Palm Sunday

A reflection for Palm Sunday…

Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Please download and continue reading the Palm Sunday Reflection

Palm Sunday Reflection

Kindly provided by Briege Buckley rsj


Thumbnail image: Palm image by Valentin Salja obtained on Unsplash. Used with permission.

Walking in Two Worlds: Ancient Cultures and New Settlers

New Zealanders expressed both grief and unity at the time of the Christchurch tragedy; they showed the world that humanity can rise after terrible events

They honoured the dead, fostered unity and demonstrated the truth of the inclusive ‘us’. Their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, embraced the whole of the nation’s heritage and culture: of those that have come in recent times and of the ancient culture of the Māori people.

We, in Australia, watched New Zealanders drawn intuitively, and possibly at an unconscious level, to the ancient centre of themselves. As the people of Christchurch expressed the intangible ‘us’, the power of the Haka reverberated around the world. Though Australians may not understand the gesture well, many are drawn to envy New Zealand’s link with ancient culture. In the overwhelming grief and pain of the tragedy, we see the Haka expressing pride, strength and unity.

Australia’s ‘new settlers’, those who have arrived in the past 240 years from the European Union (EU), Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, Africa and the Pacific, are gradually discovering the 60,000 years of culture in this country.

Systematic research has, for some years, charted Australian attitudes to the First Nations of this land. Results are published as ‘The Reconciliation Barometer’. The most recent posting indicates that 90% of Australians now believe that our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is important, and 79% agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are relevant to Australia’s national identity. The Reconciliation Barometer is read every two years and the recognition of Australia’s Indigenous culture continues to rise. Gradually, though belatedly, many Australians are acknowledging it.

Josephite Sister Kenise Neil wrote, “[Father] Julian Tenison Woods’ description of his downward descent into the Naracoorte Caves could be a metaphor for our life journey into our indigenous selves”:

  …the entrance …a hole, on top of the hill …(leading) to a small sloping path under a shelf of rock. …one gets a glimpse of the magnificence enshrined below …the eye is bewildered by a profusion of ornaments and decorations of nature’s own devising. It is like an immense Gothic Cathedral.Fr Julian Tenison Woods

Christians in Australia are searching for spirituality embedded in our country. Pope John Paul II addressed a gathering of First Peoples in Alice Springs many years ago:

The Church in Australia will not be fully the Church Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received. Pope John Paul II

In May 2017 representatives from all Aboriginal Nations across Australia and the Torres Strait Islands met in Uluru and issued, with the overwhelming support of this historic gathering, a powerful ‘Statement from the Heart’. They invited all Australians to claim the heritage of the land. Given that Australia was settled without Treaty, there are two sentences that I find most poignant. ‘When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country’. The entire Statement was summarily dismissed by political leaders of the time, but will eventually be seen as a defining moment in the history of Australia.

I cannot help comparing Australia and New Zealand.

I recall the words of the poet David Whyte:

To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance. David Whyte

Joan Healy rsj


Right image: Mine Bay Māori rock carving of Ngātoroirangi on Lake Taupō, New Zealand. Used with permission.
Left image: Outback Ayers Rock Uluru Landscape Australia obtained from Max Pixel. Used with permission.

It Seemed That All Was Lost

Have you ever experienced a loss that seemed like a disaster, yet, in time, proved to be a blessing?

To Jesus’ friends and followers, his death and burial in a cave were the absolute opposite of what they had fondly expected. In those moments, it seemed that everything that he had promised had been a giant hoax. Their hopes were dashed.

Through the gifts of hindsight and our faith, we know differently, and in this month of April, we reflect on the events of the first Holy Week, through a different lens from theirs. Unlike those who stood by, shocked and disheartened as they witnessed Jesus’ burial in a borrowed tomb, we know, and will celebrate again at Easter, that he rose again ‘on the third day’, and that his memory lives on in the lives of his present-day followers.

After a lifetime committed to following Jesus, and ever-mindful of the Cross in her life, Mary MacKillop’s burial bore a striking resemblance to that of Jesus. Her tombstone was also provided by a friend, Joanna Barr-Smith. Mary, of course, did not physically rise from the tomb, but her memory too lives on today. Mary’s spirit has captured the hearts of countless people who continue to be inspired by her story of love, courage, compassion, forgiveness and trust in our God who never stopped providing for her.

This month, we are invited to spend some time reflecting on the scene of Jesus’ burial, and to stand in solidarity with those who have lost hope.

