parish. Many of our community members could not begin to imagine our parish without a priest and some even expressed they would seek another place of worship should our parish not be assigned a ‘priest to lead us’. There was a mutual sense of uncertainty which brought about fear and anxiousness within us all.

Over the following months our community developed the ‘Hopes of our Parish’, which focused on growing a self-renewing and constantly adaptive community that continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’. (Pope Francis: Joy of the Gospel) Whilst endeavouring to remain Jesus-centred, our communication spotlighted our responsibilities and, particularly, our rights as baptised Catholics. We deliberately incorporated language which encouraged empowerment, inclusivity, collaboration, transparency and unity. We urged our community to reflect on their God-given gifts and how they may participate in the unidentified future of our parish. Without a parish priest, we were compelled with an opportunity to ‘step-up’ to ensure our parish had a future.

Despite having over 20 years’ experience in the corporate world in leadership and management, I held the majority opinion of our worldwide Church that women provided a support role within a parish. Contrarily, I found myself surrounded by clergy, in particular Fr Paul Cashen MSC, Fr Philip Marshall (Administrator Delegate) and Fr Bill Brady MSC, who recognised gifts in myself which would assist with the continuity of our parish. Our priest-less parish needed a leader. As I felt I did not have enough ‘tools in my toolbox’, I embarked on a journey through the Adelaide Archdiocese’s Ministry Formation Program to complete my graduate certificate in Theological Studies, which is now contributing towards obtaining a Master of Theological Studies at ACU. As our newly appointed Parish Pastoral coordinator, alongside our Parish administrator, I was confident in employing my skillset to guide our parish to be a ‘community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey and a centre of constant missionary outreach’. (Pope Francis: Joy of the Gospel)

Throughout the six months of being a ‘priest-less’ parish, our community has evolved into a viable and sustainable parish by working collaboratively and communally. After half a year of ‘borrowing and stealing’ priests from all over our Archdiocese, we have been blessed with Fr Lancy D’Silva csc, our newly appointed parish priest. Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted our newly appointed Archbishop will celebrate a joint installation and commissioning for Fr Lancy and myself. There are still many areas of opportunity, but alongside Fr Lancy, we will continue to encourage and inspire our members to be attentive to not only their own gifts and talents, but also to those of others in our community.

Even though three of my colleagues on the same study pathway as myself have now been ordained as, or about to become, Deacons, a title not currently granted to women in the Catholic Church, I remain true to myself and God’s mission to make a difference in our world. Yes, this is a title I respect and hope that I may be permitted one day, but it is what it is, and this will not prevent me from doing God’s work, as ministry is unreciprocated serving. My experience has by no means diminished my respect for our extraordinary, ordained men, who have devoted their lives to serving Christ. In fact, I now hold a heightened sense of appreciation for the selfless commitment and dedication which is essential in realising God’s mission, a parallel I have drawn upon in the past 18 months and also as a wife and mother of four.

Thank God we all have diverse talents which we can utilise to complement each other as members of the people of God to become true missionary disciples. As baptised Christians, we are all accountable for developing the mindset of the worldwide Catholic Church to recognise that we are all created equally, as brothers and sisters in Christ and we all have God-given gifts to fulfil His mission in our world. Even though the past 18 months have revealed many challenges to this conviction, from both clergy and lay people alike, and it would have been easier to step back and support the hierarchical status quo of both professed and non-professed, I can’t help but constantly remind myself of the determination of Jesus to do the will of God. Who am I to not at least try?

Narita Perrotta is Parish Pastoral coordinator, Sacred Heart parish Hindmarsh-Findon.

 

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