Kath – Teaching ministry helps to keep hope alive

Scripture has been a life-long pursuit for Christchurch based Sister of Mercy, Kath Rushton. So has the search for justice, especially for women in church and society.

These days, her two absorbing interests combine in the teaching she offers to tertiary students preparing for a range of ministries, including teachers, pastoral workers and chaplains.

Most of her students are women; many of them are training for ordained or lay ministries in their own churches, often in isolated rural or small-town communities. All of them are ministering to others – children and adolescents, parishioners, prisoners, university students.

“The calibre of people and the networks of faith that are forming make this an exhilarating and rewarding ministry,” says Kath. “I see my work as a particular expression of Mercy ministry to the theological education of women.

“It’s enabling women to give language to their experience of God in daily life. Often it’s a matter of supporting their God-given intuitions, helping them to name and learn from their insights. In all this, I receive more than I ever give.”

Kath has worked alongside other Sisters of Mercy teaching NZQA courses through diocesan education offices. She has also tutored over 30 students through an ecumenical distance-learning institute.

One-off teaching opportunities include a retreat for diocesan Catholic clergy, a study day for Anglicans on the Sunday gospels for 2010, and a series of pastoral training workshops in Dunedin.

One of Kath’s most rewarding encounters has been a monthly reflection group in her own parish. “We’ve met to read the gospel texts for the forthcoming month and share our insights. It’s been awe-inspiring!”

The former secondary school teacher studied theology in Leuven, Belgium and completed her doctorate in Brisbane under Dr Elaine Wainwright rsm, currently head of Auckland University’s School of Theology.

“Religious orders have been able to train their members as theologians, at a time when it has been more difficult for lay women without such resources and networks,” says Kath.

“I have long been motivated by what Mercy theologian Pat Fox exhorted sisters to do at our recent Chapter – to take up the challenge to unpack and claim anew our rich Catholic scriptural tradition in our times.”

Inspiration for Kath’s ministry has come from Catherine McAuley’s own spirituality. “It was scripture-based, which was rare in her time.”

Kath is also inspired by the biblical prophets – many of them women – who continued to hope for conversion and change in the face of immense human need and suffering.

“I see my own ministry aligned in some small way with our Congregation’s resolve of ‘keeping hope alive in our world today’.”

Reprinted from Mana Atawhai Mercy at Work 2009