While National Vocations Awareness Week is typically celebrated as a “week”, this year in Melbourne, we’re going to spend the whole month of August sharing stories of how local men and women of faith have discerned their vocation and the positive impact that has had on those around them.

In the letter below, writer and photographer Fiona Basile shares how her friendship and journey with the Missionary Sisters of Service, an Australian congregation of women, has impacted and inspired her own vocation as a laywoman on ‘mission in the world’.

Dear Missionary Sisters of Service (MSS),

We’re in the midst of National Vocations Awareness Week (and month) here in Australia. And though the emphasis is usually on ‘vocations to the priesthood or religious life’, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how your ‘Yes’ to live a life of service and love as consecrated women, motivated by your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, has deeply impacted and inspired me in my own vocation as a laywoman on mission in the world.

My story with you began in 2016 when I was commissioned by your leadership team to visit many of you in your homes to interview and record your stories, and to take portrait photos. I travelled to Toowoomba, Queensland; Hobart, Tasmania; Whyalla, South Australia and throughout local suburbs here in Melbourne, Victoria.

Upon each visit, I was greeted with open arms and big smiles. I was touched by your warmth and generosity of spirit from the outset. We often sat around the kitchen table as you shared your stories of what it means to be an MSS on mission in the world. And as the months and interviews progressed, I came to understand how important the ‘kitchen table’ was, and is in your ministry, which has helped me to appreciate more deeply my own kitchen table, and how God is present in these moments of gathering.

I heard many of you share that as young women, many of you knew you wanted to follow that deep call from God to live a life of dedicated service and love for others and Creation, but ‘not as a nurse or teacher’. Rather, you found a sense of place, purpose and mission in a fledgling community of women, founded in 1944 in Tasmania, by a young priest, Fr John Wallis. You joined the ranks of this pioneering group, charged with the mandate in Luke’s Gospel [14:23] to ‘go out into the highways and byways’ of Australia and beyond, being a presence of God’s love to all you encountered.

While the initial focus saw you travelling into rural and remote areas of Australia to be present among families and communities in need, you later moved into city and urban settings, walking alongside and helping those on the margins. In sharing your stories over the years, I have come to better understand my own calling as a laywoman on mission in the world.

When you shared those special and often ‘ordinary’ moments of being in a family home helping in some practical way or sharing a meal or walking gently alongside parents grieving the loss of a child, or supporting a man seeking safe refuge and asylum in Australia, I’ve come to understand more deeply that it’s in those every day, ordinary moments of life, that we can make God’s love present among others. And though I may not have the title of priest of religious, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity gives me a mandate: The laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world. [#2]

Dear MSS, through my friendship with you, having heard the many stories of how you make visible, the living presence of God’s love and care, I have gained a deeper sense of what my vocation, or call is, as as a baptised woman of faith. I can share my gifts of writing and photography with the world helping to build understanding and connection. I can be a woman of warm welcome and hospitality opening my heart, eyes, ears and arms to those around me –my family, my friends, work colleagues and the broader community.

And this is wherever I find myself. When I’m in Sweden sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of tea with a friend whose just lost her husband, being really present and attentive, I know in my heart that this is a graced moment. God is present. Or when I’m holding the hand of a dying woman in Melbourne, praying for her and speaking to her of past memories, I know this is a moment of blessing. And it is sacred. Indeed, it’s in those everyday, ordinary moments of life that I can be a living sign of God’s love in the world.

I must also thank you (and Pope Francis, of course), for helping me to have a greater awareness and appreciation for the land I walk on, its history, and the need to take care of Creation. Again, you have helped me to understand that this is our shared baptismal call, to care for Creation, though we may express it in different ways.

In the early years, the MSS used a caravan in their travels to remote and outback areas of Australia, which doubled as a chapel, classroom and accommodation. Though no longer used in the literal sense, I hear you speak of the caravan, or ‘caravanserai’ today as a symbol of your journey, which includes those of us who travel with you. Together, we are on this journey of making God’s presence known among others in the world—whether as priest, religious or layperson.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me and others, for your inspiration, and for helping me to go deeper within my own vocation as a photographer, writer, storyteller and woman of faith, in relationship with others in the world, today.

In closing, I’ll borrow the words of Fr John Wallis your founder, who often shared this blessing with each of you, and which has now found a place in my own prayer: May Mary’s mantle shield you and may the grace of God be yours.

With love and gratitude,