Ministry in Australia

What a privilege and responsibility to bear the name Faithful Companion of Jesus!
The call to this way of life unites me closely with Jesus,
sharing his thirst for the salvation and well-being of his people,
daring to ask the question and act upon, the answer to
"What would Jesus do in this situation?"
                                                                              Mary O'Shannessy fcJ

In Australia, FCJ Sisters engage in ministries which respond to needs such as:

Parish and pastoral ministry, including palliative care and chaplaincy
Ministry to young people, including MAGiS groups
Spiritual accompaniment and retreat giving
Justice particularly for refugees, asylum seekers and persons who are trafficked
Care of the environment
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry
Education, schools and tutoring


FCJ Sisters continue to support the work of education through representation on school boards, involvement in chaplaincy and individual tutoring.    

Genazzano FCJ College, Kew (founded in 1889) and Benalla FCJ College (founded in 1900) continue the fine tradition of FCJ Education in Australia.

Genazzano school badge.Genazzano FCJ College offers education for 1100 girls from Prep to Year 12. It operates a boarding school, Hopetoun Hall, for senior students from years 9-12, in a separate facility off-site, 3 kilometres from the College.

FCJ College Benalla school badge.
FCJ College Benalla
provides co-education for 466 students from Years 7 to 12. 

Special features of the education offered in these two schools include:

I was called to share the lives of Vietnamese refugees
both in the camps of Hong Kong, Philippines and Vietnam
as well as living with and creating a home for Vietnamese single girls in Melbourne.
                                                                             Myrna Nunan fcJ

Sr Denise Mulcahy fcJ

I was born in Brighton, Melbourne.  I have three sisters and a brother.  Prior to my beginning school, our family moved to Canterbury, which being close to Kew meant that my three sisters and I went to Genazzano College, where I completed my primary and secondary education. 

I became aware of a call to the FCJ way of life when I was 12, but it was almost 10 years later before I entered the novitiate.  Whilst I may have envisioned religious life as a life of prayer, of living in community, and engaged in teaching (hopefully piano teaching), I soon embarked on a different journey of ministry, which has given me a kaleidoscope of opportunities, and has resulted in my living away from Australia for many years. 

The most memorable years of ministry for me have been the years when I was a formator (even though this role was demanding at times), and the longer period in the ministry of general secretary.  In the latter appointment, after the initial steep learning curve, I came to an even greater love of the FCJ charism, and to a deeper understanding of its relevance for the church and the world. 

As general secretary, for more than 21 years, I was not only enabled to acquire new skills and gain new experiences, but I was also stretched and challenged by the demands of ministry.   I also had many opportunities to sing in local choirs and to play the organ for many services.

After a sabbatical which included a semester auditing courses at the Adelaide College of Divinity, I returned to Melbourne and a ministry opened out for me almost immediately.  I am currently working part time as a volunteer in the office for the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH).   My work is varied as it involves (among other things) facilitating the work of ACRATH in a variety of ways, networking with other organizations, planning for the annual visit of ACRATH to the Australian Government in Canberra in order to have meetings with individual MPs, and planning for ACRATH’s National Meeting.  Opportunities for music abound in Melbourne, and I attend a choir each week and am involved in the music ministry of St Ignatius Church, Richmond. 

Sr Helen Buckley fcJ

In February 2009 I joined the staff at the Richmond Catholic Parish as a Pastoral Associate. From 1976-1996 I taught in various schools  and from 1997 – 2003 I worked in reception at ConneXions, a program of Jesuit Social Services caring for young people with drug and alcohol addiction and subsequent mental illness.

In 2005 I was fortunate to be accepted into the residential program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where I completed three units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). From 2006-2008 I was a pastoral worker at Cabrini Hospital Malvern.

It is a privilege to be part of a great team at Richmond, ably led by the Parish Priest Father Stan Lim SJ. My role is varied and I enjoy the different areas that are part of my ministry. Father Stan believes that we have a responsibility to look after the elderly and sick members of the Parish who can no longer make their way to the church and who have contributed to the parish for many years. I visit elderly parishioners in their homes and those who have had to leave the parish to reside in nursing homes and hostels. On Fridays I work in Epworth Hospital Richmond taking communion to the catholic patients. I also visit members of the Sudanese community in the Elizabeth Street flats and have recently joined a group who is teaching Sudanese mothers how to read to their pre-school children.

The sacramental program in the parish for First Reconciliation and First Communion for children who do not attend catholic schools is an enjoyable part of my ministry. It gives me the opportunity to put my ‘old’ teaching skills to practice!

Sr Benedicta Quinlan fcJ

My ministry is in palliative care in the western suburbs of Melbourne as a member of the Mercy Palliative Care Team. The mission at Mercy Palliative Care (MPC) is to follow Jesus in His mission of mercy through the delivery of health, aged care and community service.

