Good On Ya, Australia!

It’s safe to say my Father Smith Fellowship ended with a bang, with a final 3 days in Sydney to wrap up the entire experience.

Monday was spent with the Bells, with a girls day shopping in Sydney.  We even got free makeovers in Myers (like Macy’s), and saw St. Martha’s Cathedral all lit up!IMG_2734 IMG_2748 IMG_2749 IMG_2785Tuesday morning I was given an amazing opportunity.  The husband of Liz Bowden, one of the teachers on the Year 11 Retreat, is the director of consulting for PriceWater House Cooper in Sydney.  Liz knew I was an accounting major, and arranged for her husband and I to meet and speak about the company.  I went into Sydney to meet him for coffee at the office at 10am.  He was so nice and it went better than I could’ve expected! We talked for an hour, and I learned all about the company, his job, and what I can do to better myself to prepare for a career.  He gave me invaluable advice and really encouraged me to keep working hard.  I applied for the Fellowship Program solely because I was interested in what it had to offer, knowing it differentiated from my Accounting Major side.  He said he is very impressed by the Fellowship Program and companies are looking for people with this experience to innovate and lead their charity events! It was a dream come true to sit in one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms in Sydney, and have a director appear to believe in me.  I am so happy to have gained that experience – it is funny what you can find when you are not looking.

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I thought this could be my last time in Sydney, and I wasn’t ready to leave the city yet.  A “fifteen minute” walk to the Harbor Bridge turned into 3 hours of wandering around the town until I finally arrived at the bridge, walked over, and said see you later to a beautiful city.  Thinking about the past 6 weeks, I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time.

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I finally met Sister Rose Mary, Jane, and Mrs. Pooley for an afternoon tea and final evaluation of my Fellowship.  It was great to meet with three ladies who have made it possible for me to be here, hear what they had to say, offer insight to make the Fellowship even better,  and be able to thank them.  So, thank you again, to three beautiful people! I will miss them!

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I made Irish Soda Bread for the Bells that night – a little momento of one of my family’s favorite dishes!

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One of the Year 11 Santa Sabina girls, Bridget, came by and dropped me off a beautiful present she had put together for me.  It was a bag of Rosary Beads, some of her favorite prayer cards, and even a scapular blessed by the pope.  It is genuinely one of the nicest things anyone has done, and shows the spirit of Santa Sabina.  I have it here on the plane with me.

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Wednesday: For my final full day Down Under, Steven, Bernie, and I went to Australia’s Blue Mountains at Katoomba.  I enjoyed my breakfast of Vegemite on toast.. a sure sign I have been in this country for a long time.  When we first arrived, Australian fog took over..

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Then, the clouds started moving..

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Until finally we saw the beauty that is the Blue Mountains.  We went on hikes, saw the famous rocks the “Three Sisters”, and just enjoyed each other’s company and the views.  We all had a great day and ended with a final dinner at the café.   I couldn’t have asked for a better last day.

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The Bells took me to the airport in the morning, and wished me off with a furry stuffed friend.  We knew and seemed to agree that it wasn’t goodbye, it was see you later.  I really am going to miss them.  They are an exceptional family, and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know them.  I’m forever thankful, and will always wish them the best.

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So, that just about wraps things up.  They say life begins at the end of your comfort zone.  It is really hard, and almost impossible, to be able to put this experience into words.  I traveled across the world, to a place where I have always wanted to go.  I experienced an entire new culture, lived with a new family, and met people from all over the country with their own stories and backgrounds.  Each and every experience, story I have heard, role I have played, and sight I have seen is embedded in my memory.  I am undoubtedly changed as a person.  My life will never be the same again, and I wouldn’t take back any second of my journey.  I can only leave hoping that someone in Australia became a little better because I was able to be here.  It’s a bittersweet ending, sweet because I bring back with me so much of what I am leaving behind.  Thank you so much with an unrelenting appreciation to the Father Smith Fellowship Committee both at PC and Down Under, the Dominican Order, every person (and kangaroo) who I have come across during my time, and to my family and friends.  This isn’t the end of the story, though, this is just a step in the ongoing journey of life.  A step I will always look back on with a fondness and gratitude, and a reminder of what a positive attitude, some determination, a leap of faith, a little risk, and the right people, can do.  Here’s to you, Australia.

The Capital of Australia is A

Did you catch that? I stole that semi-unfunny joke from Disneyworld’s very own Monster’s, Inc. “Laugh Floor.”  The capital of Australia is actually Canberra, where I have spent the last 6 days on the final leg of my journey.  Canberra is a cool town because it is surrounded by bush (forest, trees, mountains, etc.), but also has a quirky built up city with some national landmarks.  It is also a lot colder than Sydney.

