Juggling various roles in the past, Andrew Beiers can now add director of the Celebration of the Life of Mary MacKillop, in Rome on October 16 to the mix.
Speaking candidly across a picnic bench beside his Australian Catholic University (ACU) office at Banyo, the campus minister, who directed the Mary MacKillop100 concert in Brisbane last year, relayed his approach to the “privileged” six-month task.
“When the Sisters (of St Joseph) asked me to direct (the October event) I said, ‘If I’m going to be involved we are going to take you on a journey’,” Andrew said.
“It’s going to be an experience and not just a set of songs … not just a concert of pieces.”
Andrew, together with a formidable creative team and 30-strong choir of ACU students from across Australia, is preparing a presentation leading into the October 16 Vigil Mass on the eve of Blessed Mary’s canonisation.
“The two hours will basically celebrate the life of Mary MacKillop through drama, spoken word, music and multimedia and a little bit of dance,” the national vigil committee member said.
“It will be very prayerful and sombre, leading into the vigil.
“Our singers will sing with the Sisters of St Joseph who will be reading Scripture, Mary’s words and other reflections.”
Understanding the importance of the collective effort, Andrew said any challenges faced in the lead-up have been met with the tenacity Mary MacKillop modelled.
“One of the sisters said to me, ‘Andrew, whenever you’re involved with Mary MacKil-lop you know it’s going to be a struggle because she struggled’,” he said.
“… Yes, I pray for Mary to intercede.”
Recognising the “once in a lifetime” opportunity, the 30 singers will also join in with the Vatican choir during the Vigil Mass, sing before the Canonisation Mass the following day and throughout the Thanksgiving Mass on October 18, when Cardinal George Pell of Sydney will preside.
The group is weaving into its presentations “an influence of Australianism”.
“The canonisation is about giving Mary MacKillop to the world,” Andrew said.
“She is a woman for all peoples and we will talk about how she captured the hearts and minds of the Australian spirit … (in the) way she operated, her strong beliefs, her tenacity and in the face of adversity.”
Andrew likened this spirit to “kitchen table spirituality”.
“The kitchen is the heart of all things Aust-ralian,” he said.
“Mary MacKillop draws people in through her cooking for the sisters and for destitute people and for washing up and doing it with a smile.
“She would say that these little things matter just as much as anything else.
“That’s where Australians are drawn into her because we live in the everyday life around the kitchen table.
“The kitchen is the heart connected to the barbecue and connected to the living area.”
Close to Andrew’s heart are wife Jane Massingham and primary-school-aged daughters Gabrielle and Helena.
Musically-minded Jane, a teacher at John Paul College, Daisy Hill, took Andrew’s fancy “because she played a mean flute”.
“It was a bit like Bruce Springsteen meeting a girl and saying, ‘She plays a mean tamborine’,” Andrew quipped about the beginnings of their courtship.
Married since 1994, the family live and worship in Mt Gravatt, actively involved in music ministry and various archdiocesan events throughout the years including Hearts on Fire in the late 1990s and the Queensland gathering at World Youth Day 2008, Andrew saying “it’s not about the accolades but about God touching people through music”.
One of five brothers from a “strong Catholic family” he spent some years living on a farm when southside Rochedale was undeveloped.
“I learned more about life and death living on the farm,” Andrew said.
“(And) the beauty of laying in the freshly-ploughed earth and looking up, watching the clouds go by, a bit like Charlie Brown.”
Influenced early by the Josephite community in his primary school of St Bernard’s, Upper Mt Gravatt, Andrew went on to nearby high school Clairvaux MacKillop College.
He spoke glowingly of many of nuns – especially of a continuing friendship with Josephite Sister Marion Liddy – who “are passionate about people living out Mary MacKil-lop’s legacy in their work, education, throughout Queensland, East Timor, Peru and other places like the Kimberleys”.
Andrew studied teaching at the former McAuley College in Brisbane after high school and taught for a few years before another pathway beckoned.
“I told Dad I wanted to join a circus,” he said of his early 20s.
“He wasn’t super happy and quizzed me.
“In the end Mum and Dad were always supportive.”
Achieving a dream of “always wanting to do backflips, fire-breathing and juggle” Andrew was an inaugural member of the Brisbane Rock’n’Roll Circus.
From there he used newly-acquired fire-breathing skills at band performances, accompanying his bass guitar skills.
“The band was on stage for New Year’s one night,” Andrew, who seems to have comical stories on tap, said.
“At the countdown I thought I’d breathe fire.
“I don’t know why I didn’t look but the roof was thatched, like grass, and (the flames) just licked against it.
“Thankfully it didn’t catch fire but my shoe did, as I was trying to put it out.”
Dabbling in acting school and on the small screen, another comical event presented itself when Andrew eventually went back to teaching – this time at Our Lady of Lourdes primary school, Sunnybank.
“The principal came to me and said, ‘There’s a snake in (former parish priest) Fr Tom Hegarty’s bird cage and they want you to go over’,” Andrew recalled.
“I said, ‘Why me?’
“‘They think you are good with animals’.
“Everyone was standing back and I saw this carpet snake had Fr Hegarty’s prized thousand-dollar king parrot in his stomach.
“I knew that once snakes eat they become sluggish so I said I can get it out if they give me a bag.
“I took it back to the class and they loved it … and then (I) let it out on Mt Gravatt Mountain.
“I was then told, ‘That was your interview for the new youth worker position in Sunnybank – because you can handle snakes, you can handle kids’.”
Andrew said this “new door” interested him “because it was a first for the archdiocese to try teachers going into such a role”.
Honing in on other skills along the way – like lighting and visual arts – the former gymnast and dancer and ACU campus minister since 1997 said he has always “wanted to explore certain things in life”.
“There’s some doors I’ve opened, had a good look around and then said, ‘Right, I don’t need to use that now but it’s going to inform me’,” Andrew said.
“(And) because of my background in a multimedia of arts I can draw on different things when I have to … (but) it’s about having the bigger perspective.”
Asked if there’ll be any fire-breathing involved in the celebrations from October 16-18, Andrew remained jovial and pointed more towards the benefits of juggling.
“Juggling physically is a very powerful way to learn about juggling metaphorically,” he said.
“When you start to add other elements, you have to look at what you do with the ones you already have in the air.”