On Saturday, 22nd April 2023, people from far and wide gathered for the 5:30 pm Mass at the Jesuit Parish Church of St Francis Xavier in Lavender Bay, Sydney. There was a noticeable buzz of excitement and anticipation. The faces of those arriving shone with the joy of recognition and friendship. Alongside the church, the busy North Sydney railway station was also alive with excitement, with revellers of all ages on their way for a night out in the city. This juxtaposition fascinated me. Yes, city travellers might well experience joy; however, I wondered, could they ever imagine that an overwhelming joy of a different kind could be profoundly felt among parishioners, friends, and strangers, gathering in this church on a wet and cold night?
Within the Mass, Sr Rachel McLoughlin ibvm, a clear-eyed, vibrant, mature woman, was about to make public her vowed commitment to God and to follow Jesus within the church along the path of Mary Ward as a Loreto Sister. Parish Priest, Fr Richard Leonard SJ, presided, while Rachel’s parents, Carmel and Vin, sister Amanda, Loreto Sisters, close friends, and other special guests surrounded her with love and prayer. From across Australia and the world, online participants joined in.
The Profession ritual, embedded in the Mass after the homily, is simple and full of symbolic meaning. Through movement, gesture, word and music, a mini liturgical drama is enacted, somewhat like a Shakespearean ‘play within a play’. The key ‘actors’ Fr Richard and ibvm Province Leader, Sr Wendy Hildebrand ibvm, led Rachel into that profoundly personal space where she could speak her truth with utter conviction. It was liberating to see women’s roles so much to the fore, inclusivity fully respected by the presider. The trio of musicians brought life, colour, and depth to sung prayer. The Litany of the Saints was particularly moving. There was a hushed awe in the congregation as they focussed intently on the prayerful support of Rachel. Her peaceful composure spoke of the freedom into which she entered this phase of her life.
As we left the little church of St Francis Xavier that evening, our lives were entwined in beautiful synchronicity, the happiness of the Beatitudes. Faces were shining with joy. The jewelled side wall of stained glass, which traces the Christian story and tradition from time immemorial, was ablaze with colour and light. I thought it is within that storied humanity that Rachel loves to dwell. Her life motto, the unity of the Spirit, illumines all she does. Through spiritual accompaniment, Rachel releases in others that same energy to become fully themselves, fully alive to the Spirit. Is it any wonder her gracious thanks ended with that tumbling-out, memorable disclosure: I’m just SO HAPPY!