21 September 2016: Celebrate Being Alive



Pilgrims – celebrating friendship – in the footsteps of Marie Madeleine. 2014.

“A birthday,” said my daughter, “is to celebrate how long you’ve been alive.”


We worked out how old Marie Madeleine would be if she were still with us today: two hundred and thirty-five.

Though the years are numbered, one can say that her spirit lives on with each story told, each memory shared and every time we pause to reflect on her life. To celebrate Marie Madeleine’s birth and life, we need not ceremony or lavish feasts, but hearts that are open to meeting her, and in turn, God’s gifts to the Church.* We can read about her, as my daughter has done so tonight in curiosity and interest, or we can hold near to us, what knowledge or insight we’ve gained over the period we’ve known her. We can reflect on the physiological aspects of her life: her birthplace, the family to which she was born, the time period in France, and ponder their significance or effect; or we can look at her legacy in the lives of her direct descendants, or the order of nuns she founded, and in the lives of many whom she continues to inspire.

Today is also the International Day of Peace, and I draw from the words of the newly-canonised St Teresa of Calcutta: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Celebrate being alive, with those nearest to you, may they be your family, your community or whomever lives in your heart.


*We remember that Marie Madeleine has been declared Venerable by the Catholic Church, formally recognising her saintly virtues. Here is a Prayer for Healing, which you might like to say:


More details about the Cause for the Canonization of Marie Madeleine can be found on the Society’s web site.



Thomas Merton: On Pilgrimage

The story of man’s pilgrimage and search has reached the end of a cycle and is starting on another. It is clear that there is no paradise on earth that is not defiled as well as limited, and yet the piligrimage must continue because it is an inescapable part of man’s stucture and program. The problem is, for his pilgrimage to make sense, it must represent a complete intergation of his inner and outer life, of his relation to himself and to other men. The Bible has always taken men in the concrete, never in the abstract. Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and there find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. That is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves – which is the same as saying that we find Christ in him. | Thomas Merton

image Excerpt transcribed from Thomas Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters, from the radio show, Paul Elie – Faith Fired by Literature, (20 February 2014). Click here to listen to the recording.

In just over a week, I will begin a pilgrimage to France ‘In the Footsteps of Marie Madeleine’, with an international group of people associated with the Faithful Companions of Jesus, including Companions in Mission, staff from our schools and other associates. Kindly remember us all as we embark on this journey, and together we pray for all those travelling, on pilgrimages of some kind, and for those who are forced to move for their safety and welfare through no fault of their own, such as asylum seekers and nations displaced.

Holy Thursday 2014: Welcoming the Outsider, Restoring Relationship

Holy Thursday has a special place in the hearts of all who know and love the charism of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. For the sisters, it is also the feast or foundation day, as Patricia Grogan fcJ describes:

As [Marie Madeleine] dwelt on the great love of her Lord on the mysteries of his paschal meal, passion and death, she gave him her heart, her soul and her entire being, consecrating herself at the foot of the cross to the work for which God had been so long preparing her. In this hidden way, in the silence of her heart, the Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus was born.| P. Grogan fcJ, God’s Faithful Instrument, p.75

With this in mind, I offer the following for your reflection.

I wrote recently about this year’s Palm Sunday being a Palm Sunday like no other. The same is also true for Holy Week.

Earlier in the week, I was speaking to a friend who visits refugees at a detention centre. He mentioned in passing that he had taken in food for them, so I asked why, thinking, “Don’t they have enough to eat?”


Image: Upper Room, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Gail Meyer.

We celebrate the Eucharistic meal at every Mass. It is familiar to us who practise our faith, but it can also mean that we forget its significance and meaning in its origins. The Gospel reading for Holy Thursday says that it was during supper (John 13:2) that Jesus got up and began to wash the feet of his disciples. It is during this meal that Jesus says:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:14-15)

The Washing of the Feet, as many have rightly interpreted, is about humility and selfless service, aspects found in the Eucharistic meal. But it is also about justice, about restoring right relationship among people. Ron Rolheiser offers the following:

The Eucharist, among other things, calls us to justice, to dissolve the distinction between rich and poor, noble and peasant, aristocrat and servant, both around the Eucharist table itself and afterwards, outside of the church. The Eucharist fulfills what Mary prophesied when she was pregnant with Jesus – namely that, in Jesus, the mighty would be brought down and the lowly would be raised up.

