by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You have studied at several universities, What degrees did you earn from Catholic University Strathfield, University of New England (AU), University of Melbourne. and Broken Bay Institute.
Jennie: Catholic University: Teaching Diploma; Graduate Diploma in RE; UNE: Masters of Administrative Leadership; UM: Master of Arts – Theology; BBI: Graduate Diploma in Canon Law
Gordon: What did you teach at Rosebank College?
Jennie: Mathematics and Religious Education. I was the Head of the Religious Education Department.
Gordon: What did you enjoy most when you were Director of Religious Formation Saint Ignatius College, Riverview?
Jennie: This role encompassed the formation of staff, students and parents. For the students it integrated the Religious Education curriculum with their faith and service experiences. The team I was working with were competent, passionate people committed to ensuring that a graduated ongoing formation program that connected the head, heart and hands was created.
The Executive Team was an incredibly well-functioning team that were all committed to the mission of providing Catholic Education in the Jesuit tradition. I not only had their support for all the programs that were being developed but they gave witness to their commitment by taking part in the various programs that were offered - from Kairos retreats, to Immersions and other outreach activities.
By far, the experience I had with both of these teams gave me an appreciation of the benefits that arise from and the culture that is created when mission drives action.
Gordon: What one of your favorite memories when you were Provincial Delegate for Education at the Jesuit Provincial Office?
Jennie: There is much I gained from this experience and most importantly the relationships that I developed with many across the various Province ministries.
I was able to consolidate and grow in my knowledge of the distinctiveness of Jesuit Education and its inextricable link to Ignatian spirituality - which is an ongoing area of growth for my own cognition. Working nationally and internationally with experts in this area continues to be a real highlight.
This role also gave me an opportunity to view the myriad of works of the Australian Jesuit Province and gain an appreciation of the complexities and richness that is involved in working with the Jesuits and in the broader Catholic Church at this level. I learnt to appreciate the many layers of governance that exists and worked closely with the Provincial, Socious and other Delegates who had oversight of the Province ministries.
A second highlight for me was my involvement with the development of and strategic direction for the corporate structure for Jesuit Education Australia. The expertise of Province staff, the Chairs of our Jesuit College Councils (they are now Boards) and the members of the Jesuit Education Board taught me a lot about governance, Canon Law and the importance of creating core documents such as Constitutions, Charters and Schedules of Delegations to ensure fidelity to mission would be protected.
Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Formation and Education Officer Jesuit Education at Australian Province of the Society of Jesus
Jennie: My role supports the Executive Director and Board of Jesuit Education Australia to ensure the Jesuit identity and ethos of Jesuit Colleges and Jesuit Companion Colleges is maintained and alignment with governance, risk and compliance of Jesuit Colleges across Australia is achieved through the provision of strategic analysis, coordination support and stakeholder collaboration.
Practically, this involves much networking both nationally and internationally and developing, facilitating and convening professional development and formation programs to assist our Jesuit and Companion Colleges to maintain fidelity to the mission.
Jesuit Education Australia is an organisation that is one that aims to be of service to and supportive of the Colleges as they continue to provide Catholic education in the Jesuit and Ignatian tradition.
Gordon: Approximately what percentage of Australia is Catholic?
Jennie: Affiliation with the Catholic Church - like most of the western world has been on the steady decline over past decades. The 2021 statistics identify just under 20% of the population stating they are Catholic. This has decreased from just over 25 % in the 2016 statistics - so a sharp decline.
Gordon: What are some of the Catholic Social Justice issues in Australia?
Jennie: 1. Working towards Reconciliation with our First Nations People
2. Caring for Creation - Climate Change
3. Disparity of wealth
4. Domestic Violence
Gordon: Please provide an overview of the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia
Jennie: I have not been directly involved in the Plenary council meetings, so I am watching from the sidelines. Clearly the decreasing relevance of the Church is identified in the falling statistical numbers and the Plenary Council is an opportunity to explore how to make the Church more meaningful to people and determine the future directions for the Church in Australia through this structured and institutional process.
The call to listen deeply to what the Spirit is asking of us through the process of a Plenary council provides a great opportunity for engagement of and contribution by all the faithful. Pope Francis has asked the Church (and I use that word as identified in the Second Vatican Council) to be a field hospital that 'smell like its sheep' and the Council provides this opportunity.
Yet, the process ultimately restricts the deliberative voting power to the bishops, and it is within this constraint that matters will be resolved. As such, we rely on the bishops as they wrestle with the situation in Australia. Ultimately we pray for the bishops be free enough to hear what the Spirit is saying and act in accordance with that.
There are challenges, particularly in some specific areas as we have seen in the second sitting.
But as we approach Advent and the hope that this brings, I remain optimistic that the Spirit will be heard, that the laity will take up their role as leaders within the Church, in true collaboration with our ordained and that the Church of the future is one of relevance that provides meaning for all.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.