My name is René and I came into contact with the Focolare in 1979 in Australia. I was then 17 years of age and living with my family. My father was searching at that time for some form of meaningful Christian community to belong to.
I met a handful of focolarini and attended a few mini-Mariapoli days. Some of the gen 2 boys were renting a house (the "Gen House") and I used to travel up on some weekends to visit and stay overnight.After completing secondary school in 1980 I visited my relatives in Ireland, and also stayed for some weeks in Loppiano. When I returned to Australia, I lived for 2 years in Brisbane and did not have any contact with Focolare. I became involved with and lived in a "Catholic Worker" community (inspired by the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York).In 1983 I lived in a "Gen House" until August 1986.
During those years I also attended some Mariapoli in Manila. I then stayed for a few months in Rome at the international Gen House near Grottaferrata within the domain of the focolarino "Opus". I proceeded to live in the Gen School at Loppiano for a further 6 months and on my way home, I stopped off to experience life with the Gen and focolarini of Manila and Tagaytay for 3 months in mid 1987.Within a year of returning from these intense experiences, I expressed a desire to become a focolarino. I lived together in a rented house together with a few other "esterni" for a few years. In late 1990 I moved into a focolarini household for a few months before returning to Loppiano again in January 1991.Together with other prospective focolarini who were not able to speak Italian,
I spent 12 months learning the language before entering the first year of "The School" of focolarini in 1991/2. I completed the second year in Montet in 1992/3 but was experiencing depressive symptoms and was asked to stay another year. Over the course 1993/4 I was offered the opportunity of talking with psychiatrist Dr Paul Schmidt, a focolarino in Zurich. I found the life at Montet so stifling that in September 1994 I asked for a ticket to return to Australia.I stayed in focolare for a month until
I found myself an apartment and employment. I lived alone. I was estranged from both my family and the focolare community. After about a year I suffered a major depressive episode and stopped working for a year.Ten years ago, in August 1996, at the age of 35, I began to go out with a woman, who I married in December 2000. I now have 4 step-children. Last year, the two boys (25 and 21 years old) and the eldest girl (23 y.o.) moved out of home. Our youngest girl is 16 years old.I am finding life "on the outside" to be challenging and rewarding as I struggle with mental illness. After a few years of marriage and some limited capacity in a role as step-parent, stress at work contributed to further episodes of major depressive disorder and over another year out of work.
I have just started to return to work a few months ago in the field of "Personal Support" (a program of assistance to people experiencing long-term unemployment). For 10 years, up until a few months ago, I had avoided any kind of work directly associated with caring for others.Having read Gordon's book, I am also eager to find and talk with others who have undergone such intense experiences and to put together some of the pieces of the puzzle which remains in my mind, heart, spirit and body.
May these lines bring a blessing to your reading of them in some way