Journeys in faith

“Living in hope” was the theme for the annual Women’s Night of Spirituality
at St Mary’s Church, North Sydney on 16 May.


By Emma Rossi, MC, Women’s Night of Spirituality 2024  

It’s a spiritually nourishing experience to have more than 500 women and men gathered in church with flowers, candles and sublime music. Founded 27 years ago with the late Fr Peter Quin SJ, the annual Women’s Night of Spirituality at St Mary’s Church, North Sydney, held on 16 May, lived up to expectations. This year’s theme was “living in hope”. The tradition is that three speakers share their faith journey, challenges and how they overcame them, with parishioners and guests. There are moments of vulnerability, courage and laughter. 

I was honoured to be the evening’s MC as I think it’s so important that women’s voices are heard. And I relish the opportunity to develop a relationship with the speakers. As a journalist and media trainer, I enjoy helping people tell their stories. I’ve appreciated spending time with most of the presenters over the last couple of years to help them draw out meaning and purpose. 

It’s also a skill I’m learning through pastoral care; how telling our stories to a supportive, non-judgemental listener helps us heal, both emotionally and spiritually. It’s fascinating to hear how some of the women’s stories resonate differently with people. That’s the true gift of the evening. We are all nourished through that spiritual journey. 

From left: MC Emma Rossi, Fr Richard Leonard SJ and Sr Mary Shanahan RSCJ OAM.

The first speaker was Sister Mary Shanahan, RSCJ OAM. Sr Shanahan has held multiple leadership roles within the Society of the Sacred Heart, with decades at University Colleges in Sydney and Brisbane, and at Sydney’s Kincoppal-Rose Bay, where she was a director of the School Board. Sr Mary was Provincial of the Society in Australia and New Zealand and served on the General Council in Rome.  

Sr Mary charmed us with stories of growing up in Winton, Queensland, where she had had her first spiritual experience of God’s presence while riding a horse. She said that was one of three deeply spiritual encounters that have helped nurture her life. She is still involved in spiritual formation at Kincoppal-Rose Bay, where she helps students understand themselves. Sr Mary fondly recalls the young women exploring their gifts, and how to use them. She is well loved by all those she works with, including staff, parents and students.

Pope Francis recently awarded Sr Mary the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for her distinguished services to the Church in Sydney and Australia. 

Our second speaker, Mary Crock, is a professor of public law at Sydney University and has spent the last 40 years in migration, family and asylum law, disability law and human rights. We were interested to hear how Mary maintains and inspires hope in what are some of our most globally vulnerable people. Educated by the Sacré Coeur Sisters in Melbourne, Mary has fully embraced their founder’s mission of having the heart of an educator and considers social justice teaching to be her most important work.  

We then heard from the Parish Community Choir, performing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, by Johann Sebastian Bach. Led by Danielle Whitmore, the choir is off to Auckland, New Zealand soon for the World Choir Games from 9-20 July.  

From left: Emma Rossi, speaker Neave Mackey and Our Lady of the Way Communications advisor Merin Boyd.

Our last speaker, Neave Mackey, aged in her early 20s, meant there was spectacular diversity in the speakers’ age range of more than 70 years. Neave is an inspirational young woman. As a 17-year-old, she battled a life-threatening blood cancer with courage and resilience. Her family, friends and Catholic school, Loreto Kirribilli, were also supportive. Neave spoke about how her faith nurtured her through her illness and how their spirituality helped the Mackey family grow closer together.  

As one of the younger people whom we’ve heard from at the Women’s Night of Spirituality, Neave also contributed some ideas about improving the institutional church that young people, in particular, young women, would offer to continue to nurture their spirituality.  

The evening included a financial collection which was split between three charities nominated by the speakers. This year they were Mary’s House – a refuge for women and children fleeing domestic violence that the parish was instrumental in establishing and continues to support – the Refugee Advice and Casework Service and Redkite, the children’s cancer charity. The evening was topped off with fellowship and light supper in the adjacent Ron Dyer Centre.

The Women’s Night of Spirituality Committee, chaired by Jennifer Boland OAM and supported by Parish priest Fr Richard Leonard SJ, will soon begin planning for the Women’s Night of Spirituality, 2025. 

Find out more about the multi-talented Emma Rossi 

Banner image by Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Canva.