Perhaps because of the circumstances in which Julian Tenison Woods constantly found himself, he developed throughout his life a deep sense of compassion for those in need of any kind.
Losing his mother at an early age, his long road to priesthood and subsequent rejection by Bishops, his separation from the Sisters and his broken friendship with Mary MacKillop could have made him a rather bitter man.
Yet his own deep sense of God evoked in him a compassion towards those who lived on the edges of the society of the time — whether in remote rural areas, Indigenous peoples, or those who had not had opportunities for education whom he met as Parish Priest in Penola.
His compassion found its source in the love of God as expressed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This self-giving love of Jesus found an echo in Julian’s life. Sr Margaret Press rsj says that “The Sacred Heart was for Julian the model of patience, gentleness and charity.1
In writing to the Sisters in 1886, he shares with them his sense of being at one with the Sacred Heart: “Oh, if He will make our hearts like unto His, what a treasure we will be to Him.” This “treasure” is expressed in the ordinary activities of each day.
Mary MacKillop too shared Julian’s understanding that “God’s compassionate love, symbolised … by the Sacred Heart would be a reality for the sisters and for the people with whom they shared their lives”.2
Julian admonishes the sisters to “be gentle, very very gentle” in their dealings with the children they teach – quite a departure from accepted ways of disciplining students at the time. Compassionate gentleness should be the mark of their dealings with all those with whom they came into contact during the ordinary events of each day.
The example of Julian and Mary’s compassionate love, symbolised by the Sacred Heart, should be at the heart of all our actions each day. We especially need their inspiration in these times of conflict around our world and in our society amidst the global pandemic.
Monica Barlow rsj
1. Julian Tenison Woods – a Life, p. 219
2. Constitutions of the Sisters of St Joseph 4, 2009