I feel lucky to have been placed with another really nice homestay family throughout my stay in Canberra! I was only home for one night’s dinner because of all the events going on, but each day for breakfast and evening tea the Brewers welcomed me with open arms.  Sharon and John have 4 kids, a 25 year old who lives in Melbourne, then 23 and 19 year old girls, and a 15 year old boy.  The 23 year old girls’ name was Cate and we would constantly say “Hi Kate, Hi Cate” or “Have a good day Kate! You too, Cate” and always got a laugh out of it.  It genuinely felt like talking to myself.  Wednesday night, we all played Wii Dancing together for about 2 hours and had a blast.  Australians jams to Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Avril Lavigne, too.  The Brewers even gave me a mini football of their favorite AFL team – Port Adelaide! So nice of them for only a short stay.

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Jane, Sister Rose Mary, and I had a lovely 3 plus hour drive to Canberra.  I laughed because it is about the same distance from Queens to PC (but more exciting views for me than 95).  When we arrived in Canberra after a lunch in a small town called Gouldburn, we headed right to the Catholic Life office where I would be working the next few days.  From there, the Youth team took me to “Guinness and God” at King O’Malley’s Pub.  This pub was a great place to go on any night! But, we had the back room all set up with live music and tables for the night’s event.  Guinness and God happens once a month; a speaker comes in to talk about a different topic relating to faith, and people of all ages come to listen and enjoy a meal or a drink.  (They also have different versions across Australia, such as “Faith on Tap”, which I all thought were very clever).  Tonight’s theme was Femininity from a Christian perspective, which I was excited about, because any project at school I could base on feminism in the past 14 years, I have.  The speaker came all the way from Brisbane and was great to listen to. She talked about how femininity isn’t the color pink or dresses, but what every woman is born with and the power that comes from that.  She also tied it into masculinity and included why the men there were important, too.  She is also a personal trainer, which I am looking to get into, and I was able to speak to her personally afterwards.  It made me more interested in pursuing that because I think it would be such a great way to empower others.  I enjoyed a great meal with the team I would be working with, and was able to help out a little.  I wish my friends from home could have been there because I know they would have really enjoyed it.

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Wednesday, Sister Rose Mary and Jane took me sight-seeing around Canberra.  We saw the National Australian Museum and the International Embassies.  The US Embassy was getting ready for July 4th on July 3rd, but they were  not very friendly in welcoming in visitors.  Visitors meaning me.  Their loss?

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The museum was really cool, and after learning a little about Australian indigenous culture there, the three of us went to Australian Catholic University to meet with a faculty member at ACU who helps Aboriginal students and promotes indigenous learning.  He gave us a few hours of his time, and told us about his life, born and raised as an Aboriginal Australian man, and the culture of the people today.  His job  is to help Aboriginal students at the Uni and offer a safe space for them to go.  I was a little taken aback that the students needed this, especially coming from Queens and experiencing so much diversity in life.  However, I think what he is doing is very important because he is making sure the Aboriginal culture and traditions stay alive in Australia, starting with the ACU campus.  It was really great for all of us to get to know each other, and he had some great advice for me as I move forward with my life.  I learned a lot that I didn’t know before, and even got to quickly tour ACU after! It made me think of being a tour guide back at school.

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Thursday I awoke with a big Happy Independence Day from the Brewer girls! I also received some Happy 4th emails from Sue and Sister Rose Mary.  So nice that they all remembered! On the 4th, I went sightseeing around Australia’s Capital with the Catholic Life team (pretty cool how that worked).  Greg arranged to take me to the Parliament House, the War Memorial, and the top of Canberra’s highest mountain – Mt. Ainsile.  (We drove up.)  At night, Liam from Catholic Life took me to a Youth Adoration Service and Dinner.

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IMG_2619 The Queen

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Friday was a very busy day because Catholic Life was preparing for World Youth Day.  World Youth Day this year is in Rio, Brazil, and Daniela (the boss in the Catholic Life office) is leading a group of “pilgrims” to Brazil in 10 days!  Saturday was the preparation for the pilgrims.  I was happy to be there because I was able to help make gift baskets, print pictures, laminate photos – all the busy work that saved them time and I (with my love of scrapbooking) like to do.  They still had time to take me to lunch, joke around with me, and have a great day.

