Loreto Sister provides healing touch for asylum seekers

Loreto Sister Rachel McLouglin works as a physiotherapist and spiritual director and currently her ministry includes working with asylum seekers, which she describes as “an extraordinary privilege” and a place of “sacred encounter”.

By Rachel McLouglin IBVM

As a I continue to listen to the call of the divine in my own life I realise that nothing has been lost on the journey. All threads are woven together in some way. I find myself today working from a place of freedom that is more than I had ever imagined both in the physiotherapy and spiritual direction ministries that I find so life giving.

Sr Rachel McLouglin IBVM (second from left)

Sr Rachel McLouglin IBVM (second from left)

Over many years, I realise that I have been graced with a gift of touch or palpation, observation of body posture and movement, together with deep listening skills. This has been refined over time with abundant opportunities that have been cultivated through experience across a broad field of work and study. Examples include wide and varied encounters with patients, students, spiritual direction training, in giving the spiritual exercises, with spiritual mentors, my friends and family and community of Loreto sisters. Working with the asylum seekers as a physiotherapist some days feels like a culmination of my own vocation. The reality of my present work at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker Refugee Health Hub in Brunswick involves contact with vulnerable groups of people.

I am enabled to do a large volume of voluntary work by being a Loreto sister. Having the freedom to work in this way is an extraordinary privilege. I am often overwhelmed by the generosity, courage and compassion of the patients and staff I work with. Only last week I had a sacred encounter with an Iranian asylum seeker who had fled Iran with her baby and spent four years on Nauru. She experiences severe pains in her neck and arms and is being investigated for autoimmune arthritic condition most probably brought on by severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Her courage, wisdom and generosity are a gift. I am learning about her culture and religion as we journey together and in our last session, to my surprise on leaving, she told me she and her friend are praying for my hands. She said I had healing hands and is concerned that I use them all day. She wants me to be able to keep them healthy for the good work to continue with others. I feel so blessed whenever I think of her and her prayer. The amazing reality is I have one sacred encounter after another in this place. This place is holy ground and so very life giving.

Most often after these days I like to go to mass to reflect on the day and “refer all to God” an often referred to quote of Mary Ward’s. When I arrived at work last week I realised that my patient list was so full I would struggle to make the celebration of Eucharist after work. Then a colleague invited me to join the staff who had spontaneously decided to stay after work for drinks and nibbles around the table. I thought this would be a lovely idea so I accepted and looked forward to being with the others this way. I decided that this would be my Eucharist for the day. Then to my added delight, my next patient (who has fled her country and suffers injuries from severe physical abuse) came into the physio room and before our session began, she explained in broken English that she had come via the church and mass and had brought communion for me. Spontaneously receiving communion from her reminded me that this was holy ground indeed. Even though the day can be long, I receive far more than I can give. Some of my closest friends often tell me how I am always saying “God is more than I can imagine” and “God is a God of abundance”. Immersed in the wonder and awe of it all, I definitely found myself saying it again at work last week.

A favourite aspect of my vocation is to share the Spiritual Exercises in various forms. In September, I will be involved in leading a retreat called ‘Inner Peace and Friendship with Jesus’ with the Ballarat East Parishes in St Alipius Hall. A community that is in much need of the healing ministry of Jesus following all the horrific clerical sexual abuse that has occurred over so many years. All our wider circle of community prayers are welcomed and needed.

Christian call, imagination, desire and prayer, witness by saints such as Ignatius and Mary Ward, all of these gifts offer us a rich heritage we can draw upon as we listen and live out our own vocation.

This article was first published on loreto.org.au, the website of the Loreto Sisters of Australia and South-East Asia.