In July 2011, Cecilia moved to Toowoomba after ten and a half years of “semi retirement” in Warwick (Q). At her parish farewell speaker after speaker thanked her for her contribution in their groups and committees. It makes one wonder about her semi-retirement! We invited Cecilia to share something of her story with H&B readers:
In July I moved from Warwick to Toowoomba and celebrated my 80th birthday. These occasions invited cherished memories of life and ministry since I joined MSS in 1955.
In 1965 we opened our house in Toowoomba. I was among the first community of Missionary Sisters of Service to come to this vast diocese covering the south-west Queensland. Visiting families in the far flung areas of the West, I realised the isolation of the women of the outback in those days. The means of communication then were not what they are today. The men were often away with sheep and cattle during the drought years. The women at home cared for their children and home-schooled them, as well as taking responsibility for the property. These women were often hungry for another woman’s company. Around the kitchen table they would share with us their concerns and joys. In such conversations they often took new courage and found themselves confirmed in their faith in a loving God. Through these experiences I came to appreciate the significance of presence as an integral aspect of ministry.
Vatican Council II, in one of its documents, noted: “The Spirit is at work in the hearts of all people. This is so true. People with evident gifts are often highlighted in the community. But I have repeatedly seen “hidden” people come alive when their everyday gifts are affirmed. Their names may not be on the rosters, but actions such as a spontaneous smile of welcome to the stranger contribute powerfully to the spirit of community.
During my years in Warwick I have been part of a number of parish and community groups: liturgy, social justice, St Vincent de Paul, family group, the Dementia Support Group, the CWA craft group, meals on wheels and ecumenical groups. I have formed lovely friendships through these involvements. One of my ministries was to train leaders for lay-led services of the Word and Communion in the absence of a priest. These women and men have inspired me with their commitment, competence and reverence in carrying out this ministry. They have stepped forward willingly for this and other services of leadership, living out their baptismal commitment in a crucial time for our Church.
As I grow older, I have become aware of graced moments of unexpected presence in the everyday. For example, in the local shopping centre I often find older women and men sitting with their trolleys outside the supermarket or in the food court. They chat readily to me about the now or the yesteryear of their lives. For many their shopping trip is a rare opportunity for conversation and companionship with peers.
I really feel blessed to belong to my Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Service. I feel blessed, too, in the people I’ve ministered to and who have ministered to me in the dioceses of Hobart, Melbourne, Sandhurst (Vic) and Toowoomba. At the end of this reflection I can truly pray: “My soul give thanks to the Lord and bless God’s holy Name.”