Sr Kerry Keenan RSJ is a country girl at heart, practical and ready to do whatever is asked of her. A dyed-in-the-wool Crows supporter in the AFL, she finds that footy is a great way to connect with people. And she has been asked to take on some very diaconal ministry in rural South Australia.
It all started in Kadina, a small farming town in the Copper Triangle of the Yorke Peninsula north of Adelaide. The young Kerry regularly went to morning Mass, but had no ambitions beyond being a hairdresser. However, her Josephite teacher saw something in her, and questioned, “Have you ever thought of being a Sister?” So Kerry followed St Mary MacKillop into the order of Josephites.
She was teaching in schools for a long time, but eventually burnt out. After a renewal course, Kerry was asked by her leaders to become a Pastoral Associate in Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend, south of Adelaide. Despite having no training, she said, “You just do it.” And she learned the skills on the job.
Then, in 2001, Kerry was again asked by her leaders to fill a position in the Port Pirie Diocese, and she has been there ever since. The Sisters describe it as ‘Motor Mission’, while to the parish she is a ‘Pastoral Associate’. She answered the need in the south-east part of the diocese, where there are no Catholic schools and a demand for Religious Instruction.
Kerry is based in Clare, but works across 3 parishes – Jamestown, Burra and Snowtown. There are 2 priests in the district and she is also called regularly to Red Hill, Hallett, Port Broughton and Booborowie. All are small farming communities, with dwindling parish and Religious Instruction attendance. As the time has gone on, she has done more and more visiting of the elderly, nursing homes and hospitals.
Kerry’s roles also include leading regular Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion, as well as baptisms, funerals, prayers with the sick and dying, and youth groups. One liturgy she remembers fondly was at the Burra church. It was the beginning of winter and they were experimenting with the new time of 6pm. When Kerry arrived, there were only 3 parishioners, who had all come over from Booborowie. So, leaving her structure aside, the four of them sat down together in the pews and quietly did all the parts of the liturgy there. Afterwards, everyone commented how special it was.
This sense of value seems to be vital to Kerry’s ministry. She says, “the people know that we do care for them. It is a life commitment and we don’t do it for the money!” She is a presence in the community, and has seen families grow up. Over the years, Kerry has become part of their lives, and goes through everything with them. They turn to her for everything to do with the parish.
Kerry also finds that being a Sister and a female makes a big difference to her ministry. People can often relate better, and trust in someone who is a ‘third party’, an outsider. Men also tell her that they say things to her that they wouldn’t say to another man. She considers that, if ordination were possible, it would only change the title, but not the work that she does. It would, however, recognise and authorise what she is already doing in response to need. In the end, she says, “We just do it because we love the people and want the best for them.”
Join us and find out more about diaconal ministry in our Feast of St Phoebe webinar on Saturday the 3rd of September: