IT’S not every day an invitation to Archbishop John Bathersby’s residence of “Wynberg” in New Farm, Brisbane, awaits.
When Pauline Peters woke on July 19 she prepared to attend a morning tea there “thinking it was part of his retirement round of farewells”.
It was and it wasn’t.
“When Graeme (her husband) and I arrived, I was so surprised to see the bishops and other clergy there,” Pauline said.
But the main “give away” something “else” was afoot was the presence of her two sons, brother, other family members and friends.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” an overcome Pauline said.
The “what” was a presentation like no other accolade received during the former Booval pastoral associate’s commitment to spirituality.
Pauline was honoured with the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award from Pope Benedict XVI.
Also known as the Cross of Honour, the award was established in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII and is given for distinguished service to the Church by clergy, religious and lay people.
The gold medal features the images of Sts Peter and Paul and the Holy See’s Coat of Arms.
It is the highest honour awarded to a lay person by the pope and “is given for distinguished service to the Church”.
In addressing the small group gathered, Archbishop Bathersby first spoke glowingly of meeting Graeme, well before the couple married.
“When I became a priest I was appointed to Goondiwindi … (and) the furtherest area of my driving took me to the wooden church in Daymar,” he said.
“It was (near) there that I met a man, the local school teacher, living in shearers’ accommodation.
“His name was Graeme Peters and he wished to talk to me … because he had met a girl in Ipswich too beautiful to overlook.
“The girl’s name was Pauline … (and) little did I know the good they were destined to do for the Church, for the archdiocese, for the greater glory of God.”
Archbishop Bathersby crossed paths with Pauline some years later, when she was chairperson of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.
“When I arrived from Cairns in 1992 Pauline was well and truly involved in the work of the archdiocese,” he said.
“She was superb as a leader.
“She did excellent work in developing pastoral councils throughout the archdiocese (and) under her advice the councils did marvellous work in promoting the Church.”
Archbishop Bathersby said Pauline “went from strength to strength” and promoted “prayer and meditation for those people who wished to grow even closer to Jesus Christ as she had done”.
Close friend and former Booval parish priest Fr Ray Kearney spoke of Pauline’s deep faith and Graeme’s “loving support” of her in the role of pastoral associate.
She was one of the first lay women appointed as a pastoral associate, and said her 15 years in Booval were “the happiest and most fulfilling role”.
Pauline had been a “speech correctionist and infant teacher” with prayer at the heart of her “every day”.
“Prayer has always been the mainstay in my life since childhood,” she said.
“I was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Mary’s, Ipswich, where four generations of my family have been educated.
“I was greatly influenced by the spirit of prayer and dedication of the sisters who taught me.
“They were strong women of deep faith and, with the vision of Catherine McAuley (their founder), encouraged us to be young women of prayer and to take our place as leaders in the workplace, the community or in the Church.”
Another strong faith influence also emerged.
“Monsignor Moloney, our parish priest at that time, also had a deep and lasting influence on me,” Pauline said.
“Whenever we ‘paid a visit’ to the Blessed Sacrament on our way to school as was usual in those days, we would see him sitting there in silent prayer.
“Later, as a young woman, I was introduced to some of the great spiritual treasures on prayer by the monsignor.”
It was “silent prayer” in particular that drew Pauline in.
“I was a busy wife, mother and teacher when at a parish mission I first heard of the Benedictine monk John Main and his teaching on meditation,” she said.
“When the missioner spoke about giving time to God in silent prayer … so began my journey of meditation through his teaching in Word into Silence and Moment of Christ.”
Pauline said Christian meditation “is a way of prayer for people of all ages and walks of life from 90-year-olds to preschoolers”.
“The teaching is simple,” she said.
“Take a prayer word to bring you to silence and stillness in the presence of God. The prayer word we recommend in our community is ‘Maranatha’ – said as four equal syllables.”
More than 2000 Christian meditation groups exist worldwide with an estimated 400 in Australia and 80 in Brisbane archdiocese alone.
Pauline chaired the Guiding Board of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), of which Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville is patron, and then became its international co-ordinator and assistant to director Benedictine Father Laurence Freeman.
Through email and Skype she keeps in contact with national co-ordinators in 53 countries.
As a Benedictine oblate of the community Pauline “made her final oblation” in Rome in the Church of St Francesca da Roma, significant because “St Francesca was a married woman and the first Benedictine oblate”.
She remains “honoured” by the papal award and “grateful” for the support of her family.
“I am so grateful to God for the loving support of Graeme and those who have guided me in my prayer life,” she said.
“The Eucharist and scripture have nourished and sustained me over the years.
“(And) I see it (the award) as recognition of the role of laity in the Church, especially of women in leadership and volunteer roles in the Church and in the meditation community.”
So, while Archbishop Bathersby is certainly taking part in various “rounds of farewell” pre-empting his retirement, Pauline’s accolade added to the many achievements within his term.
“Because of Pauline’s remarkable life it seemed entirely appropriate, in our rather secular world, that she should be honoured with rewards from the Church and the Pope,” Archbishop Bathersby said.
“She deserves it absolutely and … I will ask her marvellous, teacher-husband from distant Daymar to fix the awards on his loving wife.”