Friday, 07 February 2014 11:02

At ease with 'Alice'

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Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Magdalena Leutterova shares her personal journey fuelled by a desire to love and serve God as a missionary  - beginning as a Slovakian-born refugee in Italy escaping communism, a missionary posting to Ghana and in her current role as pastoral worker in the Northern Territory.

To begin with, I like to send to you, dear reader, friendly greetings from Alice Springs – a town of about 26,000 people in the middle of nowhere, as it is jokingly said. I have been in this town for a bit more than 2.5 years and I am pleased to realize that all my life experiences prepared me for being easy with “Alice”. A short version of my life’s journey would say “A journey from the heart of Europe to the heart of Australia – from the Geographical Centre of Europe to the Red Centre of Australia”. Dear reader, allow me to tell you more.

I was born in former Czechoslovakia – the part which is now called Slovakia and where the geographical centre of Europe lies. Since fifteen, I have accepted responsibility for my own faith development and growth. This growth has never stopped although some changes have occurred. I found my personal God who is a God of love and compassion. As a consequence of being in love with Jesus I wanted to belong totally to Him. I had read and heard about missionaries who left their homeland and went to foreign countries to spread the Good News. This aroused my interest in missionary work and led to a search for a religious congregation that was missionary oriented. I found such congregation and was accepted as a member in 1976 and my first job in the congregation was to finish my university studies. I made my religious profession as Holy Spirit Missionary Sister (SSpS) in 1982. My aspiration to love and serve God as a missionary was complicated with the reality that in the years of my searching and consequent religious formation the country of my origin was a communist country. Its regime was not supportive of my desires but when the door is closed, God opens the window.

My journey from Slovakia (1984) to Alice Springs (2011) consists of some shorter/longer journeys and some stops between them. I spent about two and half years in Rome, Italy as a refugee before officially migrating to Australia. The first assignment in my new country was of course to learn English. After my final commitment to God and God’s people (1989) I was sent to Ghana, Africa where I was for nine years. Because of my teaching background I was mostly involved there in a teaching ministry in schools. I went to Ghana already as an Australia citizen (Thank you Australia for being an Aussie). God’s plans are often not our plans. Although I would never even dream about my return to Australia, since 2000 I have been living and working once more in Australia. My passion for Pastoral Care started in Ghana with occasional visits to a leprosarium and involvement with the sick in Kolre-Bu teaching hospital in Accra. On my return to Australia, in 2001, I took the formal nine-month training for Pastoral Care (CPE) in Melbourne and since 2002 I have been sharing my life and love with my sick/aged sisters and brothers. I have been ministering to a wide range of people in respect of culture, age and spirituality.

For the time being, I am the only sister from my religious congregation here at Alice Springs. My hope is that in the future more of us would be here, where the river without water is and where we have no water restrictions as some other places have although there is no rain (just to mention some interesting characteristics of “Alice”).

My main ministry is the full-time government employment as Pastoral Care and Chaplaincy Coordinator in Alice Springs Hospital (ASH). In my role as ASH Chaplain, some of my core responsibilities include:

  • First of all - to provide pastoral care to patients, their families and staff while working in close collaboration with ASH staff to ensure the holistic needs of clients are met. Simply said, I carry out initial contact with patients, follow up visitation, provision of spiritual and emotional support to patients to enable them to draw on their own inner resources, act as an advocate when requested, administer the Sacrament of Eucharist on request, and even an emergency baptism, etc.
  • Then - to work with the clergy and community spiritual/pastoral care workers to deliver pastoral care to patients and their families at ASH.
  • After that - to respond to referrals from staff, clergy and the community and refer to clergy and community groups in response to specific spiritual needs.

Hospital in “Alice” has about 200 beds and its catchment area is 1.6 million square km. In the hospital there are more than 1,000 employed people (e.g. 160 doctors, 430 nurses and midwives). In 2011, there were 42,198 Emergency department presentations and 856 babies born. There is only one official hospital chaplain and therefore the visits of the pastors from other Christian churches are very much appreciated. They come and minister to their own flock.

Alice springs grpAs it is quite clear from my travelling around the world; I speak and understand more languages. I have the ability to speak Slovak, English, Italian, Czech, Polish, a bit of German and other Slavic languages. All these languages are well used in “Alice” as people in Alice Springs come from the whole world – at least 62 nations are represented. According to the latest census, 19% of people in Alice Springs (or their parents) were born overseas and 20% have the indigenous background. The rest of the Alice Springs population were born in Australia. Well, 80% of our hospital patients are aboriginal people who have been living in Australia for more than 40 thousand years. I am really sorry that my knowledge of their language is terribly limited. Their culture I am learning day by day. The multiculturalism in our Catholic Church is also relevant and has been very observable during our yearly multicultural Eucharistic celebration on Pentecost.

It is said that there are only two groups of people – those who love “Alice” and those who hate “Alice”. I am content to tell you that I love “Alice” - I love the scenery, I love the fact that a stranger greets another stranger on the street, I love the nearly always blue sky and I love my work – my mission. The photo tells you that I love the barbecued kangaroo tail as well.

Dear reader, to conclude, I like to share with you a couple of quotations which have been helping me to remain positive, to see the glass half full instead of half empty.

“Believe in the whisperings of God to your own heart.” (St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 1868)

“Happy are those who have dreams and are ready to pay the price to let them come true.”

This photo (top right) shows a group of joyful religious women and men celebrating Easter Monday with BBQ. All together, there are 26 religious people from 9 religious families living in Central Australia (Alice Springs, Yuendumu – almost 300 km from Alice Springs, and Santa Teresa – a small catholic community 80 km from Alice Springs). There is a spirit of friendliness and solidarity between us.

Sr Magdalena's article originally appeared in the December/Christmas 2013 edition of Whispers, the e-Newsletter of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters of Australia and Fiji.


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