It’s Already Here; It’s Alive and Well!

Cathy Jones, 16 March 2023

Some of our readers may recall the story of Sr Gerri Boylan, Administrator and Pastoral Leader of the remote Western Australian gold-mining towns of Mount Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra. Well, recently I had the privilege of hearing from her successor, Cathy Jones, who appears to be the perfect candidate.

Cathy has always “had something special” with God and Jesus in her life. Although she was part of a Catholic family, she was the only one who took herself off to weekday Mass as a child. Then, after training as a teacher, Cathy joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. After some time, she went to Mount Magnet for parish ministry, writing faith formation programs for families not attending Catholic schools.

It was there, after much prayer, that Cathy left the order, married David and they had four sons together. However, she remained an oblate of the Good Samaritans and was always involved in the parish. At first there was a parish priest, but soon the current model started, in which a priest comes once a month from the seat of the diocese in Geraldton (340kms away). Apart from these visits, it was Sisters who ran the parish.

Cathy became a teacher at a local school. However, in 2011, her husband was killed in a car accident. After that, she moved to another town of the parish, Cue, to be school principal. When Sr Gerri was not there, she would often lead the liturgy. Cathy had prepared for this previously, in the city, and it was “something I always felt I could do.” At one time, she was asked by the police to lead a ‘pauper’s funeral’ when no one else was around. From then on, she became familiar with funerals and other liturgical services.

So it would appear as no surprise for Cathy to take over from Gerri at her departure. Yet there was still quite a process. At the time of transition, a Dominican Sister came to facilitate a discernment weekend to imagine the parish’s future. Cathy was the last to speak, but she had a feeling inside that the Spirit was moving; “It felt like where God wanted me to be now; I always felt I wanted to be ministering in the Church.” The others suggested that she should respond to the call. Although it meant leaving her education role and comfortable salary, Cathy gladly took over as Pastoral Leader of Mount Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra Parish in January 2020. 

“Jesus was always on the margins, and worked with marginal people,” Cathy says. She knows this is where she is meant to be, and receives great feedback as she explores what people find meaningful. It is also a blessing to be part of a small church experience, rather than one in which individuals would be lost. Cathy believes in active liturgical participation, and guides people to reflect on the scriptures for themselves, to ask, “What’s this word saying for me?” The churches also provide a welcoming gathering, especially for tourists, the building of community and, of course, morning tea afterwards each week. 

The liturgies in the Mount Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra Parish are also quite ecumenical, as members of other churches attend regularly. Cathy remembers once feeling daunted by the visit of a Protestant youth team – Youth with a Mission – on a Sunday. However, they readily engaged and expressed how much they had enjoyed and experienced God through the liturgy.  

Cathy will also perform funerals for everyone, and she has done many. A number of funerals have been for Aboriginal people, who come back to the towns from afar. Cathy offers a Christian funeral, proposing that it will help families to grieve. However, she is responsive to what makes sense to them, moves them and helps them to experience God. She finds that people just accept her leadership and what she suggests. One man was very sceptical when she started to lead liturgies in the parish, but ended up loving them, and inviting Cathy to lead both his brothers’ funerals. Others say, “When I die, I’d like you to lead my funeral.” She knows she is in the right job as one of her gifts is compassion – exactly what is needed.  

Four times, Cathy has been involved liturgically for the rite of a family member. Firstly, when her sister died, the priest was not able to lead the rosary, so Cathy volunteered. Later on, the same thing happened at her mother’s funeral. Then, ten days later, her father also died. This time, the priest said that he could be there, but he wanted Cathy to do it, as “I’ve heard you’re pretty good.” Afterwards he was telling other priests that she should be in religious leadership. Cathy also had the privilege of baptising her own granddaughter, which was “very special”. As family gathered from all over the place, Cathy explained the symbols and made the ceremony meaningful for those who were not church-goers. She hoped that they went away “with a good, positive experience of the Catholic Church.”

Cathy receives some payment from the small budget of the diocese, but has had to take up school chaplaincy as well. Nevertheless, she loves the school role and, for a change, it is “nice not to be the authoritarian figure, but hang out and talk to the kids.” It is a way of outreach, and she has seen the acceptance of her role grow. After awhile, they realised that she was not “thumping God down their throats”, which in any case is not allowed. Rather, she “preaches it by how you live” and the school has increased her hours.

Cathy has felt empowered through her installation by the Bishop, and supported by her diocese. However, she sees “the beauty of it being formalised, an ordained ministry.” This would then be seen as a true vocation for women, not only because there are not enough men. In her own experience, “The diaconate for women is already here, its happening, its alive and well.” Situations like hers, on the margins, will lead legislation. Cathy does not think it will be a choice, as so many women are already leading congregations, but it will be made formal.  

At the recent Australian Plenary Council, Cathy was one of the members from the Geraldton Diocese. She had an opportunity to share her story with all the participants about what she does in her parish role. Her intervention was received with gratitude, and she has been asked to speak of her experiences at the next diocesan gathering. The most “striking theme” for Cathy was the Equal Dignity of Women and Men – and she is doing a marvellous job of bringing that aspiration alive! 

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