Sister Mary Genevieve O’Rourke has enjoyed a wide range of ministries during her years as a New Zealand Dominican sister. However, one quite short involvement which is especially interesting since it involved various members of the Dominican Family concerns Genevieve’s participation in the Dominican Preaching team between 2003 and 2008. I asked Genevieve if she would reflect on this particular time in her life.
How did you become part of the Preaching Team?
In 2003, I joined in with Peter Murnane, Joan Hardiman, Judith Crimmins and Mike Kelly to be part of a new venture – the Dominican Family Preaching Team which at one point also included Helen Ryan OP from the Eastern Australian Sisters’ Province. Peter Murnane had been very keen to have others join him in a preaching Mission. The goal of this Team was to respond to requests from parishes within New Zealand to run retreats or mini missions. Our Retreat-giving Team was to include a range of Dominican members – lay, religious and priestly.
What previous experiences encouraged you to agree to participate in this new ministry?
Formerly, as part of the parish team in “Star of the Sea” parish in Howick (1985-1997), I had run a variety of ministries which included organising prayer groups and preparing people for the Rites of Christian Initiation. When invited to be part of the Dominican preaching team, my life-time reflection and prayer on the daily Readings of the church’s calendar encouraged me to consider this new challenge.
Nevertheless, I initially had doubts about taking on a preaching role. My public speaking in Howick had been limited to reading out Sunday Parish Notices! So, I did feel a little anxious. However, I eventually reminded myself that in Howick I had had the experience of leading parish ‘Groups of Contemplative Prayer’ at various times, ‘Prayer for Women’ one afternoon a week and a wider ‘Prayer group’ at another time. I realised that I might have particular strengths for this mission. So, I agreed to take part.
In addition, on a Sunday in the Blockhouse Bay parish where I later lived, four of us were occasionally invited to offer gospel reflections and that was gradually giving me confidence. In fact, one day after Mass, I heard someone say “She’s good isn’t she?” and that gave me a little encouragement.
Where were some of the places in which you gave these Retreats/missions?
Different members of the Team (three of us usually worked together in one place) visited many parts of the country including the following dioceses: Wellington, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland. We spent much of our time in rural areas. My visits included Kaiapoi, Rakaia, Arrowtown, Waitara, Feilding, Otorohanga and Whangarei.
How did you prepare for this new mission?
I first went to the Pompallier Diocesan Centre and borrowed books on preaching and on the lectionary. I wanted to understand as well as I could the background to the Sunday readings. In Howick, I had also been given Fr Alan Robert’s book Make the People Sit Down and this book was so helpful. It included topics such as “Scripture and Prayer,” “Growing up in Prayer” and “The Sound of Silence” and it was just what I wanted and needed for myself and for sharing with others. My main preparation though was to read the gospel many times over.
What might you be expected to do when you were in a parish for three or four days?
We would share the preaching tasks which would include homilies at Mass as well as morning, afternoon or evening talks depending on the needs of the particular parish community. Many parishes we visited were in small rural towns and each place had its own preferred times to gather. We tried to fit in with local needs.
Would you like to share some insights from your talks and homilies. (A few thoughts only are included here, and there are very many more).
from a sermon on Eucharist, Genevieve asks the rhetorical question,
‘What does God long for us in our Eucharist?’ In return for his death and resurrection, Jesus longs for the power of our free ‘Yes!’ that we say with all our heart, ‘I do believe, I do hope, I do love!’
from a sermon on the Spirit, Genevieve says,
“We don’t strive to make God present to us: God is always present, everywhere. We strive by prayer to make ourselves present to God. God is no more present in a prayer-group than in a restaurant – but we are more present to God in the prayer group than in the restaurant. The problem of presence then is not with God, but with us!”
from a sermon on the man born blind, Genevieve says,
“There are two ways to approach our faith. One is to see it as a fixed set of truths – boxed in – set, tidy, and unchangeable. The Pharisees are a perfect example of this (they are disciples of Moses and everything has been set in place.) They are not open to any new discovery, any new insight, any new way of looking at things.
The other approach is represented by – of all people, the blind man. When the authorities asked him, ‘What happened to you?’ he answers, ‘I don’t know.’ The blind man is the only one in the story, really open to discovery and to the ‘Eye opener’ that Jesus is….to be a disciple of Jesus is to walk behind him, turn corners and make discoveries. The disciples were always doing that.”
from some closing thoughts¸ Genevieve says,
“Once, after I had spoken about my mother, at night, telling my brother and me stories about Jesus when we were young, a man said to a group of us after Mass that he recalled saying to his wife that they needed to tell their children stories about Jesus so that even if their children later forgot everything else about their faith, they might remember those special family times of story-telling about Jesus.”
Genevieve then acknowledged Sister Maria McDonald’s readiness to listen to Genevieve’s homilies and was grateful for Maria’s dramatic and elocutionary skills which had greatly encouraged her. Genevieve appreciated this critical gift. We now thank them both.
In summing up your mission in these years, what would you like to say?
It was a great experience. Peter Murnane was very encouraging to work with. I felt very comfortable with the lay members of the Team and as Dominican Family we grew by working together. Many times in parishes people would stay after Mass and we would continue what had been begun at Mass. It was a great opportunity for which I am most grateful.