…The Eucharistic table is a table of social non-distinction, a place to which the rich and the poor are called to be together beyond all class and status. | Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity (2011), p.73-74)

In response to my question, my friend explained to me that it originated with the bringing of fruit – fruits like rambutan or durian, reminders of home’s comforts; or grapes, a luxury item for them, though inexpensive for Australians. He then recounted an incident where he brought in steamed dim sims (dumplings) and the group enjoyed them with their own mix of fish sauce, garlic and chili.

As I listened to the stories my friend told me, I found myself extremely moved. It’s one thing to read the stories and reports of refugees and those detained inhumanely on Nauru and Manus Island, but it’s another thing to hear from someone who has been in contact with them.

He told me that he had met with a group of asylum seekers, who on their arrival to Australia would eventually become the last group to do so, since the day on which they arrived was the same in which the Abbott government brought in the ‘boat turn-back’ policy. My friend also told me how a husband, wife and their baby who was 8-months’ old on arrival recently “had their one-year anniversary”, and also how detainees face negative consequences for conversing with Australians at the compound’s fence.

I began to weep, my heart heavy with grief for these people and for the state in which we find ourselves as Australians. I do not write this to burden you but to show you the realities of what is going on around us. Whether or not you feel passionately about the issues concerning asylum seekers, it cannot be denied that such is a “contemporary cross.” And in line with the Chapter Decree of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, we are to be “channels of hope, love and mercy in our villages, towns and cities” by standing at the foot of these contemporary crosses.

The symbol of a cross was not always the hope of the resurrection Christians recognise today. It was a mark of shame, persecution and death. Jesus Christ changed all that. With this in mind, where do you see in your world, contemporary crosses? What can you do to change things from destruction into life? What hope can you bring to the world? In what ways, great or small, do you restore right relationship in your care for the poor, the marginalised and those on the outside?

As we journey into the holy mystery of the Easter Triduum, may we remember each other, not as this person or that, but as an equal member of the Body of Christ, as one part to a unified whole.

Keeping Company

Conversing with the refugees | Image source: DASSAN

Insight: What I learnt about Marie Madeleine from a basket of oranges

KEEPING-COMPANY.COM | FCJ Spirituality, Mission and Identity

The story of FCJ foundress, Marie Madeleine d’Houët really caught my attention when I learnt that she was a wife and mother, as well as a religious sister; I suppose because this distinction resonated with me as a young wife/mother with a yearning for a deepening spiritual identity. In her latest book, Grit and Grace, Ann Rennie devotes a chapter to the maternal side of Marie Madeleine, surveying the various experiences Marie Madeleine went through during the course of her life, including her sudden widowhood, which was followed by motherhood. The chapter looks at aspects of her character from what we know of her relationships with others – with family, her in-laws, her son, Eugène, the students at the college he attended, etc. and what we find is a devoted, loyal and exceedingly faithful mother in Marie Madeleine.

But what of this business of founding a religious congregation? What of the fervent prayer and religious practices that sustained her spiritual life? What of the personal discernment, which resulted in entering religious life? In the second stage of her life as a religious, Rennie writes:

In the first half of her life, Marie Madeleine was able to prioritise the domestic and familial, while in the second half of her work [as founder of a religious congregation] – God’s work – was pre-eminent. | Grit and Grace (2013), p.23.

One anecdote on the maternal nature of Marie Madeleine that I personally love is the way in which she cares for and fusses over others, especially in matters of health and nourishment. In her letters to her daughter-in-law, Louise, Marie Madeleine seems insistent on sending the young family a case or basket oranges from her orchards.

Marie Madeleine writes:

My dear daughter, I am very distressed to know both of you are ill…I beg you earnestly, each of you to look after yourselves and not to tire yourselves. It is great foolishness not to look after your health and this will be the greatest wrong you could do for your children. …I would love to send you a case of oranges for them [the children] – for you too, but they are not quite ripe for another month. I shall put them on a coach and I hope that they will reach you promptly. | Letter, stamped Nice, 12 February 1839.

