Pastoral ministry WA outback
This article was first published in The Good Oil (19 May 2016)
Good Samaritan Sister Annette Dever has been honoured with not one, but two Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards, for her service to the remote Western Australian communities of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton.
A very surprised and overwhelmed Annette received the awards last month at a dinner hosted by the Shires of Leonora and Laverton to honour and farewell Annette as she finished 13 years of pastoral ministry among the people of the WA outback.
Some 90 guests attended the dinner at Leonora, which followed the monthly Sunday Eucharist at Sacred Heart Church. Present and past residents travelled vast distances to express their gratitude to Annette. Also sharing the occasion with her were family members from Perth and Brisbane, and Bishop Justin Bianchini of the Geraldton Diocese.
“Words fail me at a moment like this. It’s too big!” Annette told those gathered.
“I am deeply overwhelmed by such love and support of the people of Leonora and Laverton Shires who have honoured me today. This moment will be remembered for the rest of my life.”
Annette first arrived in WA in 2003. Then based at Mount Magnet, her role was to reach out to the residents of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton. Each month she would travel for two weeks, spending about five days in each town providing pastoral care to the local people.
Annette recalls an encounter with a mother of four young children soon after she arrived that had a lasting impact on her.
“She said to me when I went to visit her: ‘You’re great ladies who drive all this way just to come and see us, just to come and see how we’re going…’. And that was a profound statement which I carried with me,” Annette said.
“It meant so much to these outback women and it brought home to me the great gift of just visiting people, especially in the outback… It certainly changed me and affirmed me in what I was doing, that God was working through me, even though I thought I had very little to offer in my visit.”
In the absence of resident priests and therefore weekly Eucharist, part of Annette’s role was to prepare and lead Liturgies of the Word in the three communities. She also had the “amazing experience” of accompanying people on their journey to Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist, and the “huge honour” of presiding at funerals.
In 2010 Leonora became Annette’s base so she could serve the large asylum seeker community at the Lenora Detention Centre. While still continuing her outreach to the people of Leinster, Laverton and Leonora, she established a strong relationship with the asylum seekers until the centre closed in 2014.
“That was a very rich experience,” said Annette. “I was welcomed into the detention centre, then they came to liturgy with us in the Sacred Heart Church and the community welcomed them.”
Annette describes her entire experience in the outback as “rich in so many ways”.
“The people I have been privileged to meet and the experiences I’ve had have made me the person I am today. I give deep thanks for each one and I will treasure the memories and the stories forever,” she said.
Long-time Laverton resident, Maureen Hill, took the initiative to nominate Annette for the Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Award, which was wholeheartedly supported by both the Shire of Leonora and the Shire of Laverton.
“Sister Annette is an inspiration to others, with her gentle and compassionate manner, caring not only for her parish, but providing assistance and encouragement for the communities of the Northern Goldfields,” said Laverton Shire President, Patrick Hill.
“She has touched so many lives without realising the positive impact she has had. Sister Annette deserves the Premier’s Australia Day Active Citizenship Awards.”
Leonora Shire President, Peter Craig, said Annette had provided “a stellar service” to the residents of Leonora, Leinster and Laverton.
“She was truly part of the communities she served and we are grateful for her presence, pastoral care and ministry since 2003. She travelled more than a 1,000 kilometres a week to minister, deliver liturgy, providing guidance and support, irrespective of the background or denomination of people.”
For Annette, the decision to finish her ministry in the outback was not an easy one. “But I knew it was the right decision and I knew it was the right time,” she said.
Speaking to those gathered at her farewell on April 10, Annette said, “I loved being here, celebrating liturgy, preparing people for sacraments, visiting you good people and attending to whatever came along.
“I will miss you greatly. You will be forever in my memory and my prayers.”
After a well-earned break, Annette will take up lighter duties in her home town of Brisbane.