BY ANN RENNIE
In the middle 70s, the nuns thought that I was a possible candidate for a vocation. Perhaps they early recognised something in my adolescent yearnings, in my way of being in the world that had prompted them to think of me as a fit for that special consecrated life.
But I was eighteen and life held other meanings for me. Temporal temptations and opportunities took hold and the appeal of a vocation was readily displaced by the urgencies of new friends, a new independence and the fun and games of the Law Revue at Melbourne University.
Almost 40 years later, I am now working with these same nuns at my alma mater and despite my strange and circuitous career trajectory, my gypsy travels, my benignly neglectful and lovingly indulgent motherhood, my delight in words and writing and my daily work as an educator, somehow the circle of vocation is being completed within me.
I am now fulfilling that universal call to holiness, using (I like to think) my gifts wisely and well.
I have deliberately chosen to work in the Catholic system because, as well as the joys of teaching English, I want to pass on some of the joys of faith. To date, I have had the great privilege of working with the Good Samaritans and the Dominicans and now am at home with the charism of my childhood years, that of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.
I am fulfilling what Meister Eckhart remarked of when he said that the vocation is found when one is finally back in the house they had never left.
My educational philosophy is borne out of my own experience. I had wonderful teachers and my school days were happy. The teachers knew their subject and they knew me. I was named and known.
I was marvellously encouraged with a fair-minded feedback which enabled me to improve and to see myself as someone who could do well if I worked hard. Together with the academic rigours of school life, there was always the sacred tapestry being woven into my soul.
Now in the ripeness of my middle years I am recognising that I am fulfilling a calling, a destiny, where my faith and life are synergistically aligned in a workplace that enables me to do God’s work and a good day’s work.
This is not to say that I am suddenly softly, softly saintly, nor am I becalmed in mid-career, but I am simply in service as a team player, with the occasional original idea, a chortle in the staffroom, the odd whinge, but mostly the satisfactions of doing something daily with the best of my being.
My effort is congruent with the vision and mission of the school and the gospel message of the Good News is at the core of collegial and personal endeavour.
I am of the whole-hearted belief that we, as educators in life and faith, in Maths and English, in core curriculum discoveries and non-timetabled delights, do write on the souls of the next generation.
As an educator, I believe that I am doing good, and often a good that will not be seen in KPIs or objective outcomes or external benchmarks or reportable on an end-of-semester report, a good that flowers in character and attitude and ultimately in behaviour.
I am in the right job for my disposition and talents and I have a creative licence to cover the curriculum in my own way. There is a singular joy in receiving an inspired piece of student writing or hearing a heartfelt prayer in homeroom.
John O Donoghue writes of the relief and joy in finding the calling that expresses and incarnates your spirit. You are ‘at home in your life, heart and hearth as one.’ How right he is!
I have my moments of transcendence when I know God is giving me a nod of approval in my work. I am of service. I can share my gifts. I can tell stories and laugh and encourage and listen. I can kindle a passion for learning in others. I can join others in the pursuit of something that will last beyond us; I can be a faithful companion to the young women who come into my care.
John Henry Newman wrote that God had committed him to some work to which he had committed no other, that he was a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. That is where I am today, a link in the chain of the Catholic tradition and continuum. I have been called by God to do my best here and now; to do what I can with what I have.
My calling, my vocation, is to engage those young people around me, just as I was engaged half a lifetime ago, so that they too can arrive at that moment of recognition, when they acknowledge that they are finally fulfilling the life that God dreamed for them.
Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer who also teaches senior students in a Catholic girls' school. Her book The Secret Garden of Spirituality (Reflections on Faith, Life and Education), was published in 2011 by Michelle Anderson. Flickr image from cowley_mail.
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