- By Michelle Gierck for Kairos Catholic Journal.
Her voice is gentle, the tone soothing. Her words are deliberately chosen, the sentences regularly punctuated by pauses. There’s an air of earthiness about her, and stability. Sr Hilda Scott OSB is a Benedictine religious sister who came to prominence on the ABC Compass program The Abbey. In the television series, five women from different backgrounds took up the life, short-term, of a contemplative at Jamberoo Abbey on the south coast of New South Wales, where Sr Hilda lives.
Watching the series, what featured as much as each participant’s personal struggle with the hours each day of silence and prayer - a central part of Benedictine monastic life - was the insightfulness and the let’s-not-beat-around-the-bush approach of Sr Hilda. When I begin this interview with Sr Hilda and ask her about her background, what strikes me is that it is not her family that she begins with, but her life as a religious sister in an active congregation. For 17 years she was immersed in parish life and education, at times running retreats.
At one stage, Sr Hilda even took up residence in a caravan park. ‘That’s where the truly marginalised are,' she says. And that’s where she felt called. I can just picture her trooping off to the amenities block, towel and toothbrush under her arm, chatting to folks along the way. Earlier dreams of becoming a Benedictine sister still surfaced from time to time, but she was advised by a priest that she didn’t have a contemplative vocation, so she got on with her life. That was, however, until she turned 40. By then, the Benedictine yearning could not be quelled.
Sr Hilda moved to Jamberoo Abbey, and began to learn what monastic life was all about. Reflecting on her life, she says, ‘Before, I was dealing with the world’s pain on the outside, looking in. However, for me, while I was blessed to be able to ease what I could, I always had the sense that I could never change that basic wound inside others that caused them the anguish they knew.’ Now in her life as a Benedictine nun, she says, ‘I deal with the world’s pain—from inside out.’ Three years after joining Jamberoo Abbey, Sr Hilda began assisting with the spiritual formation of guests. For those who come to stay at the Abbey, meeting with Sr Hilda is a memorable experience. This is not a place for the timid, for anyone who is not prepared to look at their own life in depth, or to question what gives it meaning. I speak from personal experience.
Sr Hilda is one of those rare people who know how to be present; how to listen—not just to the stories, but to who the person really is. It is the depth of people’s pain that she notices: how each journey in and through pain is unique—just as the capacity for the transcendent is a personal journey. ‘We can only go so far without God,' she explains. There is, Sr Hilda believes, ‘an utter thirst inside people for what is real; for what is deep; and for what gives meaning.’
And she particularly loves working with young people. Fittingly, she was invited to speak at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Melbourne at the beginning of December.