Sr Catherine Thom with Fr Geoffrey Plant, Sr Monica Cavanagh and Sr Josephine Dubiel.

Friends and family of Sr Catherine Thom recently gathered at St Joseph’s Centre in Baulkham Hills for the launch of her latest book, From Taproot to Rhizome: A Study of Post Vatican II Changes to the Lives and Experiences of a Group of Women Religious 1968-2008.

The launch was the culmination of years of research, writing, reflections and discussions to capture the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SOSJ) NSW Province throughout this period.

“Sr Kathleen Burford had done a scholarly recounting of what was significant to the NSW Province from the beginning of the Congregation in 1872 until 1972,” says Sr Catherine.

From Taproot to Rhizome initially looks at the significant differences in the NSW Province compared to other Provinces of the Congregation. Some of these differences were its greater number of Sisters, convents, schools, its multicultural mix of professed Sisters and it was the only Province with a maternity hospital as intrinsic to its ministry.

“The book then examines the effect of Vatican II (1963-65) on the lives and experiences of Josephites in NSW, and the significant changes that were made to governance, ministries and the vowed lives of the Sisters,” says Sr Catherine. “In these years, many of the most important discussions, deliberations and decisions were made for the Congregation.”

Guest speakers at the launch included Sr Josephine Dubiel and Sr Monica Cavanagh of the SOSJ Congregational Leadership Team; Sr Judith Sippel, former Provincial Leader of NSW (2002-2008); Ms Sue Kane; Sr Helen Madden and Father Geoffrey Plant who officially declared the book ‘launched’.

“NSW is a distinctive province of the Congregation which lived through a rapid period of change during 1968-2008,” says Fr Plant. “This time experienced a paradigm change which Catherine has captured well.”

Fr Plant asked the question also asked by Sr Angela Grant in her poem Evaluation (1966): “Would Mary MacKillop recognise the multi-clad, 21st century Josephites as her own?” The answer he said is yes as Mary always responded to what was present, to the here and now… just as modern-day Josephites read and react to the signs of the time.

The title of the book symbolises the move from a taproot (vertical) top-down approach to religious authority and decision-making to a rhizome which has a root system which spreads out horizontally symbolising a move to greater involvement of religious in these two aspects of daily life.

“The rhizome’s strength does not come from a central source. It is tenacious and can adapt to new conditions,” says Sr Catherine.

Sr Judith Sippel, who first invited Catherine to write the book, said From Taproot to Rhizome is an extraordinary contribution to recorded Josephite history.

“Catherine was up to the challenge and we are indebted to her,” says Sr Judith. “Her approach to our history makes us aware of the times we have lived through. Catherine has wonderfully succeeded in the task she embraced.”

Ms Sue Kane, who assisted Catherine with editing said; “When I first read the script, I recall being impressed by the attention to detail, the scholarship, and by Catherine’s determination to give a voice to so many of the ‘little people’ at the heart of her history. We live in our stories, and I was struck by the way the personal anecdotes and reflections of the sisters gave the work a freshness and immediacy that was both appealing and heart-warming.”

“Catherine was willing to put in the hard yards in order to meet her goal, and I would like to thank her for inviting me to be part of it, and congratulate her on producing such a worthy and impressive contribution to the written history of Josephites in NSW.”

Regional Leader, Sr Anne Porter, thanked all the Sisters of the NSW Province who encouraged Catherine to persevere and supported her by responding to surveys, being interviewed, providing photos and sharing their reflections.

Congregational Leader, Sr Monica Cavanagh, thanked Fr Plant and all the speakers for their interesting contributions to the event, and congratulated Catherine on the achievement of such an extensive work of history.

From Taproot to Rhizome captures a period when as Sisters we were introduced to new ways of embracing religious life. We were called to widen our tents and adopt a newly developing identity in the modern world.”

It was agreed by all that Sr Catherine has wonderfully succeeded in the task she embraced.

Sr Catherine expressed her thanks and gratitude to those who helped her through the book writing task.

Following the official launch, guests and those who had joined Sr Catherine in the journey, enjoyed a celebratory afternoon tea at St Joseph’s Centre.

View photos from the book launch below.