a Woman with a Passion for People
It is forty-two years since Cheryle Thomson travelled from her home in Port Pirie to Tasmania to begin her life as a Missionary Sister of Service. She was drawn to the congregation because of its outreach to people in rural and outback areas. During her formation years in Hobart, she came to know Fr John Wallis, MSS founder, and some of the first sisters who shared with her the story of the early beginnings of the congregation. Of her five years of preparation for her life’s mission, Cheryl says: “We were encouraged to use and develop the gifts we had been given, something for which I will always by grateful.”
Cheryle’s core gift is her passion for people, whoever they are, wherever they are. From 1979 she travelled the vast dioceses of Toowoomba and Wilcannia-Forbes, between them covering south-west Queensland, western New South Wales; then, since 1989, she has missioned in her home diocese of Port Pirie, throughout the Eyre Peninsula and inland as far as Coober Pedy and Uluru.
Wherever Cheryle went, sometimes with another sister, often on her own, she sought out people in their homes. She supported them in the ups and downs of life, helping parents instruct their children in the faith. She always took a particular interest in youth. She says: “They were wonderful years on the road, visiting people. I will always remember the kindness and hospitality of the many families who welcomed us into their homes, sharing life and faith.”
Cheryle has a fund of stories from her years on mission: “People shared their lives with us when we visited them. At times on a property, the children and Mum or Dad would take me out around the paddocks to bring in the sheep or see the animals.
“Once when we visited a family west of Windorah, it started to rain. The younger children had never seen rain! Full of excitement they ran out to play in the pouring rain. We were marooned for three days and could not leave the property. I have been inspired by these people on isolated properties and in small rural communities who kept the faith alive at difficult times.
“I remember the youth camps we would run on properties, and the warmth and hospitality of the families who hosted them. Meeting some of these youth in their adult years, they remember with appreciation the camps which had such an impact on their lives.
“When Mother (now blessed) Teresa of Calcutta visited her sisters in Bourke, I went to hear her speak. I felt I was in the presence of somebody who lived humbly and committed to those most on the margins.
“After some study leave in 2001 I realised I needed a change in ministry. An opportunity came for me to work in St. Teresa’s Parish, Whyalla, where I am still involved with people, sharing their joys and griefs, hopes and anxieties. I am involved with baptism preparation, with Samaritan College on the sacramental programme and closely with families at times of the death and funeral of a loved one. These are wonderful avenues of contact with many people.
“For a number of years I visited asylum seekers in Baxter Detention Centre for the weekly Church service and took many people to visit there on other occasions during the week. Seeing the pain and suffering of those people had a big impact on my life.”
Whyalla is going through a very difficult time with job cut backs in the steel industry and even the threat that Arrium steel works, the main employer in the city, could be mothballed until the market improves. Over a thousand people are employed there. Their loss of work would have huge impact, not only on their own lives, but also on that of the city. Cheryle shares people’s concerns in this time of uncertainty. Like the good shepherd, she is in their midst, a friend in need, an ear to listen, a heart to love and support them.
Cheryle’s final word? I give thanks that I have been able to share in the lives of so many people in so many places over so many years; and I am deeply grateful for my co-workers, priests, sisters, parishioners, as well as my family, whose support and friendship have sustained me in the great mission along the highways and byways of life.