My vocation as an Assistant Numerary and meeting the Holy Father in Sydney

Helena Rajwer shares her experiences discovering her vocation as an assistant numerary and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Kenthurst Study Centre in 2008

Entrance to Kenthurst Study Centre

My vocation

It all began in my first year of University. I loved kids and the thought of inspiring a whole new generation through teaching was exciting. I was lucky enough to have a high school friend living in Fernhall , the centre of Opus Dei in Auckland, New Zealand, and it was she who invited me to the Wednesday night meditations, along with dinner and get-togethers afterwards.

It was at this time that my friend and I began the adventure of helping to run a youth group at a local parish for teenagers. We had so much fun organising the activities and helping them discover the faith. In my own life I was searching to satisfy my hunger for a deeper knowledge of the faith and for friendships with people I could learn from and look up to. I didn’t have all the answers to the hard questions put to me by my youth group and friends – I was asking the same questions myself. I had gone to different camps and youth groups for my age but what attracted me ultimately to the formation of the Work was the family atmosphere at Fernhall , the natural and coherent way people lived their faith and the solid doctrine I received, which in turn I passed on to our youth group.

I am so grateful for all the advice and formation we received through the confessional. I remember how my friends and I fired the priest with the latest questions, arguments and situations we were faced with during the week. In the meantime we had dinner and a get-together chatting and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. I gradually made Fernhall a second home where I found sure support and a deep and secure joy.

I had a few teachers throughout my life who inspired me to see the apostolic scope of the classroom for the student and society but the more I studied teaching and prayed the more my horizons widened and I realised that God might be calling me to a different kind of apostolate. One thing that I began to see was how the family is the nucleus in society. When the family breaks down, so does society. Faced with the desire to make this a continued reality in the world, the spirit of Opus Dei offered a way in which I could fulfil this desire more than I had ever imagined. The family atmosphere, the clear mission of the lay faithful in the world, the transformation of the little hidden acts of work, love and sacrifice of everyday embedded within the spirit of The Work were all very attractive and within my reach. I remember clearly the first words used to explain the vocation of Assistant Numeraries – “It’s like Our Lady”. Thank God I had wonderful parents who passed on to me a love for Our Lady shown through small acts of Marian piety. Like Our Lady, a mothers role is to make sure her family is well looked after materially and spiritually. Considering that I always wanted a big family Our Lord was offering me the possibility of returning the Love He has for me and caring for his family of Opus Dei. And so I discovered my vocation as an assistant numerary.

Day-to-day life

In 2005 I moved from New Zealand to Australia to work as a chef at Kenthurst Study Centre, a conference centre of Opus Dei in Sydney ( Food has always been one of my passions, so I was very excited at this opportunity.

Entrance to Kenthurst Study Centre

The life of a conference centre is never dull. The tone of the centre is based upon a spirit of service which the administration tries to foster through the little details poured upon everyone who enters the door.

While working within the different departments one can feel the hustle and bustle of the kitchen as we try to usher the meals out on time, with all the garnishes and accompaniments. We have the morning rush to do the bedroom and bathroom makeovers. There is the crisp, clean linen ready for the next course in the laundry and the gentle hum of the dishwasher comes from the scullery along with intermittent tune being sung while the cutlery is being polished. The most important thing however is the prayer behind each person, each plate and each puffed pillow helping each one to have the rest they need. People get the interior impulse to renew resolutions and pick up the graces being offered in the course or retreat. This is where my happiness lies, knowing that my daily work if done out of love, makes a massive impact on others.

World Youth Day in Sydney, 2008

One of the privileges I have had working at Kenthurst Study Centre was to take care of Pope Benedict in 2008. It was a dream to have World Youth Day on our doorstep! World Youth Day was an explosion of thousands of ecstatic youth eager to confirm their faith and to be with the Holy Father. We thought that being a conference centre we would be hosting various Priests and Bishops participating in World Youth Day, while pilgrims from around the world could camp in the back yard. We were happily surprised to hear the news that the Pope would be coming a few days earlier to rest with us before the events. So it was, rather, the Pope and his entourage staying with us, and army and police camped in our backyard! Saint Josemaría instilled in the spirit of Opus Dei such a love for the Holy Father so it was hard to contain our own joy, but it was a big responsibility to ensure the Holy Father’s safety and rest.

When the police moved in and around the property a few weeks before WYD, it truly hit home that the Pope was coming. On the day his plane landed we sat glued to the screen like many other avid Catholics. Afterwards we rushed about to finish the last minute details before the Pope arrived. After months of preparation it was an amazing sight to finally see the police escort coming up the drive complete with helicopters and have Pope Benedict home with us.

'Welcome home, Holy Father'

During the Holy Father’s three days at Kenthurst we were able to attend Mass with Him. We could see his obvious love and dedication to all the details of the liturgy. Those attending Mass were able to greet His Holiness individually afterwards. When I had the opportunity to greet him at this time I was only able to say ‘Welcome to Kenthurst Holy Father’. For many of the meals we printed a menu card, so at lunchtime I was able to say what I really wanted to say -‘Wilkommen zuhause’: Welcome home!

On the day Pope Benedict left he gave us some beautiful gifts, including a beautiful mosaic of our Lady. He also came to farewell us and we were all able to speak to him for a final time and give him some personal gifts which we had prepared earlier.

When attending World Youth Day I watched as thousands waited for a mere passing glimpse of Pope Benedict. It seemed so surreal that only a few days earlier we had been taking care of the Holy Father in our own home. We had had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities - so many had done so much to make it happen – and I continually wonder why we were some of the lucky ones to experience it.