After an almost six-year journey the Gaudium et Spes Diocesan Plenary Committee gathered for the final time on Tuesday 24 October for a Mass of Thanksgiving and celebratory dinner. Before Mass commenced, team members were invited to offer their reflections on the journey and to share the things for which they were most grateful.
In January 2018, the Plenary journey began with the appointment of Gaudium et Spes Diocesan Plenary Committee by Bishop Pat O’Regan, following the Australian Catholic Bishops’ announcement, in November 2019, of their intention to hold a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia. Bishop Pat named the Diocese of Sale’s Plenary Team after the title of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church “Gaudium et Spes” that is, Joy and Hope. As Bishop Greg reminded us at our Thanksgiving Mass on 24 October, “The opening words of Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965) – Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World are etched upon this Committee:
The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy, hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts (n.1) For theirs is a community composed of men and women, who, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards and towards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for every person.
It was this impetus that Bishop Pat O’Regan placed upon the efforts of those who nominated and were appointed to the Gaudium et Spes committee.”
The G & S team has led and guided the People of God in the Diocese of Sale along the journey to the Plenary Council, which commenced with Open Parish meetings in every parish of the Diocese, explaining the idea and intent of the Plenary Council, and then engaging people in parishes, schools, councils and institutions, in conversations of faith, in listening and dialogue, as we all sought to discern the question “What is the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Australia at this time?”
The G & S team in under the leadership of Sophy Morley, helped facilitate information sessions, assisted the formation of Plenary Council animation teams in each parish, set up diocesan plenary networks, guided discussions, led prayer and provided discussion and prayer resources in preparation for the Plenary Council. Along the way, we celebrated our faith with the Pilgrimage of the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Diocesan Plenary Candle, visiting each parish and school and culminating in the wonderful 2019 Diocesan Assembly in Warragul with the theme - Sharing Our Story, Celebrating our Faith, Shaping Our Future. There, over 300 people representing their communities in parishes, schools, and church groups and councils, gathered in prayer, discussion and reflection, proposing pastoral pathways of action for the Diocese of Sale. Those pastoral initiatives can be downloaded from https://www.cdsale.org.au/ideas-for-pastoral-initiatives
Despite the challenges of several years of the COVID pandemic, the G & S Committee continued to meet online via new, improved virtual meeting platforms. Virtual gatherings also flourished in every part of the diocese, whether it was for worship, prayer or online discussion and reflection groups.
The Plenary Council’s First Assembly was delayed for a year and then in 2021, it became obvious that the pandemic was still very much a reality. Accordingly, the Australian Bishops decided to hold First Assembly on the Plenary Council as an entirely virtual event. The Plenary delegates from the Diocese of Sale (Bishop Greg, Fr Peter Slater, Fr Denis O’Bryan, Katherine Jelavic and Lize Privitera) together with Sr Mary Olofu SON (representing her religious order) had to familiarize themselves very quickly to the new technologies of online gatherings and breakout groups.
During this time, also, came the announcement from Pope Francis of his intention to convene a Synod of Bishops on the topic of synodality with a unprecedented synodal process involving the consultation of all the people of God in the global Church. The Synod process was officially launched on 10 October 2021, the day of the Closing Mass for the First Assembly of the Plenary Council in Australia. The Second and final Assembly of the 5th Plenary Council was held in Sydney in July 2022. The Decrees of the Council have been published together with a Pastoral Guide Carrying forward the Plenary Council: As we continue the journey together. Download the guide at
In the journey to the Synod, the G & S Committee was instrumental in facilitating and guiding the diocese in the global Consultation phase of the Synod preparation process. Our diocesan team developed prayer and worship resources for that three-month period of consultation including the Coffee Conversation discussion leaflet which was then adopted by the Australian Catholic Bishops and shared on their Synod webpage. Virtual discussion groups were hosted by the diocese, giving people an opportunity to gather online to share their experiences and discuss the questions posed. Together with every Catholic Diocese in the world, we submitted a diocesan synthesis of all the responses collected from our community. View the diocesan synthesis and the national synthesis https://www.cdsale.org.au/synod-of-bishops The First Assembly of the Synod has just now concluded this past week after one month of conversation, prayer, reflection and discernment. The final Assembly will take place in October 2024.
Over this past year, the Gaudium et Spes Committee has been instrumental in drafting Statutes for a new Diocesan Mission Council. That work has continued, with extensive consultation, for much of the past year. Now, with a new Diocesan Mission Council about to be appointed by Bishop Greg Bennet, the work of the Gaudium et Spes Diocesan Committee has now been completed.
The Diocese pays tribute to Archbishop Pat O’Regan for his vision and pastoral leadership in establishing the Gaudium et Spes Committee and for his energy and commitment to the Plenary journey. We are also very grateful to Bishop Greg Bennet, who as Archbishop Pat’s successor in our Diocese, continues to inspire and guide us in Pope Francis’s vision for a transformed Church that seek to walk together on our Christian journey.
Bishop Greg in his homily at our Thanksgiving Mass reflected on the role of the Gaudium et Spes Committee and the work of its members:
“Each of you have been so engaged in the presence of “vigilance” watching and listening for the sounds of the presence of God. You have found ways to engage with our parishioners and clergy; there have been small groups, “town hall” meetings, the assembly, the use of social media and internet to do one task to engage with the questions of the Church in the Modern World. We have heard of the joys and hopes, grief and anguish of our people. We have tuned our ear to identify the poor and vulnerable in our midst. We have grappled with issues which prevent people wishing to belong to the Church, or those who have felt shunned by our actions, theology, or pastoral ignorance. All this has been achieved by listening to the Spirit and the lens of Jesus Christ, who as St Paul reminds us came us as “an abundant free gift.”
You have been midwives of mystery. You have enabled something to come to birth in our Diocese. The mystery dwells within our people. You have enabled so much to come to life. Like any birth there have been moments of worry, anxiety, concern, and confusion. What I have admired has been your commitment to one another, to the sharing of faith and ideas, and the clear sense of this particular mission – for all this I say thank you!”
At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Greg presented each member with a beautiful hand-painted Aboriginal Cross from the Santa Teresa Centre (Ltyentye Apurte, NT).
Convenor, Gaudium et Spes Diocesan Committee.
Gaudium et Spes Members:
Bishop Pat O’Regan (2018-2020)
Bishop Greg Bennet (from 2020)
Fr Peter Slater (VG until 2022)
Fr Bernard Buckley( VG from 2022)
Siji Dominic (Pakenham)
Sophy Morley (Convenor)
Jennifer Fitzgerald (Sale)
Michelle Grimsted (Bairnsdale)
Jenifer Hanratty (Traralgon) (2018-2019)
Mike Hansen (Traralgon)
Fr Brendan Hogan (Narre Warren)
Katherine Jelavic (Berwick)
Deacon Mark Kelly (Warragul/Drouin)
Lize Privitera (Mary MacKillop Primary School, Narre Warren North)
Dominic Ryan (Catholic Education)
Anne Taylor (Catholic Education)