While many rightly understand this to be a show of Mme d’Houët’s generosity, I have on reflection, come to see it as particularly symbolic of her utmost devotion and continual fidelity as ‘mother’, even though she was well and truly immersed in the duties and domain of life as a religious sister. Of course Marie Madeleine was a generous and conscientious person, and it is normal that we read about her saving items to send to others, but there is something about these oranges that captivates my imagination.

Perhaps Marie Madeleine really loved oranges, or perhaps they were a favourite of Eugène, but that four of the twelve letters to Louise that we have translated into English express a great desire and almost urgency to send these oranges, seems to me, to point to something more.

Oranges are known for their high quantity and quality of nourishment. They are pleasing in fragrance, palatable to many (including fussy children, in the form of juice) and are wonderfully versatile around the home. What do you think about the possible link between these oranges and Marie Madeleine’s maternal nature? It seems that as a practical woman, experienced in both household and estate management, the ‘basket of oranges’ may well reflect Marie Madeleine’s overall approach to life: zesting and bursting with flavour, and always in the pursuit of perfection as a creature of God.

Please note

Copies of Grit and Grace may be ordered from the Province Centre. Kindly send an email to secretary@fcjasau.org.au for more information.

A ‘Back to School’ Reflection

Our summer holiday period has come to a close here in Australia, as many homes and families begin to adjust (back) into the school year. My own six-year-old took his new toy plush this morning, looked him in the eye and counselled as only a sage of astute wisdom can do: Now, Robin, I’m going back to school today. I’m going back to my normal routine, which means I’ll be at school. It’s a bit different for you because you haven’t quite done this [experienced this] before, but it’s OK… Cow will be here, and Batman too. And my mum will be home to play with you.” I marvelled at his words and actions and the way in which he understood that a new pace of life will be put in motion. My son also accepts that it’s part of his role, his ‘job’ at this stage of his life, to go to school.

It’s important to remember that for many children in the world, education is a privilege. There are those who want it and are willing to risk their lives for it, and on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who begrudge it. But receiving an education, whether it’s appreciated or not, is inevitably a gift that engages and enables life.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh is a courageous young Afghan woman, whose story is one that values and embraces the importance of education. In the following TED talk, she speaks of the devotion and determination of her family who, contrary to custom and the law, made sure that she and her sister went to school. Of her father, she says, “There was no question that his children would receive an education, including his daughters, despite the Taliban, despite the risks. To him, there was greater risk in not educating his children.”

The task of educating people, especially girls, has been present since the beginning of the FCJ Society. Marie Madeleine saw to it that boarding houses, schools and centres for the support and betterment of women’s lives were established. To this very day, education remains a prolific part of Mme d’Houët’s legacy, and further more, is instrumental in the shaping and forming of young people in the ways of the gospel. Its importance, though we may take it for granted from time to time, must never be overlooked.


We remember all those who are not fortunate to receive a safe and sound education. We remember all students, teachers and members of the community that work and devote their time and gifts, in this domain. We give thanks for our teachers, our guides and mentors, for our parents and families who’ve supported and continue to support our learning, regardless of our age. We ask for the graces of wisdom and discernment, that we may continually open and avail ourselves mentally and spiritually to the new and different ways in which God calls us to life.

In relaying the story of my son, I wish to highlight the grace of detachment, shown in his ease of transition. As much as he loved his school holidays, he accepts that he has to change his routine, and thankfully (or hopefully!) continues to welcome each change. Each day is a wonderful gift in his eyes, and I know in myself that I can learn a great deal from my children.

Often change can be unnerving. It has to do with uncertainty and letting go. Nervousness builds up on the first day, be it at school, university or in a job. We are always ‘new’ at some stage, new to a group, new to a family, new to a community. Being able to adapt is part of surviving, and without change, we cannot thrive. Even people who’ve been at the same place, in the same community or state of life for their entire existence also encounter opportunities for change. Where change is unsettling, subtlety and gentleness are key to a happy transition. What my son said to his toy is an example of quiet confidence and gentle affection that we can emulate, as adults. A kind word, a gesture of tenderness and the gift of presence to another can turn what seems unpleasant, into something more bearable.


