UNCONVENTIONAL is one word to describe newly-professed Ursuline Sister Sue Cochrane, a convert to Catholicism.
Insisting she’s only referred to as “Sue”, the vibrant woman of faith lives and breathes her call to religious life, made official at her final profession in Maroochydore parish, north of Brisbane, on July 30.
Other words that come to mind to describe her are energetic, passionate and grounded.
Sue’s grounding in faith was well established in the Anglican Church.
“My parish community was St David’s Anglican Church at Chelmer,” she said.
“We began attending church regularly when I was in Second Grade.”
With an older sister and a younger brother and sister, Sue fondly remembers joining in “Sunday school” there and being a member of the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS).
“We were given simple prayer books from when we could read,” she said.
“God was an accepted reality in my early life.
“At Church we were expected to follow and participate in the service from when we could read.”
Sue’s parents were actively involved, leading the family, individually and collectively, down the same pathway.
“As I moved into my teens I helped to teach Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was an altar server,” she said.
“Later I was a member of the parish council and my involvement broadened to include our Care and Concern group and participation in the local Anglican-Catholic discussions in the early 1980s as well as helping the young people to establish a youth group.”
It was “the opportunity to participate in camps run by GFS, the local church and Scripture Union” that helped her “to experience a variety of expressions of faith and to find a sense of a personal God”.
“Involvement with local church and community helped me to form my personal faith which was grounded in the Anglican tradition at that time,” Sue said.
“My desire was to continue to be open to where God was leading me in my life.”
“Open” to further blessings and pathways, in 1986 Sue participated in a course run by the Institute of Pastoral Care.
Part of the course was an experience of the Catholic Mass.
It was at that time God’s equally “unconventional” promptings came to the fore.
“I was looking for direction and where God wanted me to live my life,” Sue said of that time.
“I was looking for my own identity – apart from what I grew up with – to be me as an individual as opposed to my family of origin.
“(Becoming Catholic) just felt like the right thing to do.”
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) followed in Caboolture parish and Sue was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1987.
“It wasn’t a theological thing,” she said of her reception.
“I had made the decision before I started the (RCIA) program.
“It was more of a ‘heart’ decision than a ‘head’ decision.
“(Being Catholic) is where I best experience God in my life.”
And God had other plans afoot, Sue saying she then asked Him, “What do you want from me now?”
That’s when the call to religious life surfaced although she said her entry would have been much earlier as “a 20-year-old Catholic”.
Sue’s first reaction was, “God, you must be mad … Why me for religious life in the 21st century?”
She “explored religious life” through theological studies in late 2001.
“My understanding of the history and the relevance of religious life for the 21st century was assisted by reading excellent books on the subject,” Sue said.
“(And) I was guided in my journey during this time by (Ursuline) Sister Gabriel Williams who I had met as a pastoral associate in the Caboolture-Bribie Island parish where I worshipped.
“After meeting with wonderful women from a number of different orders I felt that the charism of the Ursulines resonated most strongly with me.”
In 2003 in Toowoomba, Sue began her “journey towards final profession”.
“I moved to Sydney in 2004 and made my first vows at St Francis Xavier Church at Ashbury in August 2006,” she said.
“(And) I moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2007 and have been a part of the Stella Maris parish since that time.”
Sue said her final profession was “a parish celebration as well as an Ursuline one”.
“Many parishioners attended and catered for the morning tea after the profession and Mass,” she said.
“Some of my work friends also attended as well as family from Brisbane and Melbourne.
“Ursulines travelled from Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra to be there.
“Our Mother General, Mother Cecilia Wang and one of the General Councillors, Marie Therese de Llano, who live in Rome, were able to join us during their visit to the Australian Ursulines.
“(And) Mother Cecilia received my vows.”
Stella Maris parish priest Fr Joe Duffy presided at the Mass while Fr Brian Taylor, who had received Sue into the Catholic Church, was also present.
A lunch followed the Mass in what was “a wonderful occasion”.
Reflecting on the journey, Sue was grateful for all the blessings received.
“I feel very blessed to be a part of such a generous and life-giving parish and to be able to live my commitment to God as an Ursuline Sister,” she said.
“It has been eight-and-a-half years since I began my Ursuline journey (and) it has been a very blessed time and a very challenging one.
“I have needed to be prepared to look at who I am and to listen to others and to God (and) to be open to change and to growth while accepting who I am.”
To others discerning, Sue had a heartfelt message.
“To anyone discerning a vocation I would say to listen to your heart,” she said.
“… Follow in trust where you need to go to lead your life in fullness and in truth – whether that be as a single person, in a committed relationship or as a religious. “For me there is great joy in being able to live my life in this way and I know that God will continue to guide me through it all.”
Sue will stay in her current ministry until the end of the year and continue to discern where her God-given gifts can be best used.
As a qualified physiotherapist her ministry is among children with special needs in the state school system. While that may be unusual for someone also committed to a religious life, the feeling is that Sue’s comfortable with the unconventional path.
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