Published: Wednesday 23rd August 2017
Canberra - Australian Catholic University - 10 August 2017
Sr Angela Mary Doyle's speech to the Executive Planning Group
Vice-Chancellor and members of Australian Catholic University - Executive Planning Group.
Three weeks ago, I was in Taiwan where the day temperatures ranged from 34 -35c while the night temperature remained a steady 27c. However, the variation in temperatures between Taiwan and Canberra is not my main consideration at this moment.
When I think of the learned people in front of me, I can only wonder how my name came to be drawn as speaker for your dinner tonight.
I am reminded of Mark Twain’s dilemma when his prospective father-in-law asked Mark to nominate a referee who would recommend him as a dependable husband for his precious daughter. In due course, the father-in-law called Mark into his office to ask Mark if the referee he had nominated really knew him. He then proceeded to read out the reference he had received. It turned out to be a damning report.
Mark Twain’s response was to look thoroughly surprised:
“Well, I must have told 500 lies for that man in my lifetime. Wouldn’t you think he could have told at least one for me at this crucial time?”
Perhaps I should have looked for such a referee, but I did not. In fact, I am honoured to be with you.
Tonight, you have invited me to address you, senior leadership members of Australian Catholic University. You have just completed your two day retreat when you reflected on strategic and team development , with particular emphasis on making your new brand, “ Impact through Empathy”, a reality in the everyday work of the University.
For clarification purposes, I must ask at the outset, if Sport constitutes a reality in the everyday life of the University. The question is relevant because a few weeks ago in Brisbane, a Rugby League game between ACU Brisbane and University of Queensland, caused quite a stir at the famous Suncorp Stadium.
During the game, ACU showed little mercy, winning 42 -6. Clearly, there was impact there but little empathy. I regret to add that in the Stadium, were Sisters of Mercy, aiding, abetting and applauding ACU players as they executed their massacre.
On first reading the words, “ Impact through Empathy”, I considered them to be so all-encompassing that I wondered what more needed to be said.
However, an explanatory article by Professor Greg Craven in the Catholic Leader of June 18 last, enlightened me.
It read: “ ‘Impact’ signifies that we are a community of students, staff and partners, who are dedicated to making a real and positive difference in society as a whole, as well as in the lives of the individuals with whom we interact;
‘Empathy’ reflects how our desire to improve society and the lives of individuals isn’t born of some purely intellectual, social or political position.
Instead, it’s from a fundamental conviction of every human being’s value”.
Encouraged by this, I looked back on life as I have experienced it, and through stories, I shall share with you some instances, as I have witnessed them, of the benefits of Impact through Empathy.
In 1947, just after the end of World War 11 and following a 5 week voyage on a Troop Ship, I arrived in Brisbane exactly seventy years ago, on 25 June last. For those of us still around, a party was arranged to celebrate the day.
To begin, I was a teacher, but in 1948, against all my instincts, I was sent to the Mater Hospitals where I would spend the greater part of my active life. The prospect of being near sick and dying people horrified me, and I hoped that I would be such a failure, I just might be sent back teaching.
That didn’t happen, and things did not go smoothly. Have you ever had to brush a stranger’s dentures, especially when you are being watched by a senior nurse who has been doing this for years? It’s nerve wracking! I speak from experience.
Determined to carry out this task as I had been told to do, I invited a patient to place her dentures in a glass dish which I held out to her. With the dentures secure in the dish, I walked smartly across the floor. Unfortunately, my sleeve caught on the knob of the door, and the dentures - both of them of course - skidded across the highly polished parquetry floor. Carpet was not considered hygienic in those far-off days. I went after them. They weren’t broken, but I asked God to take me out of that place before my nerves were shattered. He didn’t listen. He meant me to stay there.
Soon, I grew to love the Mater for what it was doing - following the example of Jesus who reached out in compassion to the poor and needy, often without even being asked. I witnessed the Sisters work long hours, and of course, I soon joined them, beginning early and returning at a late hour, often at 11 p.m. to the Convent, which was in the same grounds as the hospitals.