Related links:

Another remarkable example of education-for-life is the story of architect and community-builder, Diébédo Francis Kéré.

Click here for a list of FCJ current educational centres and institutions around the world.

Pip McIlroy’s Address from the launch of “Grit and Grace”

Keeping Company

Author, ANN RENNIE, signing copies of “Grit and Grace”, published by the Faithful Companions of Jesus Sisters, Australia. 2013.

Yesterday marked the official launch of Grace and Grit by current Genazzano FCJ teacher, author and Companion-in-mission, Ann Rennie.

Among the speakers was Pip McIlroy, an alumna of Genazzano FCJ College, who gave an address on her experience of being a contributor to the book.

Below is a copy of her speech, which does both the book and the FCJ Sisters praise and compliment.

It is a privilege to speak to you tonight on behalf of the 16 members of our wider FCJ community who have so generously contributed their own personal reflections to this publication. I’d like to begin by acknowledging Ann Rennie, whose writing we have all responded to. It has been a significant experience for the contributors to reflect on Ann’s words about Marie Madeleine and it is due to Ann’s great efforts that we have had this opportunity. A running theme throughout the book is the necessity that exists to take the time to stop and reflect in our daily lives. Unfortunately these opportunities can at times seem rare. Ann has provided the framework for each of us to reflect on our connection to Marie Madeleine and the FCJ sisters and to express the pride we feel to be part of this tradition. I thank Ann personally for this opportunity and on behalf of all the contributors both present here tonight and those not able to join us.

My involvement in this project has led me to reflect on the importance and power of narrative. Of the different ways that stories come to us, of the various narratives that we ourselves have taken part in the creation of and which ones we continue to be part of. There is nothing like a good story. Narratives inspire people, they make us feel like we belong, and they communicate messages not otherwise easily and authentically articulated.

The 16 contributors to ‘Grit and Grace’ are a diverse group of people. Among them are teachers, principals and leaders in FCJ schools, FCJ sisters both in Australia and abroad, Genazzano alumni and others within the broader FCJ community in Australia. We come from different places and we have different experiences yet we all have in common one thing. We share a part of our personal narratives – our connection with the tradition of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. In my case it is a connection I am both immensely grateful for and proud of.
We are all part of Marie Madeleine’s vision. All of us here tonight are connected to her vision and to her sisters through a shared commitment to what she believed in and what she worked for. Reading through the reflections of the many whose words appear in this book, I feel a real sense of the community that the FCJs have built up in this country.

As a recent graduate of an FCJ school, the one whose walls we sit within this evening, I was so pleased to be asked to contribute to ‘Grit and Grace’. I can see from the list of contributors that I am the youngest. And so in some ways in this setting I am conscious of my youth and perhaps my lack of experience. However, I’m not surprised to be here. It is a testament to the FCJ eagerness to work with young people in meaningful ways that I have been asked to speak this evening.  My involvement is a symbol of the enduring vitality of Marie Madeleine’s vision and the life of the FCJ community and the promise of its continuation into the future. Marie Madeleine worked closely with young people, mainly those who were underprivileged. The sisters today continue her vision by involving the young in their missionary activities and varied endeavours.

I am also not surprised to be involved tonight as we stand within walls where I was taught to be courageous and confident. Marie Madeleine believed in the importance of education and she saw in her work with the young, a means to achieve a world that is more just. I am eternally grateful for the education I received at Genazzano and the Ignatian formation I have had in the tradition of the FCJ sisters and the Jesuits.

In Mrs Patricia Cowling’s reflection, she wonders to what extent the original dreams, hopes and aspirations of the early sisters are still reflected in the life and daily experiences of the students and staff of Genazzano today. Would that brave band of sisters who established the school back in 1882 recognise it today? This important question brings to mind Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle’s articulation of our call as Christians to be always “inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognise it”. I feel as though Marie Madeleine’s vision has the power to ensure this idea of our world continues into the future via those who have the grace to encounter the tradition of the FCJ sisters.

Congratulations to Pip, and to Ann Rennie and all who were involved in the making of this project a reality.