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

A suggestion:

  • First: reflect upon what is happening to Jesus in this thirteenth Station
  • Next: ponder the Moments in the Life of Mary MacKillop
  • Finally: reflect upon how this links with your own life
So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.  He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.Matt 27:59-60

Gently, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen cloth and placed in on a ledge, in a tomb that was probably a burial cave cut from the soft limestone rock. To protect the body from wild animals a large rock is placed at the entrance of the tomb. Those who love Jesus mourn their loss: it seems that all is lost.  The vision of God’s reign, so central to the life and ministry of Jesus, seems now a distant dream.

Moments in the life of Mary MacKillop

Mary MacKillop died in Alma Cottage, North Sydney on 8 August, 1909. Initially she was laid to rest in the Gore Hill Cemetery but in 1914 her remains were transferred to the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel at Mount St, North Sydney convent where she was placed in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin. Joanna Barr Smith paid for the beautiful marble tomb that has become her final resting place. This has become a place of pilgrimage as thousands of pilgrims come each year to visit this sacred place.

God is good and has brought light and help when all was very dark.   Mary MacKillop 1899

Moments in My Life

  • If you knew that this was your last day how would you spend your time?
  • What would you want to say to the significant people in your life?

Take a moment to reflect in silence upon these aspects of your life.  We tend to take life for granted and live in an unreflective manner. The death of a loved one can pull us up short and help us to re-prioritize what is really important. We come to a deeper understanding of what gives life meaning.


Jesus you call me to be open to every aspect of my life, to be aware of its beauty, its gift.  You invite me to live with intention, to embrace each day. Constantly draw me toward all that is good, so that through my actions others may experience a glimpse of your goodness.

Forgive me Lord for the times when apathy in given free reign and I become blind to all that life holds. Encourage me to ponder on life’s meaning. Help me to graciously accept the process of ageing and to find wisdom in the passing of time. May I finally delight in your presence and find my rest in you.

Download the print version of this reflection (PDF)

Stations of the Cross: A Journey with St Mary of the Cross MacKillop – Valerie DeBrenni

© 2012 Trustees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart

Available for purchase @ $7.95 from Mary MacKillop Place Bookshop, Mount Street, North Sydney, or online



Station 14: Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel, North Sydney
‘Jesus is buried’: Mary Ryan rsj. Used with permission.

A Day in the Life: Aboriginal Ministry

This month you’re invited to read about Sr Kathryn’s Aboriginal Ministry.

The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) tentatively began in the Diocese of Lismore at Bowraville with the arrival of Fr Bernie Ryan sm around 1990, the same time that three aboriginal children in Bowraville were murdered, a case that is still unresolved.

Some years later (1995) the ACM was formalised as an Inter Provincial project consisting of a team of Marist Fathers, a Mercy Sister and a Christian Brother based in the Southern part of the Diocese.

Fr Richard Foley with Tamara Paden and Anthony Reid on their wedding day

In 2001 I was appointed to this team. For six months during my discernment time, I was exploring where there was a need. Aunty Ponnie (Yvonne del Signore) a Bundjalung Catholic elder invited me to Ballina to meet the local community. It was Aunty Ponnie who suggested that I come and be with the Catholic mob in the Ballina area and surrounds as they really didn’t have anyone ministering to them in the Northern part of the Diocese. Since that time I have been doing a dual ministry of Aboriginal and Parish Pastoral Associate in St Francis Xavier Parish, Ballina.

During this time Aunty Ponnie has been mentor and friend guiding me in the cultural ways of the Bundjalung people. Aunty Ponnie was the conduit for me and the local community. Sad to say Aunty Ponnie died last year.

Ministry is blessed with chaos and drama. I try to bring some order and calm to situations as they arise e.g. being with the families and individuals in their vulnerability and fragility particularly in times of grief and tragedies. On the other hand there are wonderful times of ‘get togethers’ for special occasions such as NAIDOC Week and other family celebrations. Just recently the parish celebrated its first Aboriginal Catholic wedding, a joyous and treasured memory for all concerned.

There was change to the ACM two years ago when the Marist Fathers withdrew from the Diocese leaving a big hole in the ministry. Prior to their departure Aboriginal Masses were held once a month in each region. Baptisms and Funerals were included in the ministry. With that departure the ACM is left with only myself in the Northern part of the Diocese and Br Steve Morelli cfc in the Southern part of the Diocese. Part of Steve’s ministry is working in linguistics and enabling Aboriginal languages to be accessible.

