A Tapestry of Woven Threads – In Honour of Dr Janette Gray RSM
Dr Janette Gray RSM was remembered and celebrated at a dinner and lecture held at Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne on Friday 31 August.
Elaine Wainwright RSM showed how Jan’s thinking in her Masters and Doctoral work pointed to what would become a key theme in her thinking: the inclusion of all things in Christ through God’s love and engagement with the whole world, “A Tapestry of Woven Threads”. This ecological thinking process supported her thinking and teaching and drew people in to fellowship with God, with each other and with the world around them.
Alongside the lecture from Professor Wainwright, four of Jan’s former associates, all connected through the University, shared some reflections.
Dr Margaret Campbell was mentored by Jan in her doctoral studies and teaching.
I feel very fortunate to have been one of Jan’s students, to have had her on my Confirmation Panel for my doctorate, and also to have been mentored by her in my transition from student to teacher.
I valued and very much enjoyed Jan’s teaching style – the breadth and depth of her knowledge, her quick wit, her self-effacing humour and her ability to engage with her students – these were gifts to us all.
Just prior to completing my thesis, the opportunity to co-lecture a subject with Jan arose. The prospect of having Jan as a mentor for teaching theology was very welcome. I met with Jan in mid-December 2016 to plan our teaching.
Tragically, less than two weeks later, Jan died. Many have felt her loss keenly. Jan helped fan the flame of the Spirit in many people. I am blessed to have been one.
Reverend Dr Sally Douglas, Jan’s student in class and for her doctoral studies
Jan taught me at the United Faculty of Theology. I was struck by Jan’s simultaneous humility and depth of insight. She pushed us to investigate deeply. She was not satisfied with glib generalisations about anything. I was so moved by her teaching that I wrote to her afterwards to thank her.
When I came to undertake interdisciplinary doctoral research, I was delighted that Jan could be my systematic supervisor.
Jan was a sharp and penetrating thinker. She named truth, always with embodied humility and gracious humour. She demanded excellence. She gave clear, sometimes blunt, feedback.
When I began lecturing at the University of Divinity, Jan was my mentor. She offered her skills and knowledge generously, and she pushed me to consider the implications of my academic vocation.
Just released from hospital, with limbs in plaster, Jan launched my book. She must have been in agony, yet she was fully present, with eloquence and grace.
As a mentor, Jan was not competitive but open hearted, and an enthusiastic encourager.
For this I am forever grateful.
Reverend Dr John Capper, fellow PhD student and teaching colleague
Jan and I used to take walks around Cambridge – often from a place of learning to a place of richer understandings.
From Jan I learnt much of the rich and complex diversity of Australian Catholicism. I learned that the Church does not always control life well. Jan was not for control. She was a gentle, determined one-person resistance movement. A force to be reckoned with, a power to be engaged.
Nearly two decades later, Jan and I met up at the United Faculty of Theology, where Jan was Principal of the Jesuit Theological College. We talked. We tried to make sense of our institutional journey. We made little headway.
Jan was not only an encourager but a comforter. Both are powerful manifestations of the eternal Paraclete.
Soon after that fateful Christmas, I took a cross-country drive with the saddest doctoral student in the Universe. That final phase of Jan’s career has brought us back into connection through her student, my daughter. Journeying with Jan connected us again as scholars, as teachers and as ministers.
Mathew Crane, student mentored by Jan.
My ‘testament to a mentor’ is from the perspective of a student at what was the United Faculty of Theology. I was also a regular visitor to functions at Jesuit Theological College. Some of the brothers were my friends. And the wine cellar at JTC was much better than the meagre provisions at Trinity where I was resident!
Jan understood the complexity of the human condition and the struggle of daily living. She was never judgmental or pushed an agenda in her teaching. She drew on high end art, cartoons, classical music and, as I remember in one class, Johnny Cash’s song ‘I walk the line’.
Jan was feisty in meetings. Always clear and concise, she was an astute political commentator, a fascinating conversation partner, and a loyal friend.
I met with Jan when she was convalescing, for what turned out to be a life-changing conversation. Jan had attended my ordination in Ballarat and came to Warrnambool to read the scriptures for my first mass. I told Jan about a longing I had for the religious life. She was excited and cautious, and said “Mathew, do not ever think what you are doing now is in any way invalid. Don’t ever doubt God’s work in your life and ministry. Whether there or in religious life, you are choosing between two goods.”
In one of her talks (‘God Working in us All’ for the Year of Consecrated Life, see: http://www.catholicreligiousaustralia.org.au/index.php/item/1765-god-working-in-us-all) Jan said “people ask me how can I work for such a terrible institution as the Catholic Church, as throughout history there has never been such a collection of scoundrels, crooks, liars, thieves, rapists, paedophiles, murderers, and mass-murderers…. Surely God would choose something better….[I]f this Church and all it contains is God’s sign, then that means that there is room enough for me and my sinfulness, room enough for everyone in God’s plan. Through all this limitation we show how forgiving and loving God’s mercy is. This is the reason for my life.”
Thank you, Jan, for a life well lived.
Written by John Capper (originally appeared on the University of Divinity website).