For the greater glory of God…


Image credit | IgnatianSpirituality.com

Image credit | IgnatianSpirituality.com

Ignatian Saints this All Saints Day

The wonderful people at IgnatianSpirituality.com have listed a few biographies of saints and other holy people who have lived devoted, dynamic and inspiring Ignatian lives.

Rejoice and behold! – who should be included but our dear Marie Madeleine d’Houët, Founder of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

Go and have a read – you might learn a thing or two you never knew before! All saints and holy men and women of God, continue to pray for us.

Sunset Panoramic – Frankston, VIC


Sunset Panoramic Frankston Victoria

Image | Geralyn Tan, October 2013.

Overlooking the horizon off the Frankston foreshore: How broad, how wide, how vast is this beauty in God’s creation. How broad, how wide and how vast God’s love for us is!

Frankston (VIC) is home to John Paul College, a regional high school, half of which was formerly Stella Maris FCJ. John Paul College still remembers its FCJ heritage through its past pupils, its connection with the Sisters, as well as having one faction of their House System called D’Houet, after FCJ Founder, Marie Madeleine d’Houët.


FCJ Sisters - General Chapter 2013 | Keeping-Company.comFCJ General Chapter 2013

As a religious congregation, the Faithful Companions of Jesus Sisters have General Chapters, in which representatives from around the world gather together to pray, to reflect and to discern the ways forward that will enhance the mission of the Order.

Upcoming, from 9th October – 1st November inclusive, is the 2013 General Chapter, to be held at Loyola Hall, Liverpool in the UK.

Please keep all participants, delegates and contributors in your prayer. We invite you to pray along with us, the following:

Loving God,

Thank you for the gift of your Son,
through whom we are united as companions.
Throughout all of life’s decisions,
but with special intention during the FCJ General Chapter of 2013,
we ask that your Holy Spirit guide each heart with courage and confidence,
to always choose that, which leads each one and all to love Jesus more deeply, to know him more intimately and to follow him more closely. [SPEX #104].

Marie Madeleine, mother and foundress,
pray for us.


Keeping-Company.com FCJ SistersFor more information on the Chapter, to subscribe to updates or to leave a message for the Sisters, please go to the FCJ General Chapter 2013 web page.

Keeping Company… with FCJ Epping North

In our previous post on the anniversary of the birth of Marie Madeleine d’Houët, I mentioned that I proceeded to join the FCJ Sisters at their newest community in Epping North, but had to leave due to a family situation. What I had omitted to say was that what I did see from the car across the street was an array of colour through the windows of the Farmhouse. An intimate community had gathered for Mass, with the light of the near-setting sun washing through the glass.

Supplementing this transient comment is something more substantial, offered in the few lines by Sr Margaret Claver Hayes FCJ (Epping North). It is with thanks and delight that I share the following:

Our Foundress, Marie Madeleine d’Houët, born on 21st September 1781, a few years before the French Revolution, grew up in turbulent times, not too unlike what we watch on our TV each night. Her vision has motivated and captured the spiritual imagination of countless people over five continents for over a hundred and ninety years. As a wife, mother, grandmother as well as a religious, she really is a woman for our time, too.

So we were especially grateful to be able to share something of our FCJ Foundress’ life on the actual day of Marie Madeleine’s birthday, the 21st of September at the Farmhouse in Epping North with Fr. Maurie Cooney our Parish Priest and some of our parishioners after 5.30 Eucharist, where the many families and different cultures of Epping North gather each week at our lovely Sacred Space at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop School.

Sr Margaret Claver is active on various administrative councils within the FCJ community as well as a member of the outreach team at the Campion Centre for Ignatian Spirituality in Kew, Victoria. Alongside her, are Sr Margaret Maher FCJ (who recently celebrated her 50th anniversary as a Faithful Companion of Jesus) and Sr Ann Connolly FCJ, who make up the community in Epping North, Victoria.

Epping North community of FCJ Sisters. Keeping-Company.com

From L-R: Margaret Claver Hayes FCJ, Ann Connolly FCJ and Margaret Maher FCJ in their home.

Thank you, Sisters, for welcoming us so warmly into your community and home. And thank you for sharing the spirit of Marie Madeleine in your various ministries.