Friday night I was especially excited for because it was the Marist College Alumni Dinner that Greg had arranged for me to go to because I had gone to a Marist High School.  Prior to this, they showed me the event on Facebook, called, “Young Marists welcome an International Marist.”  I attached the picture below, and if you can see, the entire thing introduces me and encourages people to come based on this! IMG_2599

The program gave me 15 minutes for a presentation, so I took the opportunity to present where I am from, what I have been doing on my fellowship, and how my experiences at my Marist High School helped to make much of this possible.  I talked about my involvement in Marist Youth, Esopus, Freshman and Special Needs Camps, the Marist Youth Leadership Conference, Retreats, and “The Lantern.”  I also got to tell them all about what I have been doing through PC’s Dominican Father Smith Fellowship and the sight-seeing in Australia.  There was about 10 people there, from teachers to previous students, and Brother Lawrie, who had the biggest smile and was pretty much a combination of every brother from Molloy.  I was so excited because everyone there seemed to listen and be really interested in what I had to say.  I learned all about each and every one of their stories, and we saw so many similarities! One of the teachers did an immersion program with the Marist Brothers in India, a student did volunteer work with Marist in the Solomons while at school, an another did volunteer work with Marist in Cambodia after he graduated.  All the other students said they were really thankful with how their Marist school shaped them as a person and formed lifelong friendships.  I know my high school friends and I all agree.  Last year, they had a brother stay there who had been to Esopus (that’s the second one from Australia!).  They showed me pictures of their “Esopus” in Miticong for their own retreats and camps.  They had a bunch of questions for me about how to make their school even better.  I had so many for them, too, and we all enjoyed ourselves and got a lot out of the night.  We exchanged contact information so that maybe the boys from their school could be a part of the Marist Youth Leadership Conference next year! (Students from all different Marist Schools come to Esopus in their sophomore year for a weekend.)  In high school, prayer every morning ended a certain way, and they do the same thing from 20 hours away!  I felt really at home during the informal dinner with these people.  I was really impressed by the boys I met there, and am really thankful to have had that opportunity.   I was even given a Marist bracelet from one of the boys that says “Marist Strength and Gentleness.”  He told me they did not make them anymore, but he wanted me to have it.  We all said at the end we did not know how the night was going to go, but it couldn’t have gone better.  Molloy has a big thanksgiving liturgy every year for students and alumni, with speakers of all different ages.  I am going to contact them and see if it would be possible for me to share this experience at that time.  Bringing back to PC what I have learned in Australia is the purpose of the Fellowship, so I thought I could take it on another level and even bring it back to my high school.

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Saturday was the day to prepare for World Youth Day, so we had an action-packed day where I was able to meet all the pilgrims and see their preparation for World Youth Day.  In Santiago, Chile, and Rio, Brazil, the group will be joined by 4 million other people across the world.  The preparations ended with a Mass wishing the pilgrims the best, and a home-cooked meal by Father Troy.  Daniela’s sister, Marie, is one of the pilgrims, and is becoming a Dominican Sister! She leaves for Nashville, Tennessee in a month to start her journey.  She had never attended a Dominican school, but said she felt at home when she was around them and continues to be fascinated by their story.  We had a lot to talk about, and I gave her the names of the awesome sisters I met in Australia, and told her to come down to PC if she had the chance! Why not have some Dominican Sisters there to complement the Friars.

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It was sad saying goodbye to Marie, Daniela, Greg, and Liam (see photo below).  We all had a lot of laughs and a great time together.  I learned a lot from them about leadership, faith, and friendship.  Hey guys, if you’re reading this, thank you all for everything you’ve done for me in the past few days!  I know we’ll stay in contact.  The below picture was taken after 10pm, after a long but great day together.  Even after such an early start, you can see how happy we all look.   At that point, all of the “work” that was written down on my fellowship program has been completed.  It was a great way to end, and to be able to now say that feels AMAZING.  It’s really satisfying looking back with no regrets, and thinking of all the people I have met and was able to help. It’s even crazier to start to think about everything I have learned and gained from these people and experiences.  I’m lucky to have a few days in Sydney before I have to blink this goodbye!

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Daniela & I                                              Greg, Daniela, myself, Marie

Kaitlin and Ryan

It’s really hard to say just how good it was seeing two familiar faces twenty hours on the other side of the world.  Kaitlin and Ryan picked me up from the train station after Newcastle on Wednesday, and we have been together ever since.  Ryan has been one of my best friends at PC since last year, and Kaitlin and I have only met once, but it’s safe to say she has quickly become a great friend.

