(Left to right) Gabrielle McMullen, Stancea Vichie, Geraldine Vytilingam and Bernadette Wallis.

Interview with Geraldine Vytilingam, recipient of Fr John Wallis Scholarship

In this interview, Geraldine Vytilingam talks about her experience as a new student at the University of Divinity in Semester 1, 2023. Geraldine is the first recipient of the Fr John Wallis Scholarship, made possible by the generous support of the Missionary Sisters of Service. 

Fr John Wallis wasn’t afraid to minister to people at the margins of society, especially the most rural and remote people. Now working and studying in a rural area, I feel a deeper connection to the story and experiences of Fr John. I’m inspired by his gentle yet active approach to community building, and how he applied a ‘can-do’ attitude to equip others and bring about justice. It’s been delightful hearing first hand recounts of Fr John’s life, from the Missionary Sisters of Service (MSS). I’ve also been reading Around the Kitchen Table with the Missionary Sisters of Service by Penelope A. Edman. In the book, it recounts how Mrs Kit Hawkins, a mother on Bruny Island in the south of Hobart asked Fr John in 1933, “but haven’t our children souls as well as those in the towns and cities?” He prophetically acted upon this question, through his pastoral heart and service to the church. Fr John had the tenacity to empower women through the MSS and reiterated the importance of female leadership in ministry (even when others disagreed). His legacy reminds me to persevere, and to deeply listen to the needs of the time and places Christians are invited to minister to.

During high school, two of my religious education teachers had completed courses of study through Catholic Theological College. Their passion for the faith and commitment to enhancing authentic Catholic education was infectious. Looking back, their wisdom planted seeds for me to consider the University of Divinity as a place of higher education. In my young adulthood, the opportunity for cross-institutional studies through other Christian colleges also piqued my interest. Whilst I am predominantly an online student, I appreciate the opportunities to see other classmates in person through events, and to utilise the diverse literature within the University of Divinity’s libraries.

A highlight of my studies so far has been ‘Christian Spirituality A’ (DS8003C) by Dr Chris Morris, Rev Dr Daniel Szewc OMI and Dr Chris Knauf. The unit is a journey of intellectual and spiritual nourishment. The readings, lectures and reflections have been efficacious. The subject carries you through the spirituality of the Desert Fathers to the likes of Augustine, Hildegard de Bingen and Bonaventure. The story on The Life of Antony by St Athanasius has been particularly influential for me, in considering what a contemplative and active spirituality looked like for the early Christian “desert dwellers.” It’s incredible to see how their wisdom paved the way for many writers to develop formalised ‘ways of life’ for Christian communities through the ages.

At present, studying theology enhances my work within Catholic education, particularly in liturgy and social justice. After completing my Graduate Diploma in Theology at the conclusion of this year, the scholarship will continue to support me in pursuing a Master of Theological Studies through the University of Divinity in 2024. There’s so many topics I’m interested in doing a thesis in— and I have about eight different areas of interest (and counting) at this point! In the future, I hope to pursue a PhD, most likely in the areas of Missiology or Anthropology of Religion. I would love to work on understanding how rituals can assist in reconciliation practices between the Church, the government and Indigenous peoples.

I would encourage anyone considering starting a theology degree to give it a go! Whether it be a single subject or a whole course, there’s such a breadth to discover about the Christian faith. Theology introduces you to so many incredible writers and thinkers. Allow your weekly readings to infuse into your spiritual life, which in turn transforms the lens in which you view life, and the way you interact with others. The lecturers are very helpful in supporting you as you discern your own perspectives and understandings.

I am deeply grateful to the MSS and their Stewardship Council for their encouragement and guidance this year. It’s been a great privilege to be accompanied and mentored by Stancea, Bernadette, Gabrielle and the extension of the MSS community. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed catching up with the Sisters during my term breaks, and have cherished their wisdom through their stories of past mission days. Their faith in me, my studies and my work in rural areas is a massive blessing, which I thank God for.


Stancea Vichie mss, Congregational Leader at Missionary Sisters of Service said:

“It was wonderful to spend time with Geraldine over lunch and to learn more about her experiences in life.  As well as her studies, she shared stories of working with young people in Bundaberg and Rockhampton in Queensland and now of her first weeks in Mary MacKillop College Swan Hill where she has received a great welcome.  She has expressed gratitude for the opportunity the John Wallis Scholarship is offering her and is still getting used to the idea that such an opportunity has come her way.  Her love of music in liturgy symbolises the song which is her life.  Geraldine’s passion for justice, and the joy she radiates will be a gift to all she meets.”

Add comment

About VOX

VOX brings members of the University, especially academic staff, into conversation with churches, the community and you. It publishes original material and may republish or link to items from blogs, social media and news media.