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Australian Bishops secretary scheduling virtual coffee dates while in self-isolation

Clara Geoghegan is having virtual cups of tea with friends on video calls
Virtual connection: Clara Geoghegan preparing for a cup of tea with friends over video chat. The executive secretary for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is in self-isolation after returning to Australia from the United States on March 16. Photo: Clara Geoghegan

CLARA Geoghegan has her red lipstick and best earrings on to order a tea with milk, no sugar, but she just can’t leave her house to drink it.

The director of the Catherine of Siena Institute in Australia, who was recently appointed as executive secretary for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, is among thousands of Australians in mandatory self-isolation after the federal government imposed strict measures to those who returned into the country from overseas.

Mrs Geoghegan, who lives in the ACT, went into self-isolation on March 16 after returning from a trip to the United States, where she was meant to represent the Australian Catholic Women’s League at the United Nations’ New York Headquarters for the Commission on the Status of Women.

“I flew into the country seven hours too late,” Mrs Geoghegan said.

Less than one week at home alone, Mrs Geoghegan, a self-confessed extrovert, had to get creative for her social connection.

So she started scheduling virtual coffee dates with her friends and family over video chat. 

She said she got the idea from her sister who was on Facetime with a friend who was “wearing her beads and had her lippy on and a glass of champagne”.

“So two of my sisters and I connected on messenger…and one was having lunch, I was having a drink, and the other was having some green tea. 

“But the idea is you make time for people, and you know, I never go out without my earrings on and without my lippy so I’m wearing those.

“Dress up, make your preferred beverage, use your favourite cup.

“It just gives you something to look forward to, it gives you some sort of focus.”

Mrs Geoghegan said despite being home bound “some extraordinary kindness is happening out there”.

“I’ve had people call me and say ‘if you need to drop anything off, send me a list and I’ll leave it on your doorstep’,” she said.

When she’s not sipping a cuppa, Mrs Geoghegan is working from home for the ACBC, where she has secretarial responsibility for two of the Conference’s episcopal commissions, the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, and the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

She said most of the work already involved video conference meetings and administrative tasks that could be done at home.

“So it’s just a different location,” she said.

During her time in self-isolation, her episcopal bosses have made some drastic but necessary decisions to curb COVID-19 in parish communities, including the suspension of most Sunday Masses in the country and closures of churches nationwide, including in Brisbane as of today.

Mrs Geoghegan said while “it sounds draconian”only drastic measures could save the lives of the vulnerable.

“I think what we haven’t grasped is the sooner we go into lockdown, the sooner it peaks and is over,” Mrs Geoghegan said. 

“It sounds draconian, but I think we all have to operate on the basis that we might be carrying it and that everyone we meet might be carrying it.

“The irony is the longer we put it off, the longer we’ll be in lockdown.”

Mrs Geoghegan is acutely aware of the seriousness of COVID-19 on those for whom the virus is life-threatening.

“I’m living with some friends…and one of their children has cystic fibrosis, and we are preparing for one of them to move in here,” Mrs Geoghegan said.

Mrs Geoghegan is also awaiting news from her daughter who was in contact with a colleague who has since been put into quarantine for a suspected case of coronavirus.

“We’re probably more conscious of the reality of this because of friends and family’s situations,” Mrs Geoghegan said. 

“This would be quite critical.”

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