Sr Louise McKeogh FMA, the Social Justice Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta, is set to become a regional Provincial for her religious order.
Sr Louise, a member of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), more commonly known as the Salesian Sisters, was appointed Provincial of the South Pacific Region – which includes Australia, Samoa and the Solomon Islands – by her Mother General Yvonne Reungoat.
“I have a mixture of feelings [about my appointment],” Sr Louise told Catholic Outlook. “[There’s] excitement at a new challenge and I think it’s a sacred space to journey with each of the sisters and facilitate together the ministry that happens in Australia, in Samoa and in the Solomon Islands. To walk together and collaboratively set the direction and goals for our ministry for the next six years with the leadership team, so that’s very exciting.
“There’s also a tinge of sadness, because I’ve loved what I’ve been doing here in the Parramatta Diocese in the Social Justice Office, all the networks, relationships and support that make it a shared mission. It’s been a very life-giving and rewarding ministry for me personally.
“I’ve been a member of the [Salesian Sisters] leadership team for the last three years, but the appointment was a surprise,” she said.
Her appointment means she farewells the Diocese of Parramatta after seven-and-a-half years of service.
“Sr Louise has been able to do phenomenal work through her networking as a one-and-a-half-woman office,” Sr Catherine Ryan RSM, Chancellor – Ministries, Diocese of Parramatta, told Catholic Outlook.
“I am thankful to Sr Louise for her calm and collaborative approach through which she has successfully built excellent relationships with our parishes, diocesan agencies and social justice networks.
“Sr Louise has brought a life-long passion of social justice to the Diocese of Parramatta, and she has an innate respect in the value of each person, which is born out of the charism of her order,” Sr Catherine added.
Sr Louise grew up in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and attended high school at Mater Christi College in Belgrave, which was run by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
As a teenager, she was involved in her parish youth group, became a member of the Antioch Youth Movement and helped the Salesian Sisters run summer and winter camps for young people.
“What drew me to the Salesians was that I wanted to journey with young people. I felt inspired to work in some way with young people, whether being in youth ministry or education.
“I was very inspired by the formation house of the Salesian Sisters in my parish [of St Jude’s Scoresby]. So, there was young people entering religious life, and I was challenged and inspired by those young women, and there was a connection to the story of Don Bosco and his work for young people.
“In the end, it’s ultimately a call that this is the right thing for you,” Sr Louise said.
After high school, Sr Louise studied at teachers’ college, and in her third year, realised that a call to religious life was something she wanted to do. She professed her final vows in Melbourne in January 1996.
In 1990, Sr Louise moved to Sydney to teach at St John Bosco Primary School in Engadine before working in youth ministry at the Don Bosco Youth Centre in St Marys.
She returned to Melbourne to become the director of a long-day child care centre and then spent time in Adelaide completing a graduate diploma in Indigenous studies and assisting with a program for Indigenous secondary school students.
In January 2012, Sr Louise returned to Sydney to the Salesian Sisters Community at St Marys and taking up the role as the Diocesan Social Justice Coordinator.
“When I saw the role of Social Justice Coordinator, because of my work in the youth centre and the work with young Indigenous people, I thought, I’d really like to continue working in the social justice area,” she explained.
During her time in the Social Justice Office, Sr Louise has also been the Caritas Australia Diocesan Director, has helped to launch the annual Project Compassion fundraising initiative, as well as being an advocate for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s annual Social Justice Statements.
She is active in supporting and resourcing groups and parishes in the diocese to achieve social justice goals, particularly with regard to the concerns of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as networking with schools, parishes and agencies across Western Sydney with a passion for social justice.
Her participation in the mission work for young diocesan pilgrims travelling to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, stands out as one of Sr Louise’s highlights of her time in the Social Justice Office.
“One exciting time was World Youth Day 2013 when we went to Rio, and we’d had the mission experience with Caritas Peru in Lima. Seeing the young people of our diocese being able to experience the work of Caritas face-to-face.
“What’s been inspiring for me [has been] the teachers in the schools that are giving their extra time to animate social justice, or the people in parishes that are leading social justice groups or involved in those groups, and the different networks and agencies, like House of Welcome and Jesuit Refugee Service, all the different groups in the diocese that work for justice,” she explained.
During a farewell afternoon tea held for Sr Louise on Tuesday 22 October at St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, several representatives of the networks she has formed and the projects she has championed were in attendance and gave thanks for her ministry.
Fr Paul Marshall, parish priest of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Greystanes, speaking on behalf of parishes, thanked Sr Louise for her “total dedication” over her years of ministry.
“From my perspective as a parish priest, it’s been great to have correspondence from your emails about the issues of social justice that arise around us all the time.