We left for our flight on Thursday to Cairns, Queensland to see the Great Barrier Reef! The three of us spent time exploring the city, having dinners together, learning about all the past few weeks, going for runs, finding fresh fruit markets, taking in the sunshine, and overall just enjoying each other’s company.  Of course on Friday we took a day tour to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef! Words can’t really describe how awesome the few days were.  The three of us now share a bond and a memory we’ll have forever.  I’ll try and let the pictures explain the trip:

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When we arrived back to Sydney Sunday night, all of our host families, along with Sister Rose Mary, Jane, and Anne (who helped organize our fellowships), gathered for an Italian dinner together.  It was so nice to have many of the people involved in our Fellowships all in the same room!  They even gave Ryan, Kaitlin, and I a cross painted in an Aaboryginal design.  It was so nice, but we felt like we were the ones who should have been giving them gifts.

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Monday, the day before Ryan and Kaitlin leave, we spent the day in Sydney.  We walked the Harbor Bridge, shopped, and sight saw.  It was so nice having the two of them with me over the past few days.  I’m so thankful we all could experience this opportunity together.  It was the perfect segue way and refresher for the next part of my fellowship, and perfect sendoff for them to the states.  We really were able to take a step back from everything that’s happened and reflect on it with each other there to put it in perspective.  Kaitlin and Ryan, thank you both for an unforgettable few days.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

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I can’t wait for our reunion dinner in the summer with all of our families. Safe flight home, you two! Thank you so much to the Father Smith Fellowship.

Newcastle: New People, New Experiences, New Everything

It’s going to take a lot to do my past few days in Newcastle justice in writing.  Monday, upon arrival after the train from Sydney, Sister Diana picked me up.  As we pass this bright green Mazda, I laughed. Then, I realized we were getting into it.

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Sister Diana wasted no time telling me about everything she does, from Penola House to her new business Dominican Forest Ark (which doesn’t even cover half the topics).  Our first stop was Penola House, a center for refugees that she and Sister Betty created in Newcastle.  Sister Diana had to take part in something when we got there, so I was left with Suryea and Barbara at an English lesson.  Barbara is a volunteer at Penola House, and Suryea had come to Australia from Iran a year and a month ago.  The Penola House was helping her improve her English.  She told us all about her life in Iran and how coming to Australia changed her life.  We switched the lesson to her listening about my life, and her English was so good it felt like three old friends having a cup of coffee together.  Barbara was actually from Ireland, Suryea from Iran, and myself from the US were all together in Australia.  You could feel Suryea becoming emotional when talking about her life in Iran versus the freedom she has here.  She really treasured such a simple conversation.  She even asked to take a picture on her phone with me before I left, and I of course, did the same.

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Over the course of the three days, I learned bits and pieces about Penola House.  When Sister Diana moved to Newcastle in 2006, she met some refugees from Liberia who were not treated very well by the Australian government.  She wanted to get involved to help because the authorities were doing no good welcoming refugees and helping them find a new life here.  She found Sister Betty, who was helping refugees just at her home.  A refugee, Sister Diana told me, is defined by the UN as a person who finds life in another country because they would be killed in his/her own.  She wasted no time writing letters and challenging the government to build more possibilities for these people.  Penola House is a place they can go to feel welcomed and receive any help that they need (it gets its name from Penola, the city where the only canonized Australian-born saint made a decision to teach).  Sister Diana and Sister Betty started and run Penola House with the help of many volunteers.  Penola House had also been “Secret Millionare-d” – a TV show where a millionaire comes in to “volunteer” and ask if he can be filmed, and afterward reveals himself and gives the organization a big fat check.  Sister Diana has also been on ABC television many times talking about Penola House, so the organization has considerable awareness and is continuing to grow.  They have raised over $30,000 this year, going toward sending 10 orphans from Africa to live with their grandparents/aunt/uncle here in Newcastle.  As Sister Diana and I were sending out thank you letters for donations, she cheerfully said, “Oh, I love saving orphans.”  Penola House is not government funded or anything of the sort.  She and Sister Betty led the front of making all of that possible.

