For Steve and Michelle Johnson the move from Perth suburban living to New Norcia is a change of pace

05 Jul 2024

By The Record

Move to New Norcia - A page from the Record Newspaper
Steve Johnson outside the Abbey Church of New Norcia. Steve and Michelle are happy they made the move.

When Steve Johnson began thinking about taking on a new challenge, he never realised that it would lead him to New Norcia. The accountant at the Catholic Education Office for more than 10 years, Steve is now the accountant at the Church Office in New Norcia. Jamie O’Brien from The Record recently spoke to Steve to discover what had led him to move to the only monastic town in Australia.

Married with two children – Belinda, 3 and Gemma just 6 months – Steve and his wife Michelle don’t believe the move was an easy decision to make. Formerly involved in Infant Jesus Parish Morley, Steve was actively part of the Christian Life Community and the Disciples of Jesus. The story began when Steve decided he needed a change – and a challenge. “The work at CEO was great,” he said. “But I got to a stage where I was expecting something dif­ferent – a different challenge.”

His original intention was to find employment as a bursar, but for Steve that didn’t prove to be the right direction where God wanted him to go. “My boss Neil (at the CEO) mentioned that the Monks at New Norcia were looking for a full-time accountant because the other lady had retired,” Steve said.

“My initial reaction was no way!” he said. Without too much persuasion, Steve’s boss suggested he and his wife go to New Norcia for a weekend to take a look around. “We began to see that maybe God was leading us here,” Steve said. Taking on his spirit of prayer and discernment, Steve began to think about the prospect of a life in New Norcia.

The relatively small town 130km north of Perth is run and occupied by the Benedictine Monks, who arrived in 1846 and has population of 50. Returning a number of times before becoming accus­tomed to the culture of the town, Steve discussed the issue with his wife Michelle and also met with Dom Chris, the Procurator – or director -of the Monks. This led to an informal interview and eight months later Steve found himself in the position of accountant of New Norcia.

“It was a way of doing a bursarship without being in a school and also being in a challenging environment,” Steve said. But Steve doesn’t credit the events of the move to himself.

A number of events took place and he believes that without them the move would never have been possible. “We were able to find a ten­ant for our house in Perth, then found a house here in New Norcia as well “It all fell into place,” he said. ‘We are surrounded by spirituality and the kids love it.”

It wasn’t until Steve started work that he really began to understand his role as accountant at New Norcia. Each decision made by the Monks takes time, sometimes up to 25 years.

The decision to merge the post office with the Roadhouse – within 100 metres of each other – is a good example. “It can be frustrating at times but the spirituality of their decisions really begins to rub off,” Steve said. “I hope to be able to continue to bring the town from the 19th century into the 21st cen­tury,” he said. Steve tries to attend daily Mass, as well as midday prayer about three times a week and Vespers on Saturday and Sunday night.

“Occasionally I’ll have lunch with the Monks as well but I like to be able to go home to spend it with my family as well,” he said. The family home is only a few minutes from the office. “That’s the beauty of the town,” he said. “The town is our backyard.” With only 67 buildings in the town, 27 are on the WA Heritage list. Some of them will be restored in the near future.

Steve expects he will send his children to the local government school next year. He is proud of the career move and says the family will re-think the decision in another three years. “Hardly anyone can say they’ve worked in a monastery so I think I’d like to stay a while longer,” he said. He doesn’t believe it was by chance that only after arriv­ing in the town a string of bursar positions became available in Perth.

“It just added confirmation that I wasn’t meant to be in a bursar position in Perth at this time,” Steve said. And what does he miss the most about Perth? “I love being a football umpire,” he said “It’s one of my favourite hobbies.”