Preparation for Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion are done through the St Francis Xavier Parish. The personal approach that I use is another means of contact with the families and a way of knowing that the children are prepared to celebrate the particular Sacrament.

Sr Kathryn Sweeney & Graham Marlowe

My ministry is one of privilege and trust as I develop and continue to build meaningful relationships within the community. The Aboriginal people feel free to drop into the parish office when in need or to get help. My pastoral role in the parish has allowed this connection to evolve.

Over the years I have witnessed a real growth within the Aboriginal community; there are more students completing Year 12 and accessing tertiary education than in earlier years. The employment level within the area has greatly improved.

It is with gratitude and joy that I continue this ministry with the Aboriginal Community in the northern part of the Diocese of Lismore.

Kathryn Sweeney rsj

Images provided by Sr Kathryn Sweeney. Used with permission.

Fr Julian: Man of Words – Letter Three

On 21 May 1887, the Sydney Morning Herald [i] published an article by Fr Julian Tenison Woods on his trip to the Victoria River.

This river (named for Queen Victoria) runs from the northern edge of the Tanami Desert to the coast near the Western Australian-Northern Territory border.

Father Julian obviously enjoyed his trip in 1886 and gives his readers historical and geological background about the river and careful descriptions of all he saw along the way. He describes the river as strangely impressing him, having a beauty of its own and that is high praise considering all the rivers he had travelled in his lifetime.

I was particularly taken by Father Julian’s description of being on watch as the sun set and darkness fell. His words express such a vivid picture that I’m sure any reader with artistic skills could translate them into a painting.  Similarly inspiring are his words about the many shades of red in the rocks.

It is interesting to note that another description of a trip to the Victoria River was published in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette on 4 May 1889 [ii]. In this, Mr Alfred Searcy gives a very similar account of the dangers of navigating the river. Searcy travelled in the same boat with the same captain and mentions that Rev J E Tenison Woods had also done this trip.  He gives a great description of an eagle capturing one of the thousands of flying foxes roused out of the mangroves.

I haven’t been to the Victoria River but, for those who have, it might be interesting to compare both of these descriptions with the experience of sailing along it today.

Carmel Jones rsj

This month, we present a third article written by Fr Julian featured in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21 May 1887:

Download ‘A Trip to the Victoria River’ (PDF)


[i] Article: Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) Saturday 21 May 1887 page 6 obtained from the National Library
[ii] Article: Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT: 1873-1927) Saturday 4 May 1889, page 3 obtained from the National Library

World Health Day 2019

World Health Day 2019 – how universal is our health coverage?

How will we build inclusive relationships in the richness of our increasing diversity?  26th General Chapter

World Health Day 2019 falls on Sunday April 7.  The Slogan, Universal Health coverage everyone, everywhere, tends, in the popular imagination, to focus our attention on developing countries that have no health insurance, inadequate vaccination programmes and underdeveloped health systems and facilities.

In contrast Australia has one of the best health systems in the world with universal free health coverage, the option of private insurance, a sophisticated and integrated two tier hospital system, access to scheduled and effective vaccination, world renowned research institutions and an integrated and timely emergency system.   ‘The richness of our increasing diversity’ is evident in a visit to any hospital or health service, yet even a superficial look beneath the surface challenges us to greater inclusivity.

The report on Australia’s health 2018 tells us that compared with 35-member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia scores in the middle or highest range for most health indicators.  Conversely Australia ranked in the worst third of OECD countries for obesity, and our alcohol consumption is slightly above the OECD average.

Not surprisingly obesity and alcohol consumption as well as other risk factors are highest in people who suffer socioeconomic disadvantage – Australia’s Health 2018 (AIHW).

The 40% of Australians in the lower two socioeconomic quintiles – ten million people – are more prone to behavioural risk factors such as physical inactivity; alcohol consumption and smoking, and the biomedical risks of high cholesterol; high blood pressure and obesity.[1]

A global level socioeconomic position is largely influenced by economic, political, cultural and environmental determinants, educational attainment, income and occupation.  The relationship is two-way—poor health can be both a product of, and contribute to, lower socioeconomic position.  In the microcosm that is Australia the same applies, with identifiable groups tending to fall through the gaps in the health system.  These include those unable or unwilling to access available services because of:

  • Distance – those in rural and remote areas including some indigenous populations
  • The homeless and unemployed; those with mental illness or disability
  • Fear and shame- some cultural norms or personal fears keep people from seeking help
  • Inability to use technology
  • Inadequate education
  • The complexity of the health system and bureaucracy
  • Lack of awareness of what is available because of language barriers, an inability to read or comprehend information
  • Lack of access to information
  • No access to transport
  • Lack of recognition of rights and needs, e.g., asylum seekers and refugees.