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What’s more is that last week, Penola House had a grand reopening to this new, bigger location in the town over in Newcastle.  Therefore, on my second afternoon at Penola, Sister Diana asked me to help with the garden. Little did I know that meant shoveling piles of stones into a wheelbarrow and moving them to the pathway.  Here is where I met Robert, a Kenyan man whom Penola House has helped, who was also doing work in the garden.  You could tell Robert wasn’t convinced I’d be able to do the job on my own, and was really surprised that I did.  He was also surprised to find out I was from New York, and we exchanged stories about our hometowns.  It took me a few hours to do the job, and although it probably could have taken him less, I was glad I saved him a few hours of work.  I learned at lunch that Robert does a lot of work at Penola House, and because he takes it very seriously, he gets cold to a lot of people.  I’d never have guessed.  Leaving that day, he told me I was a “strong girl with a strong heart” and asked if I could come back tomorrow to help him paint.

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So, I spend the rest of my time on Wednesday before my train doing just that:

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We painted that whole pagola, and chatted for a few hours like we have been friends forever.  Sister Diana came out, chatted with us, and brought us soup, too.  An unlikely bunch, and I love the pictures, but I enjoyed that work so much. (Dad, you taught me well!)

That was not the only things done at Penola:

-An Ethiopian family came in with children who were very cold at night, so Sister Diana took me to the storage space to find some socks and “jumpers” (sweaters) for them.  We went to this huge facility where two rooms filled with items that they send to Africa each year.  Sending all of this stuff costs about $5000, so they collect donations and do it once a year.  The people of the facility are friends of Sister Diana and Sister Betty, and lend the space out to them for free, saving Penola around $25,000 between the last five years.

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-We went to a nursing home Wednesday morning and Sister Diana helped set up and say a communion service for the people of the home.  We also visited Dominican Sisters there and kept them company.

-Sister Diana had to take one of the refugees to an ultrasound, so I was dropped off at Corpus Christi School with Sister Jenny, a Dominican school nearby from K-Year 6.  It was really nice to meet Sister Jenny and have her show me all around the school.  The students explained to me all of the green initiatives the area of Newcastle has taken.  The students recently planted a garden of orange trees, apple, tomato, parsley, thyme, grapefruit, flowers, you name it and it was there.  They told me where to grow things and how to grow them.  The school also installed solar panels and waste composts.  At 10am each day, the students have ‘dip and sip’ (or something like that), where they can only snack on only fresh fruits/veggies and water.  The whole city of Newcastle is really taking a lot of these initiatives.  Sister Diana and Sister Betty also have a very impressive garden in their backyard, complete with my two favorites: sweet potato and pumpkin.

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I was given a lot of information on this subject, which leads me to my next topic:  Dominican Forest Ark.  Sister Diana and I contacted ASIC: Australian Securities and Investment Commissions and registered her new business name of Dominican Forest Ark.  She explained to me that the carbon balance in the environment is going to become too high because we are burning too much coal, but cutting down too many trees that absorb the carbon.  This is going to create global warming and have a major affect on everyone, but especially the Dominican Sisters in the Solomon Islands.  These Dominican Sisters are offered much money to have their trees cut down; this money is necessary for them to live, although it is affecting their environmental world.  By creating Dominican Forest Ark, she is going to raise money to give to those sisters to live, in exchange for helping them keep the trees that would be chopped down for money.  To do this, the Dominican Forest Ark website will have a link to a Carbon Footprint Calculator.  Your carbon footprint is how much carbon you use per year in tons.  The calculator translates that into dollars, and shows you your carbon offset.  If people can donate their carbon offset through this website, the chance of global warming will be decreased and sustaining the Solomon Islands would be more possible.  Now, at 6:30 am on Tuesday morning, sister Diana came to the foot of my bed while I was half asleep, to explain some of the new ideas that just came to her for Dominican Forest Ark.  You can tell she is very passionate about this new undertaking.  The invoice to accept the business name came in before I was leaving, and the bank account will be opened today.  She is still working on the details of the business, but I told her any help I can give her (and Ryan and Kaitlin with their off-the-boat pictures from the Solomons), we would.

Tuesday night we went out to eat at “the pub.”  I was lucky enough to be staying with Sister Diana and Sister Betty when another sister, Sister Bernadette from the Missionary Sisters of Service, was also staying with them.  Sister Bernadette was doing research at the University of Newcastle (which I got to see), to write a book that she has been working on for three months.  She was raised by two deaf parents, and told me sign language was her first language.  Her book is about the story of how her parents met, and the evolution of sign language and deaf people since then.  She actually read me a few chapters of her book and explained the different dialects of sign language to me.  It was so interesting.  She was so sweet and nice to talk to that it was surprisingly lucky that we happened to stay with the same people at the same time.

