A sign from above

As soon as you enter the grounds of Mums’ Cottage in Holmesville, located on the outskirts of Newcastle, you can tell it is a place of welcome.

With smiling volunteers, coffee and biscuits, a pay what you can op shop and a variety of support groups, it’s a space where anyone can find a helping hand.

For more than 11 years Sister Helen-Anne Johnson and a band of volunteers have provided care at the Cottage, a role she said they all feel blessed to have, especially since she almost gave up on the idea.

“Around 13 years ago, while I was working in a pastoral support role at St Benedict’s Primary School in Edgeworth, teachers would send students who were struggling to visit me,” Sr Helen-Anne said, adding that it was these encounters that made her realise what God was calling her to do.

“After a while I worked out that these students’ mothers needed support to help their children – the more help they received, the stronger their children became.”

Not long after, Sr Helen-Anne started a weekly event at the school called ‘Mother’s Day.’ There, mums would gather to look after each other.

The concept was such a success that the sister felt compelled to grow the support community and went in search of a premise that could be dedicated to helping people from all walks of life.

After three years of searching for a suitable venue with no success, Sr Helen-Anne said she almost gave up.

“I thought I got the message from God very muddled up,” she said.

But then, in what could be described as a sign of divine intervention, she received a timely tip-off about a space that could be suitable.

“One of my dearest friends wrote to me and said the Uniting Church was planning to close their hall and so I arranged a visit.”

While Sr Helen tried not to read into it too much, she couldn’t help but feel that the hall’s Saint Helen Street address was somewhat of a positive message from God.  

“Once I was shown through, I thought it was a great space.”

She realised she hadn’t got God’s message muddled up at all. She was right where God planned for her to be.

“To me, that was the clearest sign I’ve ever had,” Sr Helen-Anne said. “I thought, the Lord wants his special home for mothers, and finally here it is.”

While the seed for the start of Mums’ Cottage was in the dream Sr Helen-Anne and the Sisters of St Joseph under the leadership of Sister Lauretta Baker, it was realised in collaboration with the Uniting Church and continues to flourish as an ecumenical venture with support from the Anglican and Baptist churches. However, Sr Helen-Anne eagerly explains that people of any faith, or of no faith at all, are welcome. 

“When you visit us, the focus is you, you are loved, it doesn’t matter how you come or what your journey is, this is a place for you,” Sr Helen-Anne said.

The open-door policy at the Cottage, which operates five days per week, does not just extend to mums either.

One of Sr Helen-Anne’s earliest memories of the Cottage is of a young man, who was in his twenties when he knocked on the door. She describes how he had been left with a two-week-old baby and had no idea how to care for it. In response, Sister Helen-Anne did what she does best, and called on the Cottage community to support him.

“They banded together to collect clothes, showed him the basics, and helped him look after his daughter until his own mother could move to the region to help,” Sr Helen-Anne said.

“It’s one of my favourite stories, it shows how important this place is to a wide range of people – even though it’s called Mums’ Cottage it’s really everyone’s cottage.”

Another proud moment from their history was the opening of a Mums’ Cottage in Perth in 2016, which occurred following an invitation to tell the Australian Church Women about the ministry of The Cottage. A lady from Perth who attended this conference, returned home to pray, and discern God’s will. Weeks later Western Australia Mums’ Cottage was opened. 

Sr Helen Anne and the community of volunteers remain in contact with their Western Australian counterparts, hosting them for a visit as recently as only a few months ago. 

The team of approximately 40 volunteers at Mums’ Cottage looks forward to creating many more transformational moments like these and are grateful for the support they also receive from local businesses and schools which assists them in their mission. In addition, they are thrilled to have secured $250,000 in Federal Government funding, which will go towards renovating the old church at the front of the property, enabling them to breathe new life into the service.

Mums’ Cottage is at 29 St Helen Street, Holmesville. Everyone is welcome. Call 4953 4105, email admin@mumscottage.org.au or visit www.mumscottage.org.au for more information.


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