Listening to the people of the Auckland diocese as to how they would like to like to collaborate with the Diocesan Pastoral and Evangelisation Office is the first priority of the office’s newly appointed leader Sr Sian Owen, RSJ.
The former head of the Religious Education team was appointed to the role towards the end of last year following the retirement of Pat Lythe in October.
“I’m taking over from someone who was revolutionary in her own way. When Pat Lythe first started at the diocese, there were very few lay people, let alone lay women, in the role. She established a real heart for a diocese that encourages lay participation. And I see my position as taking up that banner and moving forward,” Sr Sian said.
The sister said she wants to develop communication streams between her team and the parishes.
She said this will prevent parishes from being overwhelmed with information and instead “have an appreciation of what is being offered in terms of support and activities”.
Sr Sian obtained her doctorate in philosophy through the Australian Catholic University last October. In her thesis, she looked at the special character of Catholic schools, how this is implemented and how principals understood special character.
Her study also investigated the role, not only of schools but also of the People of God in mission.
“We’re moving into an era where we have to break away from the stereotype that mission is about going away overseas or it’s the profession of the religious and the priests and claim that by our Baptism we are all called to collaborate on the mission of God,” she said.
Sr Sian said her study consolidated for her the need for lay formation.
She said the Church in New Zealand had been very good in providing opportunities to upskill the theological competencies of those who work in schools. However, such opportunities are not as readily available to others.
“The real challenge going forward in faith formation is how do we not only encourage people to take up ministries, but enable them to have both the head stuff and the heart stuff: a theological understanding of what they are doing and a spiritual depth,” she said.
She noted it is easy to offer courses, but harder to grow discipleships.
“What we want to do is be the best body of Christ we can be, where we are, as we are, and who we are,” she said.
Sr Sian said this is where she sees her role as going. “The pastoral services area of the diocese is about collaboration. And it’s not just about, ‘we have something, we’re going to give it to you’. It’s about a real sense of working together towards building missionary disciples,” she said.
In growing missionary disciples in the diocese, she said the diocese can learn a lot from the experiences of parishes overseas in locations like Los Angeles or Vancouver which are very multicultural.
“We have a whole universal Church that we can collaborate with and learn with. We don’t have to do this on our own. As much as we cherish our own identity, our identity as a local Church isn’t more important than our identity as disciples. So, anything we can learn from others, we [have] got to take,” she said.
Sr Sian celebrated her 25th anniversary as a Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart last year. She began her professional life as a teacher in both state and Catholic schools.
Just over a couple of months into the job, Sr Sian said she has a “growing understanding” of the dynamics of parish life.
“The thing that I realise the more I work in this field is that you can only ever have a snapshot . . . [I am] understanding that because something worked once . . . it might not work again,” she observed. “One of the things I’d really like to do is to try and find some way of sharing best practice more deliberately and [in] more creative ways.”