Catholic university chaplaincies are spaces where all students are offered friendship, community, opportunities to serve others and answers to their deepest questions in crucial formative years, says Natalie Ambrose, the new head of the Archdiocese of Sydney University Chaplaincies.
Ms Ambrose, 33, was appointed to the role at the end of January and works with chaplaincy staff and volunteers across Sydney’s major public universities; the University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales.
She previously worked for six years at the University of Notre Dame Australia chaplaincy and before that, the archdiocesan youth office.
Speaking to The Catholic Weekly at Sydney University’s orientation week, the day before the Sydney WorldPride festival, Ms Ambrose said it’s most important that chaplaincies remain a reliable, visible presence on campus to constantly extend friendship to all, including those with different views.
“Fr Raymond de Souza in his recent Scholarship in the Cathedral lecture defined it really well when he said that people need to belong first and then belief comes after,” she said.
“I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s what a lot of us have experienced over the last few years, in which we see a gender crisis and an identity crisis is happening, that we love and welcome people and it doesn’t mean we don’t have hard conversations sometimes. But when we’ve built a relationship first those conversations are different.
“… we’re really trying to provide an opportunity for people to grow in who they are and what they think, and why they think what they think.”
“We need to speak the truth in love. We live in a very broken culture and even if we’ve got the truth, just calling a spade a spade sometimes is not necessarily the wisest approach.
“We’re interested in dialogue, it’s important to have spaces where we can have different opinions.
“As a stable and reliable presence here on campus we’re really trying to provide an opportunity for people to grow in who they are and what they think, and why they think what they think.”
Ms Ambrose, whose older brother Jeremy works in Australian Catholic University’s Melbourne campus ministry, said she wouldn’t be the person she is today if not for the investment by Cardinal George Pell into university chaplaincies and other education and evangelisation initiatives for young people and adults.
“We are so lucky and to then now work in a place where I can build upon that good work of the people before me who have done incredible jobs is scary but exciting,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity and I’m really excited but I need lots of prayers!”