The man who sat in front of her was a large, energetic footy player. The woman next to him was small, gently bobbing an infant of 8 months. “Why do you want to have your child baptised?” Sr Marg asked. To her surprise and delight, the man answered slowly, “This baby is so beautiful, I don’t want her to miss anything that I had.” With the ease of fellow laypeople, they got to know each other and Marg explained the meaning and symbols of the upcoming sacrament. Two weeks later, they met again and chose readings and prayers from the suggested plan. Then finally they gathered at the couple’s home for a truly special moment. Marg led the service to initiate the child into the Christian community, poured water over her head and gave her the parish baptism certificate. The parents made promises on their daughter’s behalf and the community joined in celebrating a new addition to the family of the Church.
Sr Margaret Finlay IBVM played this role in a growing parish community because it was called for. Her life has included many ministries, from teaching, leadership, faith formation to prison chaplaincy. But this was one experience that was quite unique. It was in the 1990s, a time infused with the spirit of Vatican II, with many opportunities arising for lay formation and faith leadership roles. The Parramatta Diocese advertised for a “leader of the Catholic community” in the brand new suburb of Glenmore Park.
The area was expanding with affordable housing, to which people migrated from Sydney. Many were young families, and they wanted to become a community. As well as social activities, they wanted to celebrate their faith, which was very important to them. However, there was no church and no priest. There were some school halls that were available and “lovely” priests from the Penrith parish who would come on Sundays. But for spiritual and pastoral development, the growing community needed more.
So Marg was employed to coordinate and facilitate in the fledgling neighbourhood. She organised liturgies, parish events, care teams, social teams and youth groups – devising many ways to build up the community. The diocese paid rent on a house where many of these groups met and the officework was done. Marg was kept very busy, and frequently met with her priest supervisor to fill him in on both parish and community happenings. With true collaboration, the Masses and other Liturgies were lively, full of music and participation.
After some time, the Vicar General of Parramatta encouraged Marg to baptise the many children who were emerging in the Glenmore Park community. So she invited others to join a baptism team, and soon had three couples involved. As sacramental coordinator, Marg formed the couples over a 3-month period, developed a baptism program, ritual plan and a clear baptism policy. Families who wanted their children baptised were required to attend two preparation meetings, which members of the team facilitated on a roster. The whole process was steeped in a desire to strengthen Christian family life. As the policy outlined, “Infant Baptism is a pastoral opportunity to be grasped for the sake of clarifying and supporting the role of the domestic and local community Church in the work of making present the Kingdom of God in the world.”
Following the preparation sessions, the families would meet in their homes or one of the school halls, where Marg would perform the baptisms. Over her five years in that ministry, she performed 82 of them. At the end of that time, she was called away by her order and another Sister took it on. Eventually, the community built a church and it became the St Padre Pio Parish of Glenmore Park. The Loreto Sisters are preserved in its history, and the people of God in that suburb are flourishing today.
To conclude, I would like to share part of the blessing prayer over the water that Marg wrote for the Glenmore Park baptisms:
“We come together around this spring of new life to remember our own birth and welcome in love this child to share our life of faith. This water is rich with life and nourishment for the journey. It will carry you wherever you go. It will refresh you when you are weary. It brings you fruitfulness and will wash away the dimness that may sometimes surround you. In its depths you will be healed and in its shallows you will find a playful spirit… I BAPTISE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.” Amen.