Sister Bernadette and I’s last night was on Tuesday, so we took Sister Diana and Sister Betty out to “the pub” to thank them for their hospitality.  Sister Jenny from Corpus Christi came to join us as well.  There I was having a delicious meal with four sisters and a bottle of Chardonnay, and I had an awesome time.  I showed the ladies a picture of my family, and they said I was a testament to how my parents raise me, and that my brother was gorgeous (?).  So, family, here’s to you.

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If Newcastle taught me anything (including all the random facts I have learned), it’s to face life with an open mind.  I’m no philosopher, but I could have gone into that situation and said I’m the youngest person here and I won’t see any of these people again, and I would’ve gotten nothing out of it.  It’s all about attitude, and because of that, I come away from Newcastle and can’t help but smile.  Spending so much time with Sister Diana taught me so much, and she took the word “Veritas” and translated into a whole new meaning of “truth” for me.  Truth that you can’t hide from life and you can’t be scared of anything.  If you’re going to do something, you have to give it all you have.  I really admire the way she took on life and changed so many people’s.  Even by talking to the refugees, you could tell how she and Sister Betty made happiness possible for all of them.  Somehow, in Newcastle, learning about refugees, recycling, sign language, starting a business, nursing homes, and going to a pub with sisters, all go together very well.

Also, there is a Dominican newsletter sent to all of the Dominican Order in Australia, and there is a special shout out to PC:

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On the other side of the train, I get to see some familiar faces of Ryan and Kaitlin!!! Tomorrow, we will all head off to Cairns!!!

Rain, Rain.. There are Worse Things

My last full weekend had a beautiful forecast of 24/7 rain.  Luckily, the coldest night I was here fell on Night Patrol.  Night Patrol is a service run by Santa Sabina’s Jane Sullis, where a food truck delivers sandwiches, drinks, and snacks to the homeless in Sydney every third Sunday of the month.   Jane picked me up around 7, and we loaded the truck with sandwiches made by the families of Santa Sabina, and donations of juice boxes, soft drink, milk, chocolate, chips, muesli bars, fruit, and biscuits.  Jane said that the people who take the truck next time get, “But last time Santa Sabina gave me this..” because the mothers go so far as to make hot sandwiches for the people.

 

We left around 8 in a truck that resembled PC’s “Yuck Truck”.  I almost laughed for a second, but I soon realized there was nothing funny about what we were doing.  Myself, Jane, the 3 Year 12 Santa girls, and our driver Martin arrived to the first stop at St. Martin’s Place in Sydney.  Men swarmed the truck asking for as many sandwiches as possible, with any kind of snacks and drinks.  Coffee, tea, and Milo were served at the back of the truck.  To my surprise, women were also lined up, and even young boys around 14.  I started to think wow, my feet are cold.  Then, I looked down and saw a guy barefoot on the wet concrete.  That really changes your perspective.

 

There were two more stops and as Jane put it, “Each has their own personality.”  The second stop was in Surrey Hill, where people lived in low-income housing, and the last was Central Station, where the housing seemed to be a cold blanket under the train tracks.  Maybe it was because it was so late at night, or because I was standing in the rain with these people, or because I had always pictured Australia to be so happy, but Night Patrol really affected me.  I watched a guy ask for a whole packet of tea, and we didn’t know if we were allowed to give him the whole thing.  We asked Jane and she said for him to slip it in his pocket quietly, so more people don’t ask.  He said, “Thank you so much. You are my angel.”  It makes you stop and think next time you blindly enjoy a cup of tea.  I watched as we offered one lady to take home a liter of milk.  Her eyes lit up, and as one of the girls reached for one to give her, she chose the carton I brought. Something so little probably changed her week, and I didn’t even think twice when I bought that milk.

 

Regardless, the people on line still had time to poke fun at my accent.  As I called out the sandwich options, men were keeled over in laughter.  “Tom-A-to? Do we have an American here?”  I had to say it a bunch more times.  I told them about New York, and they made me say “Fuhgettabout it” even though I’m not from Brooklyn.  The men at one stop even joked how our men wear padding during football, and taught me to say “Go Wallabies” for their favorite team.  An Aboriginal man taught me “Fe fe hokay” and “Malo” – hello and thank you in his language.  He said “Kiora” was hello in New Zealand (Am I right, Uncle Pete?).  The point of Night Patrol was also to engage in conversation with those who don’t have it much, as well as to feed the hungry.