So, what is the challenge to us, Sisters, associates, friends and colleagues alike from the 26th General Chapter?  Recently on Facebook Annie Bond rsj posted a quote from Christianity Today.  It read: ‘helping one person may not change the world but it could change the world for one person.’

It is within the scope of many of us to do something for at least one person.   In Ephesians 4; 11 St Paul identified the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers as necessary to equip God’s people for works of service.  In Australia today could we add friends, neighbours, interpreters, readers, drivers, healers, pray-ers and advocates who can help make our health system ‘Universal for everyone, everywhere’ in Australia?

Antoinette Baldwin rsj

Official World Health Day website


Strawberry juice beside fruits on top of table by Element5 Digital obtained on Unsplash.
Person-using-black-blood-pressure-monitor obtained on Pexels. Used with permission.

Why Did Fr Julian Woods Found the Josephites?

In the year 1866 Father Julian Woods, aided by Mary MacKillop, founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Penola, South Australia, for the Catholic Education of children from poor families. [1] But why did this busy priest working in one of the largest mission areas in the colony take this step?

Fr Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop

Firstly, South Australia was a free colony where settlers enjoyed religious and political freedom and where there was no government aid for religion. Instead, according to the so-called Voluntary System, members of each religious denomination had to build their places of worship, support their pastors and educate their children in their particular faith. Then, in 1851 the local Legislative Council had abolished all state aid to religion and established a state-controlled system of non-sectarian secular education. [2]

Secondly, in Australia, where Catholics were in a minority, the bishops were afraid that children attending government schools could be lost to the church because they had gained  the impression that one religion was as good as another. Consequently, the bishops pressured the clergy to provide separate schools for the catholic children.

Archbishop Polding of Sydney addressed this issue in his Lenten Pastoral of 1859 when he wrote:

We must not have the National Schools for our children. Why? Simply for this reason: that though our children must learn reading and writing and arithmetic, and history, and whatever else might be thought desirable, they must learn as Roman Catholic children learning these things, and this they cannot, unless they are constantly breathing the atmosphere of their religion. [3] Archbishop Polding
Bishop Geoghegan and Bishop Polding

At about the same time, Father Patrick Geoghegan of Melbourne became second Bishop of Adelaide. Coming as he did from a colony where gold was being mined in significant quantities, where there were many fine buildings and where its sizeable Catholic population enjoyed the benefits of a well-established, government-supported Catholic school system, he was shocked at the poverty of his congregation, the smallness of their churches and the lack of catholic schools in the colony.

He was horrified when he learnt of the voluntary system and the Secular Education Act of 1851 and decided to take steps to remedy this situation for, as he saw it, the catholic children of South Australia were in danger of losing their faith. Therefore, he wrote a pastoral letter decrying the existing state system as being “a gigantic machinery for propagating Protestantism, and for disaffecting or proselytising the catholic children unhappily coming within its influence from the religion of their parents.” Then, after having copied large sections of Polding’s letter, he told his people that they must in conscience denounce the government schools:

First—Because they [were] proselytising schools in the hands of the Government.
Secondly—Because in [their] poverty and sad want of schools of [their] own, they [were] bribes and temptations held out to [their] children.
Thirdly—Because Catholics [were being] taxed to pay an odious tithe for the suport of the system. Bishop Geoghegan

He concluded:

Remember that the work is God’s—the most precious in his sight—that he has left us to do, and that it will bear delay no longer. Let us begin it, for God’s sake. Wherever there is a Pastor and a Flock we implore you to make a commencement of a Catholic school. Let each do what he can. [4] Bishop Geoghegan
Bishop Sheil

When Julian Woods of Penola received this letter he tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get properly trained teachers for his area. Then he recalled the memory of the Sisters of St Joseph whom he had met in France and decided that he needed Sisters like them to manage his schools. Eventually, it became clear to him that the only real solution for his problem was for him to found a new religious order there in Penola.

While he was praying and deliberating over his problem, young Mary MacKillop arrived in the district to work as a governess for her uncle’s children. For some years she had felt called to be a religious, but, at the time, was committed to the support of her family. She confided in Fr Woods and, as soon as she could leave the family, she agreed to become one of the first Sisters of St Joseph. [5]

Thus, it is clear that Father Woods founded the Congregation in response to his bishop’s command. In fact, while Bishop Geoghegan laid the groundwork for the foundation, it was his successor, Bishop Lawrence Sheil, who confirmed the idea when he appointed Woods as Director of Catholic Education for South Australia and subsequently approved the Sisters of Saint Joseph as a diocesan congregation in 1868.

