This story was originally written for Melbourne Catholic, published on 19 November 2020.
Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.These words of Saint Catherine of Siena resonate strongly with Pip McIlroy as she strives to live a “whole-hearted life” inspired by, and deeply rooted in her Catholic faith.
The 32-year-old Collingwood resident is Group Mission Integration Manager – Formation and Ethics at St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA), a role that is integrated with her own personal values, and to the life and mission of her work at St Vincent’s.
‘Part of the formation aspect of my role is to work with the Mission Leaders in each of the facilities and divisions, to assist with connecting staff in their individual roles and their own sense of vocation, with the mission of St Vincent’s as a whole,’ she said. ‘The Mission Leaders accompany staff in making decisions that are true to our Catholic heritage and to the heritage and tradition of the Sisters of Charity who founded our organisation.’
The ethics aspect of my role involves accompanying and educating staff so that, at their different levels of responsibility in the organisation, they feel equipped to engage in and lead ethical decision-making processes in their day-to-day work. Sometimes that’s in a clinical setting when more urgent things come up, but a lot of the time it’s in the vein of organisational ethics. How do we make sure that our values really come to life in the way that we work and in the decisions that we make?’
Pip said her role at St Vincent’s is “a great privilege” and follows a lifetime of personal formation that has seen the integration of her own “head, hearts and hands at the service of others” being at the core of her mission.
‘Through my Catholic upbringing in my family and education, what was instilled in me was the privilege that it is to be of service to others,’ she said. ‘And that the most important thing in life is to love others and foster community such that God might recognise it.’
Throughout my work, I’ve sought to do things that are geared towards creating community, such that those who are disadvantaged or at risk in any particular situation, are prioritised rather than forgotten.’
‘I’m especially grateful for my Catholic background because I think it’s given me a framework for thinking through big and small decisions. So, in my work I’m passionate about making that framework really visible because I think it has a lot to offer our sometimes chaotic world and fragmented existence. I think what it teaches us about how we are as individuals and in communities is really worthwhile.’
Pip delights in the knowledge that she was born at St Vincent’s Hospital in Fitzroy, a campus of the SVHA group she now works for and grew up in Kew with her parents and siblings. She is the youngest of four children. She attended Our Lady of Good Counsel Primary School in nearby Deepdene and went to Genazzano FCJ College in Kew.
Growing up, her Catholic faith was grounded in her family and school life. ‘The most significant thing for me was the example of “faith-in-action” of both of my parents,’ she said. ‘Their default is to help others in whatever way they can and there’s also a courageous element, too, of them being willing to go into challenging situations to see if they can somehow assist.’
We’re practicing Catholics and we talked about it in our family. It was something that was alive. At school there was always a service element and the FCJ Sisters have outreach ministries across the world. I always felt it was important to take advantage of those opportunities.’
Formation of faith and applying the principles of care and service for the other continued throughout Pip’s University years. She studied an Undergraduate in Arts majoring in History, Philosophy and Italian at Melbourne University and was also part of the Magis Youth Ministry Program. Her first job post-University was as a secondary school teacher with the Teach for Australia program, which aims to combat educational disadvantage by putting high achieving graduates into schools that are located in areas of a lower socio-economic status.
Pip credits an opportunity to study theology with the Broken Bay Institute in NSW, thanks to a scholarship granted through the then Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship (now called Leadership for Mission), as being foundational to who she is today, and to where she finds herself now working.
She explained, ‘We were a group of 17 women from across Australia taking part in formation and interfaith development and we really got to know each other as a community. There are so many different examples of women from that program who are now serving the Church in different ministries and doing so, so wholeheartedly. I’m really indebted to that program. Without that opportunity to be mentored in that community and sponsored to do a theology degree, I really don’t think I’d be where I am without that.’
Pip has walked the Camino in Spain and has worked at Jesuit Social Services in its Corporate Diversity Partnerships Team. She joined St Vincent’s in 2019. As well as her formation and ethics work, she has recently taken on leading St Vincent’s Modern Slavery Project, which was developed in collaboration with Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH). This involves the training of front life staff, specifically people working in emergency departments, so that they can identify someone who might be a victim of modern slavery (such as human trafficking, slave labour or forced marriage) in order to connect them to appropriate services and safety. It also involves procurement and looking at St Vincent’s supply chains across their sites in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Pip explained that it is her faith and spirituality that keeps her grounded and focussed, particularly during difficult and challenging times. The COVID-lockdown period being no exception.
‘It’s been an interesting time for us to think about some really core lessons from Catholic theological ethics. It’s clear that its imagination has something to offer in this time in the sense of helping answer the question of “how do we move forward making sure that our priorities are in the right place”? In terms of formation, this time has given us a refreshed view of the importance of moving through boldly and not shying away from who we are and who we serve and why we do what we do.’
‘In my personal time, it’s been a good opportunity to slow down a bit and have more time for reflection and prayer and being attentive to the movement of the spirit.’
As Melbourne emerges from COVID-lockdown, Pip feels a sense of hope and optimism. She is looking forward to that renewed sense of community and a deeper sense of valuing each other. ‘This COVID lockdown period has demonstrated starkly that we’re all in each other’s hands. It’s so clear now that the individualistic, sometimes consumerist view of “every person for themselves” just doesn’t work. And the physical separation that we’ve all experienced has highlighted so much how relational we are and how valuable each person is.’
‘I’m excited because I think our Catholic ethical tradition has a lot to say about how we can move through the world in the sense of taking seriously the responsibility that we have for each other.’
Pip finds inspiration in the example of Jesus. ‘At every opportunity he was tender and loving and radically inclusive. He wanted to not only heal the wound but welcome the person whole-heartedly back into the community.’
‘When you’re working in the service of Jesus’ example, we were never told it was going to be easy and it’s always supposed to be complex too. I believe that when the day seems the darkest, that’s when our moment arrives. That’s when we’re there to sit up properly and help create the type of community that we want to be part of.’
Pip was part of the Plenary Council Writing and Discernment Group that prepared a paper on the theme of “How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is inclusive, participatory and synodal?” She is also part of the Emerging Leaders Network, auspiced by Catholic Social Services Victoria.