Nun says love essential to mission service

Sr Anne Gardiner’s six-decade mission service to Australia’s remote Tiwi indigenous population began with one simple instruction: “Love them.”

The 86-year-old Gardiner was the guest speaker at the Australian Embassy for last week’s Holy See celebration of International Women’s Day.

Gardiner, who is a sister of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, says loving the Tiwi people was what she tried to do all through her life.

“Love them means to be non-judgmental, accept them as people, don’t place yourself above them – I made all those mistakes, but it kept on coming through: love them.

“Love them in their poverty, love them in their beauty, love them in their cultural ways, love them.”

Gardiner says this mandate of love was the advice given to her by Bishop Francis Xavier Gsell M.S.C.

Not sure how to proceed with her new mission, Gardiner sought Gsell out when she was asked to move to Australia’s Tiwi islands in 1953.

Gsell, who founded the Catholic mission on the island in 1911, advised the 22 year-old Gardiner to “Love them.”

Gardiner’s mission included serving the Tiwi people and helping them to adapt to the rapid changes in the western society around them.

A primary role she held for several years was principal of the island’s Catholic school.

She says this role included hard-learned lessons in what it meant to relate to the people she served.

It involved taking on “the smell of the sheep,” rather than placing herself above them.

She says the biggest lesson she learned was simply how to listen.

This meant getting to know and accept the Tiwi ways and working with their cultural traditions rather than speaking as someone from the outside and expecting them to completely adapt to western models.

“The biggest gift you can bring to indigenous people is to listen to what they are saying,” she says.

By listening, one is able “to communicate with them so that you know you are really understanding what they are saying.”




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