Language of respect unites

When Judy met Mick in 1964 they began dating; however, she was not convinced they would last long.

"I was an active member of the Church of England," Judy says with a smile, "and Mick is a devout Catholic."

 At that time, dating someone belonging to a different faith was a "big deal" says Judy.

 After a few weeks of courting, the two sat down to address her concerns. While Judy was keen to discuss the differences in their faith and its implications, it was Mick who said "yes, but we believe in the same God”.

 This sentiment of unity resonated with Judy, and the two continued their courtship. Eighteen months later, they married in the Catholic Church, not long after Vatican II. One of the outcomes of Vatican II was that Mass need not be presided in Latin.

 "The changes that came with Vatican II: the fact that the Mass was in English made it so much easier for me," Judy says.

 The weight of the foreign dialect on their union is ironic given that many years later the couple developed a profound passion for languages, which would go on to play a significant role in their relationship. 

 Five months after they married, Mick was deployed to the Vietnam War in an Australian Infantry Battalion. It was then that Judy reflected on a conversation she had with the priest who married them.

 "When we were preparing to marry in the Catholic Church, he asked that I sign a document that stated that if we went on to have children, I agreed to baptise them Catholic."

 Judy says signing the document was a significant moment made easier by the priest's compassion. 

 "He said, ‘Judy, I hate asking you to do this, but it's the Catholic law.’ His understanding meant a lot to me," Judy says, and added impetus for her calling to the Catholic Church. 

 "While Mick was serving in Vietnam, I continued going to Mass but also decided to undertake lessons as I thought this would help me to understand the Catholic faith that my children would be involved with," she says, "and when he returned, I was initiated in the Catholic Church."

 In the years to come, Mick and Judy had two children, and lived in various locations around Australia and in Papua New Guinea due to Mick's work in the army, while Judy carved out a career in nursing and midwifery.

Mick left the army in 1987 and took on a public service role in Canberra. He was then offered a position in Williamtown in 1987. The family moved to the area and settled in Dudley, which has remained their base ever since.

 Judy undertook a Bachelor of Arts and later a Dip Ed as a mature-age student, with a view to teaching English and Japanese to high school students. Once their children completed school and Judy had a few years of teaching experience under her belt, she headed to Japan for a year to teach, while Mick remained in Newcastle.

 It was an opportunity that ignited a passion in Judy, and upon her return, she took up a job with the Language Centre at the University of Newcastle.

 A decade later in 1998 after being made redundant, Mick undertook a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) course. Shortly afterwards, he departed for Vietnam on his own to get some valuable teaching experience.

Returning to Vietnam was an emotional pilgrimage for Mick, given the last time he was there, locals viewed him as the enemy. On his first day of teaching, the daughter of a government minister asked a question mid-way through his lesson.

 "Sir, I have a question for you", Mick recalls her saying. "Can you tell me the differences between Australians and Vietnamese? What are your aims? What are your purposes?"

"No, I don't think I can," responded a then 55-year-old Mick. "I'd rather talk about what's the same between the two groups, such as our emotions and feelings. My people in Australia, like your people in Vietnam, all love our family and friends."

 Mick's resolution to reinforce what unites us as people, rather than what divides us, once again shone through.

 At the end of his three-month expedition in Vietnam, Mick was invited to the wedding of one of his teaching colleagues. It was a breakfast service at Hoi Chi Min Museum with more than 500 guests. Mick says that partway through the reception, a line of about 100 men of similar age to him started to form. Unfamiliar with local customs, he wasn't sure what to expect, but he soon realised he was at the head of the line.

 "One by one they all hugged me and said (when translated to English) ‘we are all members of the brotherhood of survivors’," Mick says. 

 The men were former members of the North Vietnamese Army, pegged against him in war 32 years prior, but now lovingly embracing him and expressing their unity.

"It is an experience I will never forget; it made me feel absolutely small, but grateful."

Shortly afterwards, Mick reunited with Judy in London, and over the coming year they taught to international students in England, France, and Spain. Mick then went on to teach in Argentina for three months, while Judy returned to Australia.

With their love of language and other cultures firmly cemented, Judy returned to her position at the Language Centre, where Mick joined her upon his return. A few years later, Rotary asked Mick to provide English services at a hospital in Chile, an opportunity he cherished. Meanwhile, Judy undertook several more teaching stints in Japan, where generosity and kindness continually impressed her.

In 2006, Mick retired from paid employment but was restless, and in 2009 he contacted this Diocese to offer his assistance teaching English to newly arrived priests and sisters from India and Vietnam. To this day he still offers this help. However, now Judy has retired, Mick insists she is the main driver.

"I always defer to her," he says.

Currently, the couple help just one priest, Fr John from the Belmont Parish. Judy focuses on pronunciation, reading and writing, while Mick helps him prepare his sermon in English for Mass each week.

"I have to be careful I don't influence his interpretation of the Gospel," Mick says, adding the experience has enriched his faith.

"Reflecting on the Gospel as I work with Fr John helps me understand my faith better. It's far more refreshing than looking at the old grey catechism."

The couple agree that if their many and varied life experiences have taught them anything, it is that love and respect for each other transcend perceived language, cultural and faith barriers, and can unite people the world over. 

"Always try to consider things from the other person's perspective, and accept them despite your differences," Judy says.  

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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