Friday, October 12, 2007

Wink at God, He Understands

A God who understands, who sits with the poorest regardless of their religion is the God Sister Lynette Young RSJ knew as a child and is the God she chose to walk with when she joined the Josephites at 19. In the first of a series of profiles of Josephites, Mary MacKillop Melbourne presents Mary MacKillop Women: A Portrait of Lyn Young.

The first thing I (Deirdre, the Mary MacKillop Melbourne Blogger) noticed about Lyn, when I met her two years ago, was her energy and seemingly endless ability to listen; she has a way of looking at you when you talk as if what you’re saying has never been said before and is the most important thing in the world. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t met her, but she has a quality about her that you instantly recognize as happiness and contentment that is core deep. And when she starts talking you know where that happiness comes from; she lives and breathes her calling. When she talks about Mary MacKillop she comes to life, her eyes sparkle and her voice reaches out to you and you can’t help but get caught up in her story.

And yet one of the first stories she told me wasn’t about Mary MacKillop at all, it was a story that goes to the heart of who Lyn is: she told me about her departure from the Novitiate, when she and the other sisters who had trained with her were sent out to teach in country Victoria. They went up in the train and there were so many of them that they filled up the whole carriage. They were young Joeys being put out to spread the word, as far the train would take them with nothing but faith in God to see them through.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Lyn more and more since working with Mary MacKillop Melbourne and yet it is that image of a young Lyn eagerly awaiting her new posting that has stayed with me because that’s who she is today; a woman who brings eagerness and joy to every encounter.

"I am the eldest of six children – three boys and three girls. My favourite memories are around family celebrations of big meals like Christmas dinner or being cuddled in around the large open fire in winter and listening to my mum tell us stories.

I was born in Orbost and lived there all my life until 18 when I went to Teachers’ College in Melbourne. My extended family on my mother’s side all lived in Orbost too. My mum is Italian Catholic and my dad was Scottish Presbyterian. Each of my three great-uncles had ten children so we always had loads of cousins to play with. My favourite memory here was of my grandfather’s huge veggie garden from which he fed the Italian prisoners of war and many other families in the town. I used help him carry the cabbages.

My Italian grandmother had a wonderful image of God which off-set the sometimes stern interpretation given by the Irish priests. When I was preparing for confirmation I was apparently worried about making the promise (which was to abstain from alcohol until 21). When my Nonna asked me what I was worried about and I said the Promise as we were Italian and had wine with the meal. She replied, “Oh that promise. Don’t worry about that just say the words with the children then you wink at God as he understands..” So my religion wasn’t based on fear but on a God who understood. Nonna would say that the Pope was Italian so he knew better than the Irish what was what. I have carried this freedom throughout my life.

I went to our catholic primary school, which still consists of two rooms – the big one and the little one. The Josephite sisters were really good teachers who played with us and visited every family no matter what religion they were especially in times of need. I remember them sitting in our kitchen and talking to dad who wasn’t catholic. That made a deep impression on me. The teacher who stood out for me was Sr. Edmund my first communion teacher who taught me a love of the gospel stories of Jesus that has never left me. She played skippy with us and treated us all the same, even quietly finding me a communion veil as my parents were poor.

I went to High School for the final years of schooling and loved being in my home town. Friends there have been part of my life even now especially the hockey team. My art teacher offered to tutor me in music during my final year as my music teacher left when she became ill. I had taken music for a subject. I will never forget her kindness.

I went to Mercy Teachers’ College and taught with the Presentation sisters before joining the Josephites. One experience that stands out for me was a visit from one of the Head sisters who tried to rearrange my class with all the children of professional parents sitting up the front. When she looked around for me I was down the back with a group. She said Miss Young what are you doing there. I replied that my father worked in a garage so that is why I am with these little ones. I will never forget the look of love that a grade four girl gave me at that moment. When I told my mum I finished with the comment that I would never enter that group. My mum said that that was the first she knew I was thinking of entering anything! But I was! The Joeys were a warm group of ordinary women who were not afraid to laugh, who shopped in the same supermarket as everyone else, chatted to the people, visited everyone in the hospital and came to people’s aid. They were also people of deep prayer and not afraid to share their relationship with Jesus.

I joined the Josephites when I was 19. The hardest part was telling my dad who made me promise that if I was ever sad to let him know and he would come and get me. The other hardest part was leaving my youngest sister who was nearly 5.

I guess it was hard not going to the dances and giving up boys and not buying shoes and making my clothes to wear to the dances as I loved dancing and rock and roll was really IN.

The best part about becoming a Josephite was the sense of adventure in being in this wonderful group all together traveling out into the bush and far-flung rural areas to bring the love of God and to be healing and hope for so many. We would be in remote areas all the year without a car and sometimes with no priest to give us Mass, but we had each other. We made our own fun and gathered around the Eucharist for our prayer each day. We visited the people each evening and in many ways were the face of the compassionate heart of Jesus to them.

For many years I was a secondary teacher in both country and city school then at the beatification I felt drawn to study Mary MacKillop more deeply and so began this phase in my ministry. I trained as a Spiritual Director in Wales, studied the archival letters in our three archives and began travelling around Victoria in my Nissan sponsored car sharing the story of Mary MacKillop. Now I am Director of Mission at the new Heritage Centre. I am involved in formation of all staff here, on our Boards and in our collaborative ministries through Victoria. So that they understand and live the spirit and values of Blessed Mary MacKillop.

What I love most about Josephite women is their hospitality, friendliness, openness to all, genuine love for the poor and standing with those struggling for justice, their companionship and willingness to pray together and share their relationship with God., their ordinariness and willingness to roll up their sleeves to help, their sense of humour and great laughs in the story telling."

She may prefer Star Wars to Star Trek, and like footy more than anyone else I know, but, she is to me, the face of Jesus; an ordinary woman who through the every day has lead an extraordinary life of faith-filled service in the footsteps of Joseph, Jesus and Mary MacKillop.