In September, 2018, I received a bemusing phone call from Anthony Gordon, the director of Catholic schools in a rural Australian Diocese. He asked me whether I would consider applying for the position of Diocesan Director of Religious Education and Mission. At the time, I was working in my “dream job” as a professor of religious education at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia. I had just completed the book that, I thought, summed up everything I had learned as a parent, teacher, catechist, and college professor through forty years of professional life, and I was ready to retire. The suggestion that I should change course at that stage of life was preposterous! The diocese in question, Wilcannia-Forbes, was the size of Texas and its eighteen schools, for the most part, could only be reached by long and lonely driving. I thanked the director for his confidence in me and then told him that it was not really what I wanted to do at this point in my life.
Yet, almost from that moment, I could not think of anything else. Was this a call from God? Was I being asked to put what I had learned into practice in this very challenging environment? I pondered it for a couple of weeks, and then decided to visit and pray at the grave of Australia’s (so far) only saint. St. Mary Mackillop had founded an order of religious sisters whose purpose was to bring the Gospel to the people of isolated communities. After this, with complete serenity, I knew what I had to do. With one day to go, I applied for and was appointed to the position.