In every generation, voices of prophets remind us that God has charged humans with the care of our common home, Earth. The examples of our first peoples, and of individuals like Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart and the Medieval Women Mystics come to mind. In our day, too, we cite Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ as synthesising world-wide awareness that our treatment of creation has repercussions for good or evil.
Similarly, can we claim Julian Tenison Woods as a nineteenth-century Australian prophet, a precursor of the current call to respond to the health crisis of our planet, Earth?
This is the instruction on the first page of the 2022 Josephite Calendar and was written by Fr Julian Tenison Woods, two years before his death. I wonder what struggles of which he had been thinking.
Pope Francis meets refugees in Lesbos, Greece 2021 (Vatican Media)
Father Julian Tenison Woods understood the plight of the refugee.
Strange as it may seem, many of the early immigrants to Australia were what we might call ‘forced refugees’. As criminals exported to the new colony in the eastern states, they came against their will, leaving the country of their birth and settling in a new land. The schools which Father Julian and the early sisters established were often catering for the children of these parents and other migrants. In poverty they struggled to feed, clothe and educate their children and grandchildren – much as refugees do today.
Into the heart of Julian Tenison Woods, God placed a passion for learning.
From his earliest years, Julain thoroughly enjoyed rambling at the seaside, in forests, over rocks or anywhere there was a discovery experience. He was reared in an environment where all lived a productive life with a strong work ethic and where knowledge led to high achievement. This ethic inspired Julian’s priestly ministry until his death.
Ill health, travel, negative media reports, lack of support and apparent failure can all have an adverse effect on our wellbeing. Julian Tenison Woods was subject to all these.
Family history suggests he may have suffered a form of hereditary immune deficiency. He travelled extensively, was the subject of gossip and innuendo, appeared sensitive to real and imagined slights, and tried unsuccessfully to join several religious congregations. All this was more than enough to threaten his sense of wellbeing. So how did he remain so motivated, productive, and connected throughout most of his life?
Each year we recall Julian Tenison Woods on the 7 October anniversary of his death and laud his talents and deep spirituality. While Mary and the early sisters didn’t readily express their attachment to Julian’s eco-spirituality in writing, I am certain that his vision brushed off on them and that they shared his wonder at God’s creation.
We read that, “Mary took a broad view of his activities, not restricting her interests to his spiritual ministry. Her selection of quotations from his writings reveals not only his fine literary style and the variety of his interests, but also her own eye for colourful detail and the natural works of creation.”  Mary, like Julian, enjoyed the outdoors and was a fine horse rider.
Commemorating Julian Tenison Woods’ anniversary of death (7 October), we examine his vision from our present time and perspective.
In the 1860s, Julian Tenison Woods invited Mary MacKillop to share his vision of a group of women working with children and families in Australia. His vision was born of the country areas he ministered in, of the urgent needs of his time and place.
He could see the immediate need for education, as communities were isolated from the major towns where they might receive it. He saw the need for continuing education in faith, because families were spread in parishes and celebration of Mass was infrequent.
Julian Tenison Woods was gifted with the ability to see the presence of God in all that surrounded him. His God was embedded not only in human life and the people around him, but in the entire creation.
In a letter he wrote to Mary MacKillop in 1870, he said, “God’s beauty, God’s goodness, God’s fatherly watchful care of me and all nature pursues me everywhere.”
The very rocks, trees, caves, skies, plants and animals shone with the beauty and unique wonder of God for Julian. So much so that he was able to simply say, “All created things give us ideas and glimpses of the beauty of the infinitely beautiful Creator.” (1881)