By Anthony Barich
Bullied at Catholic primary school, falling into the wrong crowd of friends and sexually abused in her teens, Maureen Togher’s life was spiraling out of control, until Christ pulled her out of the mire.
Binge drinking on weekends was a coping mechanism to escape the pain of rejection; being aggressive and tough protected her.
The turning point was when she was arrested and charged with assault of a police officer (a charge later dropped to abusive language). She spent one night at the lock-up in East Perth and realised she did not want to become an alcoholic like her father and end up in prison.
On March 25, however, she found her true vocation, becoming consecrated to a life of virginity for women living in the world.
As Bishop Donald Sproxton told The Record after he celebrated the Mass of her consecration, she is, by her very life, a sign of the power Christ has to make us new again, “to bring us to conversion and to offer the hope of conversion to others”.
“That’s what “consecrated to the Church” means – she is designated as a witness for her faith and the faith of the Church to other people,” he said.
“She’s made a vow to live a chaste life and Christ will give her the strength to do it.”
Bishop Sproxton told The Record that there are only two consecrated virgins in the archdiocese.
“It’s a fairly rare occurrence, a fairly new thing that is being recovered by people as they read about other people in other parts of the world making the same consecration.”
“Maureen had been considering this step for a considerable amount of time … she undertakes, through consecration, to live the celibate life and to serve the world through that particular consecration. She has also taken a promise to pray the prayer of the church, which is the divine office.” Once upon a time, Maureen, now 45, was “a rebel”, as she describes it; she was baptised shortly after birth at Infant Jesus Church in Morley but fell away, like so many others, after finishing high school.
But for Maureen, it was more than just teenage apathy. What was supposed to be routine surgery on her kneecap as a teen did not work and she spent three years learning how to walk again, and was angry with the world and God.
At age 18 she was on a disability pension. She gradually gained weight as her knee deteriorated. Finally deciding to do something active she took up what she could with her injury – pool – and became a gun, rising to the number two ranking in Australia.
She practically lived in pubs for 20 years, working in the TAB and became addicted to gambling, especially the horses. She grew to hate her life surrounded by alcoholics, druggies and bikies, but it was the only world she knew, where everyone was familiar.
She befriended bikie gangs in these pubs but when a publican knocked her unconscious one day it reflected the world she was living in, and she wanted out.
Through all that time belief in God was there, but stagnant; she only called on Him when she needed something.
“He was a distant God, not a personal God,” she now reflects.
She got out and started work as a public servant. Her career was looking bright at age 38, but just when she was getting her life back on track, her mother suffered debilitating knee injuries and her father got prostate cancer.
As her brother was estranged and her sister was disabled, she became a carer, and her father’s illness in particular got her thinking about the value of life.
The day she celebrated her 41st birthday, she went to a Riverview church session with a friend, having been drinking and smoking pot.
Even so, she knew she wanted to know more about the Holy Spirit. Riverview leaders asked those who wanted the Holy Spirit to come into her lives to stand up. “Why not”? She thought…“can’t hurt.”
She joined their Bible study course and found herself asking “Catholic questions”, like mentioning the Eucharist when they spoke about the Last Supper. They didn’t like that, she said. She realised there was a Truth to be known and experienced, and she craved it. She returned to her local Catholic church in Morley, partly also through the friendship of Clare Pike, the founder of the Respect Life Office, the Archdiocesan pro-life resource centre, which was just over the fence from her house, and also next door to Infant Jesus.
Clare became her confidant and, observing Clare’s life which replicated in many ways the “life of the Religious” – daily Mass, confession and adoration – she followed in Clare’s footsteps.
This association led her to Fr Don Kettle, then-Catholic Youth Ministry director, who became her spiritual director, along with Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate Fr John Joseph, who concelebrated her consecration Mass. Once she watched The Passion of the Christ movie, she knew she was on the right path.
“People talk about its violence, but that was nothing to me – I lived that violent life. To me, it was simply about a mother losing her only child. It was a story about love.”
Finally, she confessed 25 years of sins to Fr David Watt and she was back “in the fold”. Reading the life of St Teresa of Avila, who was “spiritually attacked” by Satan, Maureen realised that she had undergone similar attacks in her life and she thought God was calling her to be a religious sister.
But with her age and disability, she discerned that her vocation was being a carer, and that was how she could continue to strive for union with the Triune God.
Four years of discernment led Maureen to the path of hearing God offer himself to her as her Groom and her Fiat was to accept the proposal as Consecrated Virgin living in the World.
Reclaiming her “spiritual Virginity”, is where she would find true happiness, married to Christ, in the mystical sense here on earth.
She even had a veil of flowers at her consecration ceremony with a brown shirt, symbolising the Carmelites – St Teresa of Avila’s Order – the Priests and Brother who played such an important role in her life at Infant Jesus Morley parish.
Now, she hungers only to be “intimate with God”, through the Sacraments of the Church. “To me, they are the greatest gifts God gives us,” she says.
“If you’re using the Sacraments with the right intention – doing everything out of love for God – and read His word meditatively – the more grace you will be given to live the life He wants you to live, no matter what that life is.”
“Life in the Church is not about ritual, it’s about the intention of the heart.”
“Doing things without complaining is a sacrifice of love. It’s trusting and surrendering to God, letting Him direct it by doing everything with love.”