Confirmed leadership - Madonna Magazine

Confirmed leadership

Sr Rita Malavisi rsj 31 May 2024

Around this time, there are many candidates being Confirmed. I am sometimes asked to present at faith nights for parents and children. On these evenings I discuss the sacraments of initiation and how closely Baptism and Confirmation are linked.

As I was growing up, the emphasis for Confirmation was more about taking on a new identity, and hence choosing a Confirmation name, to do with a saint. I wish I had been introduced to many more role models of women in our church. I chose my saint, because it was the longest, prettiest English sounding name I could find, and because Bernadette was a teenager when she experienced the apparitions of Our Lady. Maybe if I had my time again, I would choose a different name – Perpetua.

Throughout history, women have played significant roles in various aspects of religious life, including leadership within the Church. Women and men alike contribute their unwavering faith, compassion, and leadership. Two remarkable women who exemplify this legacy are Saint Perpetua and Saint Mary MacKillop. Despite living in different eras and facing unique challenges, both women demonstrated remarkable leadership, courage, and dedication to their faith, leaving a lasting impact on the Christian community.

After reading an account of the life of Saint Perpetua, I felt surprised, delighted and perplexed.

Surprised because here was a woman – one of the earliest martyrs – not from Europe, which was a stronghold of the Roman Empire, but from northern Africa.

Delighted because here is another woman who stood by her convictions to the point of death and perplexed, as to why the church has not held this strong woman with more esteem.

Perpetua displayed a strength and conviction to Christianity, so much so that she would let her child live motherless. Would I let my child live motherless? Having lost my own mother at the age of 19, I don’t think so.

I acknowledge that the church has kept a special place for Perpetua, by remembering her in the canon, and as part of the Litany of Saints, but widespread devotion to her is not great. She is not as venerated as other saints in the church.

Why don’t we stand up and take notice of the account of a woman who must have been so tormented within. The story of Perpetua is a guide to how relationships with one another draw us to our God, or sometimes away from God.

Especially as a spiritual director, her strength, and single minded conviction, rests as a testimony to the faithful – both past and present. Perpetua’s courage inspired many of her fellow Christians, including her companions in martyrdom, who chose to stand by her side and face death rather than betray their faith.

For us Australians, Saint Mary MacKillop left an indelible mark on our country and the Church through her focus on education and her work as a social reformer. She had a deep-rooted commitment to social justice and education.

Growing up in poverty, she witnessed the struggles of the marginalised and recognised the transformative power of education in lifting individuals out of poverty. Her trust in a provident God was inspired by the faith in her family. Despite facing numerous challenges and opposition from within the church hierarchy, Saint Mary MacKillop remained steadfast in her mission.

She demonstrated remarkable resilience and leadership, navigating through financial difficulties, as well as conflicts with ecclesiastical authorities. Her unwavering dedication to serving the marginalised and upholding the principles of social justice earned her widespread admiration and respect, both within and outside the church.

Saint Mary MacKillop’s leadership legacy lies not only in the establishment of a religious congregation but also in the enduring impact of her work.

The Sisters of St Joseph continue to expand their mission, establishing schools, orphanages, and other social services across Australia and beyond. Today, her legacy lives on through the thousands of students educated and the countless lives touched by the Sisters’ work.

Despite their differences in background, time period, and circumstances, Saint Mary MacKillop and Saint Perpetua both show the qualities of leadership within the church. They demonstrated unwavering faith, courage in the face of adversity, and a deep commitment to serving others, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire and influence the Christian community today. They stand as examples of women leaders in the Church.

Saint Perpetua and Saint Mary MacKillop demonstrate that women have been integral to the Church’s growth, resilience, and compassion. Their legacies inspire us to continue working for justice, education, and unity within our faith communities.