Eighteen years later, came another bolt from the blue, when without managerial experience or the requisite academic preparation, I was appointed Administrator of the three Mater Public Hospitals. This time I protested, but the decision had been taken and I had to fill that role. The year was 1966. For the first time in my life, I found myself behind a desk. I could resonate with Oscar Wilde’s troubled mind when he prayed:
“Reach down, O Christ.and help me. Reach down,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea,
Than Simon on thy Lake of Galilee”.
Prior to my appointment, previous Administrators were School Sisters, who had no knowledge of the workings of hospitals. They lived and worked in the Convent. The Chairman of the Board of our Hospitals, the accountant and his assistants, were effectually the Administrators. It was puzzling to discover that as Administrator, I was to play no active role in the management of the hospitals, and that apart from the Chairman of the Board, there was little interest in having the system changed.
Through studies at the Queensland University of Technology, I came to know an enthusiastic Lecturer who taught Management. I explained the situation to him as I saw it, warning him that if he were to become directly involved, his presence may be unwelcome to some. He was ready for the challenge and gradually, a low-key, unofficial discussion commenced within the hospitals, on what we called a Management Development Programme.
On one memorable day, and for the first time in the Mater’s history, all heads and senior members of departments within the Campus, met together in the one room. What really saved the day was the opening comment by the Lecturer:
“If there is something wrong with an organisation, look to the top”!
That satisfied even the most unwilling of the participants. For my part, I was happy to accept blame for what seemed to many in the room, to be an unnecessary interference with what they perceived to be, proven and smooth workings of the hospitals to date.
Because we were determined to keep everyone involved, progress was slow, but eventually, we were able to establish a Governance and Management structure, that served us well for a number of years. As you will all realise, no organisation remains unchangeable, particularly in its structure. We put our faith in the endurance of its mission, as you do in ACU, but not necessarily in any particular configuration.
The professionalism and the personal quality of care provided in each of our three Public Hospitals - Adult, Mothers’ and Children’s - and the culture of warmth and friendliness that existed between and among those who provided care, made us a popular choice for patients and doctors. Demands on our services increased to the point where our physical facilities were unable to cope. We were frequently in severe financial difficulties. The wider community stood by us, generously supporting us in any way it could. Eventually, it seemed that the community felt a sense of responsibility towards the Mater, somehow conveying the message that it would always stand by us, which was very comforting.
Government funding was limited, inconsistent and given grudgingly. Government advised us that if only it owned us, the Mater would never again be short of funds. There were internal problems that surfaced when the decision was taken to declare positions that until then, had been routinely filled from within, were made contestable, through advertising such positions.
There were difficulties associated with efforts to transform the Hospitals from being somewhat inconsequential in the wider hospital sphere, to becoming significant in medical, teaching and research arenas. Success did not arrive overnight.
Those feats were accomplished largely by my successors, some more successful than others.
What I remember keenly was the tension inherent in having to be a public advocate for the Mater, for the people it served and those who provided the care, resulting in my reluctant but necessary, acquisition of a public profile. That tension was constant, stressful, but hidden.
However, there were compensations:
On one occasion, I noticed an Indigenous man standing alone outside our Mater Public Hospital. Believing, him to be a patient, I casually asked him if he were a patient and he answered that he was indeed.
Then, came the usual question: “Are we looking after you well?”
The positive answer was immediate and at once, the man pulled up his shirt, showing me a long transverse scar. Just as well I had spent several years in the operating theatres! He told me: “All the time I was in hospital, I had three good meals a day, cups of tea in between, and always clean sheets on my bed. Now, they bring me back every three months and everyone knows me”.
Today, I would say that this was a fine example of Impact through Empathy, but I didn’t know that concept then.
In the mid-1980s, came the very serious question of how best to respond to the HIV/AIDS issue, a serious question for those willing to become involved. In Queensland, the Premier of the day stated that no one should help these people when they became ill, because their illness was “a direct punishment from God”.
He believed this, and at the time, he was a popular political figure. As well, there was widespread fear that one could acquire the virus by simply touching the clothes of one who was infected. You may remember how dramatic it was when Princess Diana shook hands with a man known to have the virus.
