Thank you Sr Barbara, Mary and Shirley for your very kind and generous words about me and my time as a Co-ordinator of both Local CiM groups and of the Asia-Australia region.
My overwhelming feeling today and indeed for the years that I have been a Companion in Mission in Association with the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, is one of gratitude – immense gratitude to God and to the FCJ Sisters.
How grateful I am to be living in the early years of the C21 and how fortunate are we all, Companions in Mission, to be living in this time. The gift given to Marie Madeleine for the Church – the FCJ Charism – had been spreading across five Continents for almost 200 years and only after those 190 years did it become evident that people other than FCJs wanted to be connected to the FCJ Society in a deeper and more committed way. As a result, in the 1970s and 80s, some people were invited to become Associates. We prayed for
- An increase in Vocations,
- Favours through the intercession of Marie Madeleine
- The Apostolic works of the Society.
We were remembered too in prayers throughout the year, at Masses in November for deceased Associates and relatives and in a particular way at Mass on 8th December each year but there was no expectation of a sharing of the Charism.
Just forty years ago some of the Associates, and other people besides, were expressing a desire for a different kind of connection with the FCJ sisters but it was only after lengthy discernment, reflection and prayer, that the 1998 General Chapter recognised not only the potential of the FCJ Associations for the spiritual development of the laity but also the richness that such association can bring to the Sisters.
And so, a different form of FCJ Association developed – essentially a program for those who wished to live faithful companionship with Jesus within their own vocation in life.
The Chapter decreed the establishment of the Companions in Mission, as “a public expression of relationship with the Society of the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, and a form of commitment for those who wish to be more closely associated with us in our mission.”
Amazing! Life-changing and challenging for the Sisters and in a different way, for those of us fortunate enough to be alive in these years. The Chapter felt that the Holy Spirit was calling the Sisters to share this very precious Charism!
The main hope was that the FCJ charism with all its richness and relevance for the world of today would be more widely shared and lived. It had nothing to do with what I have heard said in recent years that the Sisters, now growing fewer, wanted others to CARRY ON their charism. This was NEVER part of the consideration; the response was a discerned response to the voice of the Spirit heard amongst those with whom the Sisters were closely associated.
The Holy Spirit was speaking; the Sisters were listening and they responded!!
What a time of blessings! What a time of challenges! We might like to think that the Society world-wide embraced this change but it was a most significant and somewhat daunting change – to share with others the Charism that had guided the lives of Sisters for 190 years! I’m sure there were some who were reticent about this decision, perhaps for many years, and so a further 18 months of prayer, discussion and reflection took place until In May 1999 a group of lay people and FCJ sisters were consulted about the further development of this venture. And it was announced that Sr. Bonnie Moser, currently the General Superior, was appointed as international co-ordinator of the “Companions in Mission.”
On 2 January 2001… the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the “FCJ Companions in Mission” was officially launched and groups began immediately – such was the desire and the call to respond to Jesus’ cry of “I thirst”.
Finally, on 2 January 2001, just 22 years ago, appropriately on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the “FCJ Companions in Mission” was officially launched and groups began immediately – such was the desire and the call to respond to Jesus’ cry of “I thirst”. The first group was in England and the second here in Melbourne. And so we are the second oldest group of CiM – as you may see by looking at me but there are younger members in that group too!
Marie Madeleine said that she found “a nest of Saints” when she met the Jesuits of her day; I don’t know if we found a nest of Saints – we possibly did – but I do know that we found a group of women who so generously, so joyously and so willingly encouraged, taught and supported us as we responded to this desire put into our hearts and embraced this charism of Companionship with Jesus, discerning how we might best live it through the lens of our own lives.
I want to pay tribute here to Sr Frances, Provincial at that time, to Sr Catherine, the first Formator of CiM and to the members of the Fairfield Community, Srs Aileen, Shirley and Frances, who vacated their home once a month for a full Saturday morning to allow us to spend 4 hrs in formation. We were welcomed by them, allowed to use their facilities and roam outside for times of reflection. Prayer, Scripture, Ignatian Spirituality and the life of Marie Madeleine occupied most of our time but Justice issues and the role of the Laity also formed part of our formation. It was a rich and deep formation and we are all so grateful to Sr Catherine and the Fairfield community.
On the morning of the day we made out 1st Commitment, Sr Denise led us in Reflection for a few hours, giving us a small empty vessel, as we recalled Marie Madeleine offering herself as an empty vessel to Jesus. We prayed as she did to know God’s will for us and for the grace to carry it out as fully and quickly as possible.
On the journey I have travelled in those 20-22 years, I have been given so much – a deeper understanding of the beautiful charism given to Marie Madeleine, knowledge of Discernment and the Examen, opportunities for enrichment through conferences and gatherings, excellent retreats at Sorrento and the chance to meet FCJs in other parts of the world. Above all I have learnt that whilst it’s easy enough to say ‘companionship with Jesus and with each other’, it can be much more challenging to listen to Jesus’ cry of “I thirst” and to work consciously to alleviate that thirst through my life and actions.
20 years! The 1st Australian group made its original commitment just on 20 years ago in May this year in this Chapel and Berna, Danielle, Shirley, Mario and I will share a lunch with our wonderful Formator Sr Catherine to commemorate that day. It will also mark the 10th Anniversary of the death of the other member of the group – beautiful Marcia R.I.P.
I have learnt so much from all the Sisters with whom I’ve worked, co-ordinators contributing selflessly to all our meetings and to Area Leaders Sisters Judith and Barbara with whom I have worked actively in Australia and in Asia. I was supported by fellow CiM who took on the role of co-ordinator too. I had the privilege of working with Sr Paula when she was international co-ordinator for CiM and with Sr Joanna, Sr Bonnie and Jennie, members of the International Committee for CiM.
When I asked for Prayer Partners for CiM, too, the response from the Sisters was quick and generous and soon we had paired each CiM with an FCJ each of whom would pray for the other.
I want also to thank the FCJs who welcomed me to Benalla a couple of times each month – for Bed & B’Fast, companionship and support, for doing the dishes whilst I raced off to meetings. The deep spirituality of all these women, their wisdom, love of Marie Madeleine, gentleness and generosity provided inspiration and nurtured me on my journey. It was there that I first learnt of Our Lady’s Blessing and soon learnt to pray this with the Community as we had evening prayer before dinner each night and prayed the Blessing as part of that. And speaking of journeys, Sr Shirley was a constant companion on my many trips to and from Benalla. It was she who first talked of “Letting go, Letting Be and Letting God” – a powerful mantra indeed for all of us at different times in our lives. I thank every one of them and the Sisters at Moonbria who always welcomed us to our Co-ordinators’ and other meetings. Finally I pay tribute to and thank all the CiM with whom I’ve been blessed to journey also.
I am so grateful to have undertaken the Pilgrimage and for the FCJs who accompanied us – Sr Patricia and Sr Frances on the first, and on the second Sr Mary and Sr Campion who alerted me to the life of Adele Bouque, who Campion said was ‘perhaps the first Companion in Mission’ – a story I must share with you another time. Who could ask for better guides and companions on a pilgrimage?
Of course there were challenges along the way as some CiM left us, others completed Formation but did not proceed to Commitment, as we struggled at times to find co-ordinators, or grappled with the content of meetings but Marie Madeleine’s motto of “Courage and Confidence” and our desire to always seek to know God’s will guided us as we strove to respond to Jesus cry “I Thirst”.
I will close by saying with St Paul that “I thank my God for each one of you and when I pray for you, I pray with joy” and indeed deep gratitude.
Thank you and God bless.