Sr Marie Foale

[1] End of Institute as expressed in the Sisters’ first Rule of Life, as written by Julian. He entitled it: Rules of the Institute of St Joseph for the Catholic Education of Poor Children. According to his Memoirs, he wrote this in May 1867. Bishop Sheil approved it in December 1868 & he had it printed by a local printer.
[2] South Australian Statutes, no. 20 of 1851
[3] Patrick & Deirdre O’Farrell, Documents in Australian Catholic History, Volume 1: 1788-1884, Chapman, London, 1969, “Pastoral Letter of John Bede Polding on the subject of Public Education, 1859” p. 209.
[4] Geoghegan, Pastoral Letter of Patrick Bonaventure, by Divine Grace and Favour of the Apostolic See, Bishop of Adelaide, to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese, on the Education of Catholic Children, Adelaide, 1860
[5] Mary wrote to Bishop Sheil, 10 September 1871, “The way in which he described their wants so completely agreed with all my previous desires, that when he asked me whether (provided he got the Bishop’s consent to commence an Institute to meet these wants) I would remain and become one of his first children in the flock, I joyfully consented.”

A Reflection on Life Vows

Celebration of Dianne Colborne’s Final Commitment

As part of Dianne Colborne’s Final Commitment celebrations, Sr Emilie Cattalini gave a talk on her Reflection on Life Vows.

This is what a monk once wrote in his journal: “Dance in the sun, you tepid idiot. Wake up and dance in the clarity of perfect contradictions, you fool. It is life that makes you dance. Have you forgotten?”

We have all seen those truly awe-inspiring super-slow-motion images of a flower in its first moments of pushing through the earth and into the sunlight. There is so much movement you would swear the plant is dancing. So much movement, so much life! Whole eco-systems all over our planet.

We are meant to be breathless with awe at the beauty and amazing inter-dependence and intricacies of creation! To treat everything with respect and protect its place on this small, fragile, magnificent planet of ours.

And in that sentence, we have one of the perfect contradictions that the monk wrote about in his journal. Who can forget that image of the blue planet sent back to us from space! Deep in our psyche has been stamped the realisation, as never before, that – for all its magnificence- we live on but a tiny, fragile, round, rotating speck afloat in this vast, vast expanding universe!

But what a planet it is! Just enough oxygen in its atmosphere for us to breathe; just enough sunlight for life to thrive; just enough gravity to keep us all grounded! What an amazing work of art! What choreography! What a Dance!

It is a world where even the tiniest sub-atomic particle cannot exist except if its relationship to other particles and energies remains intact. Nature knows the steps of the Dance!

“I said to the almond Tree, ‘Sister, speak to me of God’, and the almond tree blossomed.”

Sr Kathleen Dawe and Sr Dianne Colborne

But what of us? This immense humanity that has been called “the human layer of the earth”! For us the Dance is no different. We exist, live, move, have our being only in relationships. No one thrives without relationship. That is the whole message of Jesus. In spite of all our contradictions and dancing out of step, as the poet tells us, “nature is never spent, for the Holy Spirit o’er the bent world broods with warm breast, and ah! bright wings.”

What has all this got to do with Dianne and the choice she has made to live for the rest of her life as a Religious with the vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience? What have these Gospel values to do with nurturing and maintaining a wholesome human eco-system? With people fully human, fully alive? With a magnificent choreography of humanity as dreamed by our Creator?

Well, we can move from awe and wonder and interdependence and the joy of all tumbling out of the Womb of God as sisters and brothers; from the sharing and the knowing that ‘with my basket and your basket together’, there is enough for everyone – to, I want to keep my own basket! I may even get jealous of what you have in your basket and plan to take it from you! And it’s not only possession of things. It overflows to status, recognition, praise, fame, an appetite for celebrity, for glamour. Or, it can turn inwards and become a sense of worthlessness, of ‘not good enough’ of helplessness and depression. What’s the answer? How do we, as individuals and as nations, stay with the steps of the Dance?

Continue reading Emilie’s speech below:

Reflection on Life Vows Speech (PDF)

Emilie Cattalini rsj

Find out more on the different Josephite ways of Commitment here


Photos used with permission.