By Robert Hiini
Like the disciples after the Ascension, so many people who come to believe in Jesus are asking the question: “What do I do with my life?”
For the past two years St John of God Sister Ann Cullinane has been helping small groups of women find their own answers to that very question.
Sr Ann currently has three groups of women of varying ages, professions and ethnicities, who come together to talk about scripture and in the process, their own lives and longings.
The groups use The Great Adventure Bible Timeline DVD series developed by American theologian and scripture scholar Jeff Cavins. The tagline of the series is: “73 Books. One story. Your story”.
In sharing their own thoughts and feelings on scripture and day-to-day life, discernment happens. “It’s through sharing our story with each other that people may just say something that helps us; that enlightens us and helps us to see the bigger picture”, Sr Ann said.
Women not only discern whether they are being called to married, Religious or single life but also help each other discover what profession would be most life-giving.
“There’s a great understanding of ‘well, you’ve been there, tell me what it’s like, let me come and see if that’s for me’,” Sr Ann said. “When you are not happy in your work or ministry you can’t give of your best.”
What about when a woman feels called to a religious vocation? “We accompany them on the journey and help them through the discernment process,” she said.
“Once they feel that ‘yes, this is where the Lord is calling me to’ then the formation process will commence.”
Each group has grown into a small community of women who share their joys and pains. Groups celebrate birthdays and personal anniversaries as well as helping each other through significant personal challenges.
Rebecca Thomas, a 24-year-old teacher at Santa Maria College, has only missed one night since she started attending the discernment groups.
She says that the experience helped her discern that she was being called to teach religious education fulltime when she had originally intended to teach science.
“We often get the feeling of being alone in our beliefs (but) I now have the big picture of salvation history and what it is that God asks of me,” Rebecca said.
After many years as a parish pastoral assistant, involved in the ups and downs, joys and bereavements of parishioners’ lives, a ministry which she really loved, Sr Ann was asked by her provincial leader to make the move to vocations ministry in 2006.
With some trepidation, she agreed and approached Fr Don Kettle, then director of Catholic Youth Ministry, to see what he was doing to help young men discern their vocation. She began her first group for young women in early 2006 and has begun another three groups since then.
Ironically, Sr Ann recounted how she first came to discover her own vocation after being asked to help out in a small youth group by a priest in her hometown of Knock, Ireland.
She recalled thinking “there must be more than this”.
After becoming a Religious and journeying to Australia as well being as being a busy nurse, involved in administration and later parish life, she would seem to have come full circle in her current work of small group vocations discernment. Sr Ann sees such small communities as being of great benefit to parishes – helping parishes to “really come alive” – having formed the groups with the support of St Thomas More Parish in Bateman.
The small groups will continue the “great adventure” by embarking upon Adventures in St Matthew’s Gospel, the next component in the Bible Timeline series, continuing Tuesday 23 September.
“I have learnt so much myself, not alone from the scripture but also from the people and their sharing; the young people and their lives and what they’re up against today, in today’s society,” she said.
“I admire them, the way they stand up for the truth and that gives me great joy and hope for the future.”
Young women discerning where God is calling them can find out more by calling 0409 602 927.