Companions in Mission in Australia

Adapted from an article in the October issue of FCJNews, the newsletter of the FCJ Sisters and Companions in Mission in Australia

Mary Udovicic has recently taken on the position of Area Coordinator of Companions in Mission (CiM), taking over from Mrs Pat Fitzgerald. Pat held this role for 10 years. She says how ‘very grateful she is to pat for her encouragement and support in this, her first year in the role’. Mary is aware that she is following in great footsteps; Pat, Sr Catherine fcJ and Sr Bonnie fcJ were all instrumental in establishing and developing Australian CiM.

As a teacher of Art and Religious Education, Mary continued to be involved in outreach activities run by the parish, including setting up a program to train students to be lectors and special ministers in the local parishes. After 18 years working in the same school, Mary started looking for new challenges. As part of her role as Head of Faith and Mission, Mary attended a Conference for Religious Education Coordinators. Here she was introduced to the charism of the FCJ Sisters and the life and work of their foundress, Marie Madeleine d’Houët. Mary was immediately attracted to the spirituality of the order and the idea of ‘courage and confidence, to find God in all things, to find God everywhere and in everyone’.

Mary, CiMUnusually for Mary, she initially held back, but then decided to explore the charism further by attending an ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) event at Genazzano FCJ College. ‘I was terribly nervous as I entered the Madeleine Centre and was convinced I was going to be told that my name was not on the guest list, but it was there, followed by my suburb of Sunshine.’ Mary took her seat and soon felt right at home. She was moved deeply by the stories of those who spoke and in particular the words of Sr Maryrose fcJ. Mary felt called to this charism because its ‘threads linked so strongly to our reality’. The following year in 2012, Mary was overjoyed to gain employment at Genazzano FCJ College. During this time Mary met more FCJ Sisters like Sr Anne fcJ, who shared her experiences so genuinely and lovingly about her work in Bolivia, and Sr Denise fcJ, who shared her detailed work with ACRATH passionately yet so humbly. She was extremely inspired to meet these women who were at the coalface of working to meet the needs of others and the most vulnerable. Mary met many more FCJ Sisters and in all Sisters, she could see and feel the gentle companionship they model: a true living reflection of the women at the foot of the Cross.

Mary’s friendship with Sr Maryrose fcJ grew and she was invited to attend Sr Joan’s weekly meditation group. This led to a deeper form of spirituality and a love of the Examen. Mary says, ‘the meditation sessions brought together all aspects of our lives. Life was not just about the activity in which we engage each day, it is also about our relationships, our leisure time, our times of reflection and prayer’. Mary was invited by Sr Maryrose fcJ to become a CiM, but Mary took another 12 months to say yes.

Mary participated in CiM formation for 18 months led by Sr Mary O’Shannessy fcJ and Mrs Shirley Yao. Mary says that ‘both Sr Mary and Shirley were wonderful faith-filled mentors who guided, and many times wonderful faith-filled mentors who guided, and many times challenged, her through the formation’. Mary was commissioned as a CiM in 2018. In 2019 Mary and her husband Frank were extremely privileged to attend the FCJ Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Marie Madeleine in France. This pilgrimage, Mary says, ‘I will remember for the rest of my life, it brought to life for me the FCJ story and charism’.

In January 2021 Sr Barbara Brown-Graham fcJ, FCJ Area Leader in Australia, asked Mary to consider being the Area Coordinator of the Companions in Mission. Mary was encouraged to take on this role by Frank, who after accompanying her on the FCJ Pilgrimage in France was similarly inspired, encouraged by the life and work of Marie Madeleine. Frank even offered to help with administrative duties! Mary says she is ‘extremely grateful to Sr Barbara fcJ for her encouragement, wisdom and counsel’.

There are three CiM groups in Australia and each is blessed to have an FCJ Sister accompanying the group. Each group meets every few months, with each member taking turns to run the meeting. Topics for discussion in the CiM groups cover a wide and eclectic range of subjects, from Laudato Si’, science and religion, to the liturgical season, the particular challenges to companionship provided by COVID19, Ignatian Spirituality, prayer and much more