As Sisters of Mercy founded for the poor, the sick, for education and care for the needy, we waited as did many others – waited for the medical profession, churches, anyone, to speak out against this position of Government, but nothing happened. The Queensland Aids Council was in communication with our Congregational Leader to ascertain how we may help.
As the public face of the Mater at the time, I was the obvious person to establish a link across the three groups involved: the Queensland Aids Council, the Sisters of Mercy and the Mater.
At the outset, I could foresee some serious problems. I knew nothing of the virus, nothing of how it was or was not transmitted, and I wondered how I could be of assistance to persons I had never met and about whose lifestyle or needs I knew nothing. As well, dressed as I am and as I was, it could seem to them, I may be descending on them merely to impose on them certain values as a prerequisite for any help I may offer.
However, what I had perceived as problems became opportunities for learning for us all. Knowing of my total ignorance of the scene, the President of the Council informed me as necessary on the question of homosexuality, and made it clear to all the men that I was there to offer them compassionate non-judgmental care.
In a public statement, we announced:
“We wish to offer compassionate non-judgmental support to those who need it. We will not impose services but we request that we be allowed to walk alongside those who have HIV/AIDS, to be available when needed”.
The Mater provided the Aids Council with a meeting place and office space, as well as the use of three houses, rent free. Here, the men learned to cook for themselves and care for one another. Volunteers assisted them. They paid telephone and power bills, and took care of the grounds. So fearful was the average person of acquiring the disease that the men who occupied these houses, had to ensure their medical or personal needs were never disclosed to neighbours.
It is strange now to look back on those times.
I spent many evenings with small groups of these men, in their hideouts in Stanley Street, listening to their life stories and wondering how I could help. As it turned out, wearing recognisable religious garb, far from being a deterrent, enabled me to go alone to places where other women might hesitate to visit. I was always completely safe and made welcome.
This relationship continued for about seven years, at which time, the Queensland Aids Council had grown confident and strong enough to relate directly to the community and with the Queensland Government.
However, some of the men kept in touch with me for some years. In fact, only a few months ago, I was surprised to receive a call from one of them. When I asked him how he managed to find my mobile number, he said: “I’ve had it all these years”.
Our involvement was not without serious risk - we were acting against the wishes of the Premier on whose Government we depended for critical financial support for our three public hospitals. To complicate matters further, because the Queensland Government of the day would not provide money for use by the local Aids Council, a rare, secret arrangement was formed between the Federal Minister for Health and the Mater. For about two years, and without the knowledge of the Queensland Government, and with the guarded approval of our Board, Federal monies for the Queensland Aids Council came directly to the Mater.
Years later, I read that the then Federal Minister for Health, described the Sisters of Mercy as “the most altruistic of money-launderers”!
These were worrying, and for us, dangerous times. Despite these risks, our task was not to judge but to help where we could and that’s what we did.
One of our Specialist Physicians arranged for men who had the virus, to come to his regular Medical Outpatient Clinics. They sat comfortably among patients with varying medical conditions.
I moved through many learning curves. One incident remains embedded in my memory: The President of the Council invited me to attend a Mass to be celebrated in a Unit where a man who had the Aids virus was dying. On arrival at the bedside, my nursing knowledge told me the man was close to dying. There were only four persons present. In those days, when a man discovered he had Aids, the stigma associated with this was so great that it was the practice for such a person to advise his family that he had obtained a good job in another State. Clearly, this man had no near relatives in Brisbane.
At the end of Mass, when it was obvious the man had died, his partner threw himself across the bed in a paroxysm of grief. I stood there looking at them, and I realised that here were two men loved by God, as I and everyone else is. I bent down, put my arms around him, raised him up and held him.
The strange outcome of all this was that at that moment, all my fears about not knowing how to help these men, seemed to fall away. I realised it was all a matter of love.
Once again, I didn’t know then about Impact through Empathy, but memory of the incident and its relevance to ACU, came to me as I set out to write this paper.
There can be occasions, of course, that make it problematic to respond with practical expressions of empathy, as was the case with an elderly woman in Ireland, whose dog disappeared. She searched for him, but eventually was compelled to advertise her loss. She placed an advertisement in the Galway newspaper, describing her dog as being a black dog, having a white spot in the centre of his forehead, and who answered to the obvious name of Spot.
