Catholic women’s conference stirs the waters

By Padmi Pathinather, 28 February 2019

Reflection on Council of Australia Catholic Women Colloquium 2019

Water as we all know is central to our health and wellbeing and has the power to revitalise our spirits.

Having spent the weekend of 22-24 February at the Council of Australia Catholic Women Colloquium 2019 – themed “Stirring the Waters,” I have come to appreciate the essence of John 5:1-15, where Jesus healed the crippled man by the pool. By the end of the third day of the conference, the healing power that came from listening to the experiences of many women was engraved deep in our stirring hearts.

Playing it back, I was in awe of the 165 women who showed up representing all states and territories across our great southern land. The esteemed presentations from keynote speakers such as Dr Michelle Connolly, who spoke about inclusivity and synodality, and clearly defined synod as the path that we journey together and our ability to meet people where they are at, rethink the way forward and have the courage to keep moving forward.

Dr Trudy Dantis, during her Women & Leadership in Australia workshop, highlighted that despite the increase in overall female population in Australia, the percentage of female Catholics from 2011 to 2016, has declined (26.0% to 23.4%) respectively. However, the good news lies in the increase percentage of Catholic women with university degrees has increased during the same period from 19.4% to 23.1%, and exceed the male representation at only 17.7%.

With 61% of female Catholics being employed or actively seeking work, of which over 65% held positions of Sales Assistance, General Clerical and Receptionist whilst the remaining 35% held professional positions as Teachers and Registered Nurses – clearly highlighted the need to encourage and build the confidence of the highly qualified female talent to take on greater leadership roles in our community.

To fundamentally understand the unique needs of our community it was refreshing to hear from Debra Zanella, CEO of Ruha, about her close work with the people of Western Australia who experienced significant life changing events such as domestic violence, drug abuse, and homelessness. She created a unique framework for mission and mercy on the margins based on the teachings of Pope Francis’s TED Talk and changed the measure of impact from supporting homeless services to ending homelessness.

I believe the Holy Spirit is a great impetus for us to transform many lives and we have started this journey through the lens of Plenary 2020.

Lana Turvey-Collins, Theresa Simon, Sarah Moffat and Dr Debra Sayce, members of the Plenary Council Executive Committee, shared with us great lived experiences of prayer and discernment, and the need to reconnect our lives with the sick, elderly, our youth and remind ourselves of God’s love and mercy and the beauty he has surrounded us with the gifts of each other and that of our abundantly rich Aboriginal land that we all are blessed to call home.

Leadership is complex and challenging at the best of times, and the more senior you become, the greater impact your actions have on others. Many great women who have gone before us, and those who continues to show us the way, highlight the importance of never giving up, being bold and passionate and open to listening and learning, whilst making space for others in our teams to grow, knowing the power of prayer and hope, and of equal importance being joyful and having a good laugh when it doesn’t quite go according to plan!

To me, it is evident the waters are stirred across our great nation, the healing process has begun as the spirits have been upheaved and reignited with a new sense of purpose and direction for the greater good of our Catholic women and young girls who deserve a better future.

Looking beyond gender, it will take a unified effort from our Catholic Clergy, Curia and other leaders along with our lay community to rebuild the house of God in the image of Jesus and his teachings. In the famous words of Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen, “blessed be the leader who works for the common good and not his or her own interest, and one who remains consistent, who works to accomplish radical change to work towards unity, and dispels all evil using the gospel as a guide.”

These are a few of my reflections and I trust this will help guide you in the journey we are about to take together in the spirit of Plenary 2020, and I encourage everyone to ask themselves “What is God Asking for Australia today?”

Padmi Pathinather is the chair of the Diocesan Pastoral Council.



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