Companion in Mission, Pip McIlroy participated in a two-year program called the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship, organised by the ACBC. Its aim is to cultivate the capacity of women in the Church for leadership. “I feel very lucky to have been supported to undertake this program. It is a fantastic initiative of our Church,” writes Pip. We congratulate Pip on her achievement.
By Pip McIlroy
Every now and then we are fortunate enough to find ourselves in places where we think, “I belong here” or “These are my people”. The experience of feeling completely ‘at home’ with a group of individuals who you have not known for very long or about whose lives you know very little, is a rare occurrence. Upon beginning the Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship in February 2013, I was blessed with this very experience. Two years later, having completed the program with 16 other young women from around Australia, I am eternally grateful to have been given the opportunity.
The Fellowship is organised by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference through the Office for the Participation of Women. It has the aim of cultivating the capacity of women in the Church for leadership. The two-year program includes the completion of a Graduate Certificate in Theology through the Broken Bay Institute and the University of Newcastle. It also includes four residential weekends based at the Sisters of the Good Samaritan’s Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills, Sydney. Throughout these weekends we participated in sessions related to faith formation, interfaith relations, leadership and wellbeing. The University study is completed exclusively online apart from one face-to-face lecture each semester during the residential weekend.
At the time of applying for the Fellowship, I was not sure what else lay ahead for me in the following two years. I had recently completed my undergraduate degree and was searching for graduate positions in the public service, education and even finance. I was unsure where to start my career and didn’t know how the Fellowship would fit into my schedule, whatever it turned out to be.
I ended up being accepted into the Teach for Australia program in 2012, at the same time that I was offered a place in the 2013-2014 Fellowship group. Teach for Australia would require me to complete my Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching whilst teaching four days a week in a school in a low socio-economic area over a period of two years. It was going to be busy and challenging work. The prospect of adding the academic demands of a Graduate Certificate of Theology and the commitment to the formation program of the Fellowship seemed crazy. However, I saw it as a unique opportunity to be part of an exciting and ambitious venture.
The flexible structure of the Fellowship allows women in different stages of their lives to participate whilst maintaining their other responsibilities; at work and at home. There were three babies born in our group within the two years and these mothers were able to juggle their family obligations with the demands of the Fellowship program. Several members of the group are now going on to complete the Masters of Theology through the University of Newcastle.
A highlight of the Fellowship was our visits to the places of worship for people of different faiths. We were warmly welcomed into the spaces of many groups from different traditions. During one residential weekend we visited the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra, in Sydney’s East. Speaking to one of their female Rabbis, Jacqui, it was clear that she was a passionate and successful leader in her Jewish community. It was moving for us to witness this wonderful example of the value women can bring to their religious congregations, as leaders and mentors.
I feel very lucky to have been supported to undertake this program. It is a fantastic initiative of our Church. I am sure when I look back on this experience in years to come, it will be a significant point of both my faith journey and career path into a position of leadership in the Church. It has helped me to confirm where “my people” are and how I can continue to seek them out in my work and personal life.
If you are interested in sponsoring a young Catholic woman for leadership, please email Fellowship Coordinator Andrea Dean at: email@example.com