Missionary women2

Each for Equal: Celebrating Women in Mission

What does it mean to be a woman of mission in today’s world? A panel of women at Catholic Mission have shared their reflections ahead of this International Women’s Day.

Six women from various parts of the organisation including formation and advocacy, programs, innovation, and regional diocesan offices, also spoke of the missionary women who inspire them in their work and how we can forge a gender-equal world.

Jenny Collins-White (Mission Formation Manager), Sharon Messina (Human Resources Director), Sonja Krivacic (Community Engagement Innovator), Nicola Parise (Communications Officer - Programs), Olivia Lee (Executive Assistant - Facilitation Team, Plenary Council 2020) and Dr Deborah Robertson (Diocesan Director - Bunbury) formed our panel.

1. Why do you think it is important to acknowledge the work of women in mission?

JCW: Women are usually the doers and givers of Mission, whether they are religious or lay, they consistently care and lead, but often receive little recognition for this work. It is often just seen as ‘what women do’, therefore not seen as extraordinary or special. But it is extraordinary, it is the getting up everyday to do again what they did yesterday with love that makes them exceptional.

SM: It is important to acknowledge and recognise all people in mission – female and male (or anyone in between) - because without their ‘missionary impulse’, their openness, their inclusiveness and their inspiration we would find it hard to experience a transformation within ourselves towards an understanding of the Kingdom of God and our part within this Kingdom.

By giving recognition to these ordinary people doing extraordinary things, they become role models for us and particularly for the young people around us. And we need good role models….people who are authentic, have integrity, have compassion and passion – to remind us to reach out to ‘touch the suffering flesh of Christ in others’ and to do this in an engaging way – ‘walking the way with others’ not above or below. (EG24)

SK: At a contemporary level, feminist theology and women’s theologies that are authentic to the role of women, build life-giving examples of community and build the kingdom of God in a real-world space, that builds on Mary’s original “yes” some 2000+ years ago.

NP: So much of the work of the global Church and so much mission is driven and carried out by women. If it were not for women, religious and lay, many of our projects simply would not exist. From the point of Catholic Mission, we wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for a woman by the name of Pauline Jaricot. In terms of development practice, women are at the coalface of the grassroots. It’s through women that information and knowledge in many developing communities are spread. It is women who do the majority of labour in a lot of these countries (e.g. primary carer, running the household, managing finances and managing a farm). And if we are to think about mission in our domestic context, how many women run catechism or teach scripture? How many women put their love and generosity into the spreads that make morning tea at your local parish on a Sunday? When I call to mind the people getting things done in the Catholic Church and being mission, I see so many women. If we don’t acknowledge the work of women in mission, we are not being true to reality; for me, it is really that simple and pragmatic.

OL: I think we are very lucky to live in a time that is deeply concerned with the equality of all people. However, there are still pockets of inequality towards women that exist and it is important to acknowledge the work of women in mission to help encourage greater respect.
Encouraging the work of women in mission is important to help highlight to co-leadership of men and women in the space of mission, and also to encourage other young women to grow in their leadership capacities for mission, as a woman.

DR: It is important to recognise women in mission because women, particularly older women, are often invisible and/or taken for granted in the work they do without which the Church would not exist.

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Sister Stan Mumuni is providing a home and education for children in Ghana who may have been at risk of being abandoned or killed due to traditional practices.

2. Who is a female missionary that you admire in your day to day life? Why?

SM: I admire those people around me and those that have gone before me who, in their ordinary life they were extraordinary… they were Proverbs 31 women – “she sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for the tasks, she opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy; she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Jeanette Cardoz, former Office Manager at Catholic Mission, now deceased, was such a woman - an ordinary lady with an extraordinary commitment and passion for mission, particularly for those less fortunate than her. A little ‘doer’ for God. A giant ‘helper’ to those around her ‘involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives’. (EG24)

SK: Mary MacKillop – her courage to speak-up at great personal cost, holding those in power to account within a strong faith-conviction, even to the point of being excommunicated, knowing that “God would take care of all and make it all right in the end”

NP: My mum. It’s a predictable, somewhat cliché answer and it’s the truth. Working as a French-speaking Catholic Chaplain in Westmead Children’s Hospital, she embodies for me what it means to be missional: to walk alongside, to fellowship with, to suffer and cry with, to celebrate with, to be with. To me, mission doesn’t have to be grand acts or even visible or obvious. Mission is what happens when you go quietly to the margins and simply love whatever and whoever you find there.

OL: Probably my Godmother Sr Bernadette McManus, a missions Marist nun who lived her whole life helping struggling communities and who had a particular love for disabled children.
This love is what led her to eventually support my family in Fiji and it is because of her love that I can live the life I do today.

DR: I’ve known and admired so many female missionaries, living and sainted, in my life that I can’t easily pick one. I suppose St Therese of Lisieux is at the front of my mind at the moment. She is my confirmation saint, but I never really thought of her as a missionary until I started working for Catholic Mission and she became my work patron saint.


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Sister Mary And Nurse Simon Immunising An Infant St Luke Bujuni Health Centre

Sister Mary Goretti is improving health standards, particularly for women, and access to maternal healthcare in rural Uganda.

3. What can we do to support and empower each other as women in mission (and in the workplace)?

SM: I would prefer to respond to the question, what can we do to support and empower people in mission and in the workplace. We can give opportunities to these people to undertake spiritual retreats/courses in mission. We can also encourage them to act as mentors within the organisation for those within and/or outside the organisation.

SK: Women’s Circles would be an idea – where we share articles; stories; prayers; and provide strength for the road ahead. A new model of ‘women in the village’ from days gone by (in the West).

NP: Be kind. Women are so quick to tear each other down. This is something I’ve observed particularly in the workplace. Whether it’s because we’re feeling threatened or jealous or insecure. But I don’t think any of those emotions or feelings are good enough reasons. We are also so harsh on ourselves, expecting that we can do it all – career, family, ‘good looks’, friends, volunteering, the list goes on. A little self-compassion can go a long way. Perhaps if we were more compassionate with ourselves, we might also be more compassionate and understanding with our sisters and fellow women in mission.

OL: More affirmation and joint celebration of each other’s achievements. I feel very lucky because the space I work in now is a very affirming area and all my colleagues build each other up.
I have seen in other spaces though, a propensity for women to not congratulate each other’s achievements for whatever reason – so it would be great to see more women recognising each other and building each other up, sharing in each other’s achievements as an achievement for everyone.

DR: We encourage everyone to think of themselves as living out God’s mission, so I am surrounded by teachers and other church workers, including my colleagues in Catholic Mission, who are trying to do this. I have also known many women in secular workplaces who strive to be witnesses to God’s love and justice in everything they do.

We can support each other by not being too busy with activities to miss seeing the women around us and the contribution they make. Feminine strength is in being collaborative and nurturing – let’s just make sure we continue to do that.

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Sister Anne Web

Sister Anne has worked for nearly two decades in Jamaica to minimise the impact of widespread gun violence and drug use on children.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual and we are all being challenged to consider how we can help forge a gender-equal world. What can you do today to help create change for tomorrow?

Want to share your thoughts? Send us an email at media@catholicmission.org.au.