“Thank you for your total dedication over the years in various ministries, and I want to pay a really special tribute to you for all you’ve done for us in terms of raising consciousness and awareness about issues that really face us as a society and the Church,” he said.
Patrice Moriarty, coordinator of the First Nations program for Caritas Australia said “I really say thank you very much on behalf of those you work with at home but also around the world and everything you’ve done.
“You’ve probably raised over hundreds of thousands of dollars, you would have got thousands of signatures and you would have held dozens of events in solidarity.
“It’s incredibly powerful what you’ve done to help support Caritas, and we’re very grateful for you and everything you’ve done,” Patrice explained.
Maeve Brown, Manager of the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Westmead Community Space, and a member of the Diocesan Social Justice Steering Committee said “one of the things that was immediately clear to me about [Sr] Louise was that she cares quite deeply about issues of justice and inequality, but also that she’s quite thoughtful and considerate.
“Most of all, she’s clearly working out of love, the love of God we find in one another, in each other in a community, with our neighbours and also in welcoming a stranger, and I think that’s been really clear in all of the work that I’ve been a part of with Louise,” she said.
David Barrow from the Sydney Alliance said that he had come to revere Sr Louise’s ability to be reflective and prayerful in her actions.
“I’ve come to learn and revere in Sr Louise is that deepness of her thought reflection and prayer life that she brings into public life. A Gospel of action, she rarely goes in for ‘talk, talk talk,’ and loves to know where the action is and she always reminds us of the St Francis quote, ‘preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, with words.’”
Sr Louise sees a great future for the Social Justice Office following her departure, and encouraged the new coordinator to continue working with the people of the diocese.
“I think the Social Justice Office in the diocese has a great future because the number of social justice parish groups is growing, schools are always passionate and growing their work for justice and the social justice leadership and formation.
“The Church in Western Sydney has always been very committed to social justice because people have a sense of being authentic about their faith and making it real.
“I see a lot of challenges coming out of all the discernment around the Plenary Council, and with Bishop Vincent’s leadership, the Social Justice Office will continue to grow and have a great focus in the Parramatta Diocese.
“Bishop Vincent is a great support and advocate for the Bishop’s Social Justice Statements, which we launch each year. His leadership in the diocese in the area of social justice is a great advantage for whoever comes into the role in the Social Justice Office and to support Bishop Vincent in that area.
“[The Social Justice Office] has always been focused on Catholic Social Teaching and building relationships and networks, so [my advice would be] to continue journeying with the people. I think a big part of the job has been to listen to the needs of the parishes and schools and to resource them when they’re needed and support them in the areas they want to work on and to hold that tension between raising awareness about all different sorts of social justice issues, but to identify the ones that we can make a big difference and we have the resources and the energy to work on,” Sr Louise said.
At her farewell, Bishop Vincent expressed that Sr Louise will be greatly missed in the diocese.
“It is with a tinge of sadness that we’ve come here to farewell Sr Louise, and wish her every blessing for her new responsibility.
“They often say ‘good things some in small packages’, and it’s so true of Sr Louise. What a dynamo you are, with a heart and passion for justice.
“Louise, above all, has a prophetic heart and a restlessness for God’s grace and that restlessness translates into a variety of actions and initiatives.
“Louise, your seven years with us have been like the biblical seven fat years, and I hope it’s not followed by the seven lean years, but I know that you’ve set a great example of a heart for justice and a high benchmark for others to emulate.
“Your departure will be greatly missed. We are all very grateful, very appreciative of you and your ministry of service, your passion for God’s Kingdom, above all, your love, your goodness [and] your contemplative spirit. We all wish you God’s speed and every blessing in your new appointment,” Bishop Vincent said.
Sr Catherine shared words of advice ahead of Sr Louise’s departure.
“My advice to her [in her new appointment] would be to love the sisters, and continue on the path of enabling and empowering her sisters and colleagues in ministry. I also hope she takes time for fun and care for self.
“The Salesian sisters of the South Pacific Region will be empowered and flourish with her as their leader,” she said.
Sr Louise said, “I will miss the people and the relationships. It’s wonderful working here at the [Diocesan] Ministry Centre [Blacktown] with a very committed team.
“I’ll miss all the networks with the various agencies and schools and networks of the social justice office.
“I’d like to thank all of those who have journeyed as part of the social justice network in any way. I won’t start naming names, because I’d leave somebody out.
“One of the things I’ll miss is the vibrancy. The Church in Western Sydney is a very vibrant Church because it is multicultural and because it is young. There’s a lot of commitment to mission from people. Not just Bishop Vincent, but I think a lot of people in the diocese have a good model of church for the future.
“I’ll miss that sense of life and vibrancy that is part of the Church in Western Sydney.”