In due course, bills to cover the cost of the advertisement arrived but she ignored them. Inevitably, came that knock on the door. The visitor was from the newspaper, or the debt collector’s office, to remind her she had not paid the bill. She agreed she had not paid and added that she had no intention of ever paying. When questioned about this, the woman looked pityingly on the man and said: “Look, would you run away. Sure that dog came back on his own, two days later”.
An absence of empathy on both sides, would you say?
Appreciation for a kindness came readily to a priest in Brisbane. He was in a bus when one of the passengers who had no seat and was drunk, kept staggering along the aisle. When the priest got up and gave the man his seat, his gratitude was loud and effusive:
“Thank you, Father. You are the only man in the bus who knows what it is to be drunk”.
Pope Francis knows all about Impact through Empathy, though he may never use those words. Two of his relatively recent statements exemplify this:
Mercy is a journey that starts with the heart and ends in the hands, by doing works of mercy, and the second:
“When God comes, he always calls us out of our house.
We are visited so that we can visit others.
We are encountered so that we can encounter others.
We receive love in order to give love”.
In our world of today, little attention is being paid to the increasing incidence of abortions being carried out. Much less is there recognition that when a woman loses her baby, whether by direct intervention or not, she suffers hurt, loss, pain, in fact a conflicting range of emotions that may last a lifetime.
In my own family, I experienced something similar. My mother lost a nine month old baby girl to pneumonia. Probably as a means of coping with her grief, my mother kept talking about the baby and we all grew up knowing about “Little Eileen”, how lovely she was, how like an Angel.
Fifty years later, and back in Ireland, I sat for some days beside my mother as she neared death. A few days before she died, she suddenly became animated, her face full of joy, as she said:
“Look at little Eileen there on my bed”.
She had never forgotten the baby she had lost all those years before.
A few weeks ago in Cath News, I came across an article announcing the commencement of a new Post Abortion Grief Counselling Service in the Archdiocese of Perth, with the initiative coming directly from Archbishop Timothy Costelloe. The service is unique in that it draws together four groups already engaged, and therefore experienced in, Abortion Grief Counselling. The Archdiocesan Research and Development Manager, Mr Tony Giglia, said the aim of the new service is to provide support and healing, without judgment, to those who have experienced abortion.
The article goes on: “It is about following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, so that we can further provide a Christ-centred Church that understands the experiences of the people and where they are at in their life today.
Most health professionals don’t have the training to deal with the issue of post –abortion trauma, and the women who are suffering are often so ashamed that they won’t talk to anyone about the grief they are experiencing”.
There’s a whole world out there desperately in need of Impact through Empathy. As senior responsible people of Australian Catholic University, determined to live your new brand, your influence will extend well beyond the confines of your immediate responsibilities. I pray it does.
This is ministry. People have differing views on what constitutes the essence of ministry. Some people will say their ministry is teaching, being a surgeon, an administrator, a musician. Actually, these are tasks that can be carried out by anybody skilled in the particular field, and they remain tasks unless there is an underlying purpose or intention behind them. There’s no time like retreat time to get perspective on what is happening in one’s life and why one is committed to a particular path in that life. You will have experienced that during these 2 days.
As for myself, and given my age, I am now in a positon to take an overview of my life, what it has thrown at me, and what ministry has come to mean to me. Recognising that this would be one of the most significant Addresses I have given, I accepted Professor Craven’s invitation to be with you tonight.
The time spent preparing it, has been a salutary period of reflection and the more I contemplated the task set me, the more I asked myself:
“WHY do we do certain things?
Why do we take risks that bring no personal gain?
Why do we accept roles and responsibilities?”
As I said, ministry is not about what we do. When we ask what ministry really is, it is almost the same as asking what the meaning of life is. It seems to me that ministry for you and me is seeing our role in life with the loving eyes of God, reaching out to everyone –colleagues, family, friends - as opportunities to live in our own lives the kindness and compassion of Jesus.