MPC is a not-for-profit home based palliative care service, which provides free professional support to patients, families and carers. Mercy Palliative Care and the Royal District Nursing Service work together to assist people to remain at home if they wish.

At Mercy we care for the whole person; physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially. We care for patients of all ages, cultures, creed and nationality. Part of my role is to network with these diverse groups to meet the spiritual needs of patients and to keep them connected to their spiritual roots.

We care for around 300 patients and in the past three months the team has travelled over 51,000 kilometres visiting patients and families. This represents 7.5 trips to Perth!

Alongside the nursing staff we have an Allied Health Team, which provides practical and emotional social care. This team offers counselling, music therapy, pastoral care and grief counselling. We also have about one hundred valued, dedicated and committed volunteers.

After the death of a loved one the family is offered bereavement support, in which I participate through support groups, information sessions, individual counselling and memorial services.

My privileged role in Pastoral Care is one of companionship and accompanying the terminally ill and their families in the final days of a loved one’s earthly journey, to bring comfort and hope for the future. It is a time of touching the sacred within, “God is touching us’.

When a person is ill he or she has time to reflect on their life and can often be disturbed by some of the things they did or did not do during their life. Many patients and family members find it helpful to have someone ‘outside their circle’ to speak with and share their thoughts, concerns and fears.

An Australian man I met in a nursing home, who was not a Catholic, asked if I could get a Vietnamese Priest to visit him. He had fought in Vietnam and wanted to ask forgiveness of a Vietnamese representative for the things he had done to the Vietnamese people during the War as he realised the people he fought against were just like him, following orders.  They were people who had families suffering because of the War, children left without fathers and wives without husbands.

I was able to grant his wish. Two days later he died peacefully.

My role is to meet the people where they are at and allow them to confide in me knowing that they will not be judged in any way. Confidentially is paramount in all our work.

I thank my God for the many blessings, gifts and opportunities I have been given to enable me to walk with so many beautiful people as they draw closer to their God to a new and wonderful life free from pain and suffering.

Sr Mary O'Shannessy fcJ

Mary O'Shannessy is legally blind. Strange thing to say about a woman who sees the world with such clarity. Mary was only 11 when her sight started to deteriorate. Her mother noticed it first and realised the youngest of her three children suffered a juvenile form of macular degeneration like Mary's father. The eye disease had never stopped her father from achieving his goals, so Mary took his lead and overcame all the challenges thrown her way. She continues to embrace life with an enviable passion.

Not surprisingly, Sr Mary's tireless energies in the past few decades have been directed towards those who are vision impaired and more recently to those who are disabled and elderly. For more than 30 years she has worked at Villa Maria in Melbourne. Villa Maria began as the Catholic Braille Writers Association in 1907. It has grown enormously over the years and now provides education services and support for older people and people with a disability in Victoria. Recently, the organisation honoured Sr Mary's contribution to the community and the role she has played in the development of Villa Maria.

'I always wanted to be a nun. Even as a young girl it was all I wanted to do. But when I tried to enter I was told that my sight was a problem. I remember praying to God and saying that if I could not be a Faithful Companion of Jesus in name, then let me be one in Spirit,' Mary said.

'About that time the Superior General of the order visited Australia and I was invited to speak to her. We talked for a while and she said it would be okay for me to join the order.'

There was never a question which religious order Mary would join. She credits the many wonderful and caring teachers at Genazzano FCJ College in Melbourne, with her yearning for a life committed to God.
In 1970 Mary went to the FCJ's co-educational school in Benalla to teach for almost four years. The first year of her country stint was marked with sickness and sorrow. Both of her parents died within weeks of each other and she was hospitalised with shingles. The one bright spot she remembers clearly is the good form of her football team, Hawthorn!

In 1974 Mary went overseas to undertake more formal teaching studies, not knowing the impact the trip would have on her future or the lives of so many visually impaired children. It was during this time that it was decided that she would specialise in teaching visually impaired children. Little wonder she ended up at St Paul's School for the Blind in Kew after her return to Australia in 1979. Since then Mary has got into the habit of looking at the need and responding. She laughs at her capacity to 'acquire things', mostly jobs that need doing!

One of the greatest needs, which Mary first saw about 20 years ago, was the need for pastoral care, for support for children and families that extended way beyond the classroom. Now there are two pastoral care workers at Villa Maria working across education, community, disability and residential Aged Care services. Mary loves the work.
'I love dealing one to one with people. The encounter nourishes me and I consider it a great privilege to be able to share the deeper part of a person's life, their joys and also their sorrows. It is easy to judge people quickly, but when you hear a person's story it is harder to judge because you understand what has brought them to the moment,' Mary said.

(Adapted from an article by Rosie Hoban published in Madonna magazine)