 

My favorite thing to give out was the chocolate.  One lady’s eyes lit up so bright when I offered her a chocolate bar, and even further when we brought out the chocolate chip cookies.  I’ve never seen chocolate enjoyed so much – no one should be denied that.  I gave out extras to the kids, too.  We also gave out some donated hats, scarves, gloves, and blankets.  Each time we got in the truck to move to the next stop and were warm for a few minutes, I kept thinking of the people who were still out there in the cold.  While we were able to warm up for a few minutes, the people at the next stop were out there waiting for who knows how long.  On the way home, we were all really impacted by the night, and the girls at Santa Sabina told Jane they want to talk at the next assembly for homerooms to donate food or clothes, to increase awareness about Night Patrol.  It’d be so easy and so simple to help more people with a few more boxes of chips or juice.  It really didn’t seem fair that we got to go home and shower.  There were so many people there and each had their own individual stories.  Rather than have it stop there, the night was an experience for all of us that planted a seed to continue to go out and help.  I thought about those people all night and wonder how they are doing right now.  Jane was saying at the end of the night that it really makes you think about the importance of talking about being a good person and actually going out and doing it, because there are people out there who are still hungry and still cold.

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Additionally, the Bells wanted to take me to see Bondi Beach before I left, and braved the rain to do so Sunday morning/afternoon.  Although it was raining, we still went and walked around the markets, and I was able to see an Australian beach.  The rain didn’t stop the water to still be clear and blue.  It says a lot about the Bells to have done that for me, and a lot about our time together in the fact that we enjoyed the day so much.

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So, on the rainiest day, I saw Bondi Beach and participated in Night Patrol on a night that has had the most rain in the 11 years Jane has done it.  You know what I realized, though, I have nothing to complain about.  I am lucky to be so lucky.

Year 11 Retreat

It will be hard to sum up the past few days in words.  I went into the Year 11 Retreat at Tallong feeling a bit tired and relatively lonely from doing all the past week’s events on my own, but I came out completely refreshed with a new mindset and family.  It is the reason I love retreats and a reminder of just why I am so lucky to be on this fellowship program.

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At Wednesday morning icebreakers, I was excited to recognize many of the games played at my own retreats, and Dominique invited me to step in and introduce some of my own.  I explained “Lost at Sea”, my favorite icebreaker game from Molloy’s Freshman Camp; the girls had never seen it before and responded really well to it.  I was proud of myself to have dove right in.

There was much time in small groups and talks, but one of the next things that stood out to me was a session called “Life Graph.”  One of the teachers explained her life on a series of highs and lows, and encouraged the girls to do the same.  Tears were shed and happy memories were relived.  The entire program was so nice for everyone involved.

We watched the movie Mona Lisa Smile – a film about women in the 1950s at Wellesley College (not far from PC), torn between choosing marriage or pursuing a career.  Starring Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, and the main girl from He’s Just Not that Into You, it was such a feel good movie.  We unpacked the movie based on characters, our strengths and weaknesses, and how we would react in the situations.  It was tied into our “Enneagram Experience” – a test to determine our personality types.  I was a ‘3’ and reading the description, it was so funny how spot on it was.  The results helped the girls start to learn more about themselves and the way their classmates think.

The next activity that grabbed my attention was masks.  It started with the “staff” of the retreat (myself and the 5 teachers) sit in front of the room and tell the girls the ‘masks’ we hide behind, or find it too difficult to hide behind.  We hadn’t rehearsed to each other what we were going to say, and surprisingly, everyone delved into his/her personal life to share a powerful story.  It even prompted the girls and each other to cry, and the teachers and I had a group hug at the end.

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After the girls made their own masks and I actually got to draw one, a special part of the retreat occurred.  I will not write it because it is a surprise to the younger girls, but it was similar to Molloy’s Senior Encounter.  Dominique was even able to include me in it, which added to how special it was for me to see the girls experience what I had been able to do a few years ago.

IMG_1989 My small group!

I was lucky to go on a few nature walks during the day, play some volleyball, and even walk the Tallong Labyrinth:

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A very talented teacher led a session called “Sacred Space” where we talked about just that, and sowed whatever we wanted on our own cloths.  The girls made some beautiful ones, and stopped many times to help me make my own being as I never took “textiles class”.  It was nice to just sit there and talk to them. The cloths come together for each of the girls’ class houses on the bunting at the end, which hung for the rest of the week.