For those of us familiar with the New Testament, we will know that Jesus couldn’t pass by anyone in distress without stopping to help. He healed on the Sabbath, ignoring harsh man-made rules (women can make harsh rules too!), so drawing down on him, the criticism of the religious leaders of the day.
He came on earth to show us the kind heart of God our Father and his compassion for everyone. He was as human as we are. He cried when his friend, Lazarus, died, and he stopped when he met a funeral. You know the story. A poor widow was following her son’s body. He raised him to life and then, the beautiful touch:
“He gave him to his mother”.
Along with other valuable documents forwarded to me from ACU, came a copy of your Publication: IMPACT THROUGH EMPATHY. I include a few short excerpts from this:
“Empathy comes from the heart, but it’s not mere emotion. It is a complex intellectual framework that requires courage, conviction and integrity. It pushes people outside their comfort zone and into somewhere greater.
‘Impact through Empathy’ is our brand essence, not a tagline. It’s something deep, it’s a core idea that echoes the Catholic values our university was established upon, and defines our purpose moving forward……….it evokes the cultural traits we want to associate with our university: being empathetic, broad-minded, enterprising, far-sighted and just”.
You are all intrinsic to the living out of this brand. It is your ministry. You are a group of people capable of having a profound impact on the life of ACU. You are in a positon to champion the values espoused by your University.
Your connection to ACU inevitably means affinity with new people. You have become part of a wider family whose kinship is formed not by ties of blood, but by bonds of shared commitment and purpose. In all your interactions, you have the opportunity to minister to one another. We know in our hearts that regardless of race, gender or role in life, each one of us needs to be loved and to love, and to give of what we have.
The Jesuit Priest, Father Richard Leonard, tells a story of one of our Sisters who had taught him in Primary School. When her health was deteriorating, Richard came to see her. He asked her what she would say to God when she saw him:
“ Well, I’ll say. Here I am and I did the best with what I had”.
May we be able to say this!
Now, one last story: Many years ago, my sister and I were on holidays in Ireland. Our family took us to visit the Celtic Furrow, a centre which traces cultural, historical and spiritual roots in Ireland over 5000 years, all graphically depicted. The arrival of St. Patrick and his introduction of Christianity to pagan Ireland, is presented in an inspiring, thought – provoking way. We viewed beautiful gardens, fountains, stonework, bog oaks and murals, informing us of the golden age of Christianity in Ireland – a time when art, culture and learning flourished.
There followed a walk through the meandering labyrinth which depicted a thousand years of sad history in Ireland. Persecution, invasion, famine and suffering, all took toll on our ancestors, but they remained a people of hope as symbolised by the Celtic Cross that stands resolutely at the centre of the labyrinth.
As we emerged from the labyrinth, we were confronted by a message, writ large over the Exit. It read: “3000 AD. WE ARE WHAT WE ARE TODAY MAINLY BECAUSE OF YOUR DECISIONS”.
Is Australian Catholic University taking steps that will affect history? I believe so.
At this time, through living its vision of Impact through Empathy, Australian Catholic University is helping shape history by its decision, as Professor Greg Craven has written, “to reach out to those who are driven by the intrinsic desire to be the best they can be and to those who want to make a positive contribution to our world and our communities”.
It is possible that in God’s providence, there may lie ahead for ACU, a significant opportunity to prepare people for roles, that once were held by those who chose religious life as a means of serving others. Today, in the absence of such religious, other individuals are willing to serve as public juridic persons on the boards of ministries established by religious congregations.
You are different from other Universities. Your mission says so:
“Within the Catholic intellectual tradition and acting in Truth and Love, Australian Catholic University is committed to the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good”.
When defining your Core Values of Truth, Academic Excellence and Service, you talk of “providing opportunities for those in need, and...educating its students to be socially and morally responsible persons”.
You are all intrinsic to the living out of this vison. It is your ministry.
You are in a unique position to champion the values espoused by your University.
You are people capable of having a profound impact and influence on the life of Australian Catholic University, and in consequence, on the history of our loved Nation.
Together you can make this possible. I believe you will do just that.
May God bless the effort and you.
Page last updated: 2017-08-23
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