Jo Hayes is a woman on fire for the Word of God, and with a mission to share with others the riches that deep intimacy with God brings. She is a television reporter, radio broadcaster, speech pathologist, preacher and etiquette consultant, and was recently ordained as a Third Order oblate of the Benedictine Rule. Recently, she attended the Fifth World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome, Italy, where she enjoyed a private audience with Pope Francis. Jo shares with us how the Word of God has transformed her life, and how she hopes to help others transform their lives, too.
Jo Hayes, 38, lives in Brisbane, Queensland, although it’s not unusual to find her travelling to various parts of the world, where she speaks to religious and lay people about the importance of reading and listening to the Word of God. The third eldest of six children born to Michael and Pam Hayes, Jo says she had ‘a wonderful childhood’. She studied speech pathology at university and worked in this field for a short time, but in 2008—the year of World Youth Day in Sydney—she moved to Melbourne for a year to participate in Youth Mission Team Australia.
It was during this time that she decided not to go back to speech pathology but instead pursue her ‘childhood dream’ of being a television journalist. She returned to university to complete a master’s degree in journalism and ‘hasn’t looked back’. She started in radio news reading and then moved into television news reporting and has now worked for 15 years in mainstream radio and TV. Most recently, she worked as a freelance journalist with Channel 7 Queensland and Channel 7 Australia.
‘I absolutely loved it. It was a dream come true for me,’ she says. ‘I remember the very first day on the job with Channel 7 so vividly. I was covering a story on the Queensland netball team. And I remember standing there doing my piece to camera. I had the Channel 7 cube mic in my hand, and I remember thinking, “I was created for this.”’
During those years of media work, Jo also embarked on her own deeply spiritual journey, ‘diving into the Scriptures’ in a way that she describes as ‘a complete immersion in the spirit and deeply immersed in the Sacred Scriptures’.
She explains: ‘I visited this particular religious sister one day needing some clarity and help in terms of direction in hearing from God. And she asked me a question that literally changed my life. She said, “Do you read the Word of God every day?” I knew what my answer should have been, but my answer was “No”.
‘I went to Mass multiple times a week; I was a committed Catholic and committed to my faith, but I was not reading the Word of God for myself every day. She said, “I think that will really help you.” I knew straight away that I needed to read the Word of God at least one hour every day.’
From that day, Jo went home and started practising lectio divina, a form of spiritual reading and meditation, for one hour each morning—a practice she continues to this day. ‘I have not missed one hour, minimum, in close to seven years,’ she says. ‘It has radically transformed my life in every single way.’
Jo completely immersed herself in the Word of God, reading the Bible each morning in what she describes as ‘a hidden place’. ‘I was being built up in the Word and in my spirit,’ she says. At the three-year mark, she realised she wanted to ‘get out and preach’ because she felt there was ‘so much gold’ she wanted to share with others, but she remained faithful to this quiet, committed time of prayer.
‘I needed that time to be completely formed and anchored [so] that ... when God did open the doors to go out and preach, ... I had this fire in me that has not waned.
I've had this fire and power and almost insatiable appetite to preach the word. And I know that that has come from that deep hidden time with him.’
Jo’s big opportunity to start preaching the word of God on international television came in 2020. Until that point, she’d had various speaking engagements in the Church, hosting the Ignite Conference in Brisbane and speaking at a lot of Catholic women’s events, but this really was ‘the first real preaching’ she’d done since she had first deeply immersed herself in the Word.
‘I had an anointing on me that I had not had any other time in my previous Christian walk,’ she says. Shalom World TV had asked Jo to host a nine-part series on the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost 2020. ‘It was this valve opening ... this gush of the Word just pouring out of me, and I loved it.’ Jo has since completed a number of series with Shalom World and is due to release a series on lectio divina in coming weeks.
When speaking about why she has embarked on this mission, Jo is clear and passionate: ‘I want everybody to have an encounter with God. And not just a one-off encounter, but to tap into and stay connected to the elixir of life that is deep, intimate union with God.
‘That is what I have found in my daily time immersed in the Word. And it’s why I continue that daily time, every single day. No compromise. No negotiation. I’m like a bulldog with that time. Nothing gets in the way of my time with God, because that is the thing that has facilitated this deep, intimate union with God.
Being able to hear from him, that’s where all of our joy and life and vigour and value and identity [are] found. And all that I do is to serve God, and to do what he’s told me to do. And connected with that is to allow other people to experience the glory and delight that I have found in intimate union with God.
Jo recently became a Benedictine oblate, a Third Order lay woman formally associated with the Benedictine congregation. The seed was planted upon meeting a woman—a Benedictine oblate—during an Advent retreat at a Benedictine Abbey in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the USA in 2021. During the retreat, she read more about being an oblate and decided, ‘Third Order. This is what I’m meant to be doing.’
Following an 18-month discernment period, including time at Jambaroo Abbey in New South Wales, Jo made her oblature (or oblation) on 1 April this year. Being a Benedictine oblate has ‘formalised’ what Jo refers to as a ‘radical lifestyle’. She says, ‘My lifestyle was already very different to most Catholics. I was journeying very closely with a spiritual director. I was spending far more time in the Word than most Catholics. I was going to Mass pretty much every day. And I had a yearning in my life to make this lifestyle that I was living more official. And because the Benedictines are so committed to the Word of God, lectio divina, that really clinched the deal for me.’
She says, ‘Becoming an oblate has been an absolute joy and a blossoming flower in my life.’ It means living according to the rule of St Benedict as far as her state of life allows. For Jo, this includes an hour minimum immersed in the Word of God, daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) and living in the spirit of St Benedict—a deeply contemplative state of life.
It is this lifestyle that fuels Jo’s far-reaching and active ministry in preaching the word across the world to lay men and women and religious communities. She is ‘activated’ by her time of contemplation, and her time of contemplation is activated by her preaching ministry. ‘They balance each other out so beautifully,’ she says.
Jo continues to travel the world preaching the word of God. She was recently in Rome, Italy, where she attended the Fifth World Congress of Benedictine Oblates. She was one of 150 oblates from monasteries and abbeys from across the world who gathered to discuss the way forward for the Benedictine oblate vocation.
Jo said it was a wonderful honour to represent Jambaroo Abbey and other Australian Benedictine oblates.
‘I have said to the Lord multiple, multiple times: “Lord, whatever, wherever, whenever, to whoever—I am at your service.” And his answer and reward for that has absolutely delighted and surprised me. I am just so grateful to God for the life he has given me. I love my life. And it’s all gift and grace from God. He is all of the joy.’
For more information about Jo Hayes, including opportunities to participate in retreats and to access various resources including for lectio divina, visit www.johayes.com.au.
VMCH11 December 2023
Melbourne Catholic08 December 2023