When two young women from western Sydney took up the call to religious life, half a century ago, they took a real leap of courage in joining a new religious order many Catholics in Australia had never heard of.
But in taking that first leap of faith, they have in turn helped provide comfort and support to generations of Catholics not only in Australia, but in the broader Pacific region as well.
Sr Catherine Attard and Sr Christine Pisani are this month marking 50 years since their first Religious profession as Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, based in Strathfield in Sydney’s inner western suburbs.
They both entered the order on the same year, 1968 and made their first profession on the same day, 11 March 1972 at a Mass celebrated by the then Archbishop of Sydney, James Freeman at St Dominic’s Parish, Flemington.
For Sr Christine, as a young student who had been taught by the Sisters of St Joseph at Fairfield, she was initially attracted to joining the Josephites since this was the only religious order she knew. However, she was led into the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, completely by accident.
“A group of Sisters from our order, who had been visiting Fairfield, had knocked on my friend’s door by mistake since they’d got lost in the neighbourhood looking for another girl at my school who had expressed an interest in a religious vocation”, Sr Christine explained.
“I was with three of my friends from school and the Sister asked us, which one of you would like to become a nun? To the great surprise of my friends, I put up my hand and they had never suspected that of me since I tended to be the cheeky one in our group”.
“I came here to Strathfield for a group retreat and I was very much attracted by the Sisters’ spirit of friendliness, hospitality and their focus on Eucharistic Adoration”, she added.
Born at Pendle Hill, and raised in Blacktown, Sr Catherine Attard was also attracted to the same spirit of welcome at the Sisters as a new graduate from Nagle College.
One of eight children, she grew up in a devout family and knew from a young age that she had been called to religious life.
“I was looking for a congregation that combined contemplative prayer and active work in the Church. I came over and stayed with the Sisters for three weeks and told my family I would join the order and they were all very supportive”, she said.
Founded in 1924 in northern Italy, by Blessed James Alberione, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master are now based in 31 countries around the world.
Their ministry in Australia started in 1956 with two Italian Sisters who left Naples on a ship bound for Sydney, but within months, they were joined with three other Sisters from Japan, Spain and Malta.
Their charism is focused on contemplative prayer, especially on Eucharistic Adoration, but also on a Liturgical Apostolate, whereby they supply religious items for priests and parishes such as vestments, altar cloths and linen, candles, chalices and ciboriums. They also have Sisters who are architects, sculptors, artists and musicians. Every talent is used to make the Liturgy a truly beautiful and uplifting experience of encounter with the living God.
Through their priestly apostolate, the Sisters are also responsible for caring for the sick and elderly priests in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, a mission they started 50 years ago.
Sr Catherine Attard was the first novice for the Sisters after the Strathfield novitiate opened in 1971, while Sr Christine Pisani completed her formation at the order’s Central House in Rome. During her time in Rome, Sr Christine had the privilege and honour of meeting the Founder, Blessed James Alberione and also the first Sister Disciples, Venerable Mother Scholastica Rivata.
The mission of the Sisters now extends to the Pacific and Sr Catherine said one of the highlights of her work was spending four years in Western Samoa where she was Community Superior.
Sr Catherine also spent 15 years caring for retired priests in Melbourne and through her five decades with the order, she has travelled to Rome, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and China.
Sr Christine also had the joy of travelling to other countries over the years. Besides Rome, she also visited Lourdes, Fatima, Malta, Spain and together with Sr Catherine visited the Holy Land.
Sr Christine said one of the highlights of her work with the Sisters was setting up a Divine Master House in Auckland in the 1970s and spending several years, caring for sick and retired priests in Melbourne.
“It’s wonderful to watch them often reawaken their fervour for being a priest in retirement, coming to the chapel each day for Mass and Eucharistic Adoration”, she said.
Both the Sisters say they are very hopeful for the future of the Order with two young Sydney women undertaking their training at the moment.
Sr Christine has encouraged young women who feel a calling to religious life, not to hesitate in embracing that call.
“If you think the Lord is calling you, pray a lot about it and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you and guide you since our Church needs you: it needs your youthfulness, enthusiasm and joyful contribution to continue to proclaim the Good News to everyone”.
Are you interested in finding out more about the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master? Contact their Strathfield office on (02) 9764-2860
With thanks to the Catholic Weekly where this article first appeared.