WE’VE barely had time to put the Christmas crib away and Donna Longland and her friends already have their minds on Easter.
It’s the same every year.
As soon as January arrives they start preparing for the Iona Passion Play, which has its home at Iona College, on Brisbane’s bayside.
Donna, a Brisbane Catholic, has been doing that for 25 years.
“At the beginning of January and we all gather to start rehearsals, it’s just like coming back to family,” she said.
“We rehearse every Sunday from January through to Easter, basically.
“I just know as soon as I get my calendar for the next year, the first thing I do is mark out every Sunday from January through to Easter because I know I’m going to be busy.”
This year will be a little different because Donna’s at another point of change in her life.
At the end of last year she finished up with Evangelisation Brisbane after having worked in the agency’s administration for more than 15 years.
She’d come to the archdiocesan agency when it was called Faith and Life, after having lived through some turbulent years.
“I was working in state government in various schools and TAFE colleges, and I enjoyed the work but something was missing,” Donna said.
“And then I got married in my 20s and Ben and I had nine wonderful years together, and then he got sick – he got a brain tumour – so I had to stop work to care for him for 18 months.
“Then when he passed away I just did a whole re-evaluation of life and, you know, it brings out a new perspective.
“That’s 16 years ago now …”
After Ben died, Donna went through a whole re-evaluation and discernment.
“I had always wanted to work with the Church, particularly in youth ministry,” she said.
“I’d been involved in youth ministry with Antioch for many, many years.”
So she applied for a job in administration with Faith and Life and was successful.
Being on the staff at Faith and Life, and then Evangelisation Brisbane, Donna always loved “having a real purpose in my work, and feeling that I’m actually, in my own small way, helping people deepen their faith or discover their faith”.
And faith is a major motivation with her involvement with the Iona Passion Play, and that started, “quite by chance, but not really …”
“I had been working very hard in volunteering for youth ministry in different things and I actually burnt out and so I had to just step back out of everything,” Donna said.
“And then, a few months later, a friend invited me to join the passion play and I thought, ‘Oh, here’s something where nobody knows me and I can just come in and do my little bit and it’ll still give me that connection …’
“And 25 years later I’m still there.
“… The people are just wonderful, and they’re like a second family.
“It’s been a huge part of my life.
“It’s not just about being on stage; I’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work on it as well but there is something special when you’re sharing the Easter story.
“And we’ve always said that even if we touch one person in the audience then it’s worthwhile.”
Donna said it had been a privilege for her to play Martha for many years, and now Mary Magdalene.
“In both of those roles you’re on stage for the Crucifixion scenes … so, we get to stand at the foot of the Cross every time, and it just brings a chill every time I perform it,” she said.
“You know you’re doing the right thing when that happens.”
Each year the play has given her a focus for nourishing her faith, especially during Lent.
“And having the support of other faith-filled people it’s obviously helped me through a lot of difficult times, and I hope I’ve done the same for some of them too,” she said.
After having had to cancel the play last year due to COVID-19, Donna and her friends are “eager to get back on stage this year, all going well” and to continue their creative form of evangelisation.
“As we say, you just never know who you’re reaching,” Donna said.
“You’ve just got to do it in the faith that you do what you believe God is wanting you to do and that he’ll put the right people in the path to hear it and experience it.”
And, on a personal front, Donna’s ready for what’s next after leaving Evangelisation Brisbane.
“My next step’s kind of a bit in God’s hands,” she said.
“Again I’ve done a bit of that re-evaluation and discernment.
“I’m open to most things and I’m discerning whether or not to do some further study.
“I think I still would prefer to work within the Church and find something else there but we’ll see. God only knows … and he does.”