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After an impromptu dance party of “Teach Me How to Dougie”, “Milkshake” and some Bollywood Dancing (the jingly skirt was even put on me and the teachers), we had one of the most inspirational parts of the retreat.  A liturgy with no priest – so the girls designed the entire thing from readings, set up, lighting, reflections, and music.  I led the group in charge of music and we picked an all-star playlist from Ed Sheeran to Coldplay, and even some Lean on Me at the end (a Molloy favorite).  The ceremony was lit by a candle held by each of us, blown out at the end prefaced by blowing the light to someone special.  The efficiency and depth of the ceremony blew me away because every single one of the girls in the room played a part of the organization of it.  They tied together what they had learned on the retreat and talked about things like unity and friendship with much maturity.

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IMG_1925My music group

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I’m so happy I was allowed to lead the “Affirmation” session on Friday afternoon.  We played a game called Reach Out , where the girls sat in a circled faced outwards with eyes closed (thanks Friars Club!).  As I read out a statement, one third of the girls would stand up go around tapping the shoulders of the other girls.  For example, I would say “Reach out if someone has made you smile”, “Reach out if someone has influenced you”, etc., and each girl would feel a tap on their shoulder, not knowing who it was from but knowing why.    Even some of the teachers joined in.  It connected it back to the theme of the retreat:  Be Still and Know that I am God.  I even got to share my favorite song and piece of advice with them, “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack.  I was so happy it went well and the girls got a lot out of it! We broke into small groups and everyone wrote personal affirmations in each other’s journals, which had been given out at the beginning of the retreat and written in throughout.  I was happy to leave the girls with some concrete words, and was moved by what was written in mine.

I explained some of the activities done, but its hard to explain all of the beautiful spirits I met the past few days.  The teachers were incredible to work with and put so much time and effort for the girls to have this week.  I stayed up late with the girls talking about boys, celebrities, the cool things to do in Australia, and answered a ton of questions thrown at me.  I had breakfast, morning teas, and dinners with them, laughs, and learned about their families and struggles.  I even tried Vegemite!!! (Not my first choice, but not bad)  They presented me with a Tallong scarf, hat, and water bottle to thank me before I left, which I was not expecting, but was so flattered by.  I already have an influx of new Facebook friends and likes on my kangaroo photo, and was told I am always welcome as a Santa Sabina girl.  I felt really lucky to be a cross between the wonderful teachers and students, and was so happy to be a part of the retreat.  Dominique even said that Friar’s Club’s game will be remembered and played on the Year 11 Retreats as the “Mulvihill Reach.”  She insists I was a positive role model for the girls, but it was one of those things where their energy, spirit, and openness affected me so much more.  By the end, every one there was glowing.  I think it was a match made in heaven for all of us to be together at that place and time.

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I think the theme of the weekend can be summed up in one scenario: I sat with a girl on the bus ride there who had joined the school only two terms ago, who said felt she was much more open and had more friends in her old school.  On the bus ride home, she told me the retreat helped change this and she even went to go sit with the new friends she’s made! It’s things like this why I love retreats and was so happy to be a part of one.  It says a lot about the Santa Sabina community that they were able to welcome me in with such open arms.  I’m really proud of myself that I was able to dive into this, and even make an impact.  Retreats are some of my favorite memories and where I’ve grown most of my confidence and friendships.  Because of this, I know these girls will remember these few days forever.  I think the staff will never forget this week, either.  I know I never will.  It made 20 hours away feel too much like home.

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A Tribute to St. Lucy’s

The past few days at St. Lucy’s were fun-filled and action-packed.  May Gibbs class was in charge of morning and afternoon prayer, and members of my class proudly took the microphone and led the school of roughly 160 children in prayer.  We were also in charge of leading the song in the morning with enthusiastic voices and hand gestures.  In class, we did story time, reading, practiced maths, and did some sing-a-longs (my favorite).  The class went to the library to play on the computers, and one boy navigated to YouTube and put on a Justin Bieber song. It was so funny.  His classmate promptly walked over, turned the sound off, and said, “No.”  I guess he’s not a Bieber fan.

At assembly, the school played a video of a class who performed “We Are Australia” at one of the nearby high schools, along with the choir.  I’m guessing it is a popular song here celebrating being Australian, and it really was beautiful to watch.  Also at assembly, after one of the girls in my class led the prayer, an administrator came up and asked her who the “special visitor” was in her class the past few weeks.  She said, “Miss Katie”, and the whole school gave me three hip-hip-hoorays. It was so sweet.  It was so nice to be at St. Lucy’s School getting to know the children.  The school is beautiful and offering them so many opportunities in life.  They are so happy and learning so much, and it’s great to know a Dominican School is making all of this possible, just like Providence is doing the same thing for me.  I’ll miss the class and the teachers I worked with, but I leave knowing the school will only continue to do great things.