Recently we marked the retirement of Marg Hayes, much-loved and respected coordinator of the Victorian Catholic AIDS Ministry.
After working for many years as a social worker and pastoral minister, Marg started coordinating the Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry in 2001. This was a time when the Ministry was looking beyond bereavement support, which had been its focus during the grief and loss of the early HIV epidemic. Under Marg’s stewardship, the Ministry adapted and filled an important role by attending to the spiritual needs of people living with HIV. Marg’s special contribution was providing sensitive and respectful pastoral care.
The Ministry became a place of welcome, and most importantly, hospitality. Community formed around the Monday lunch table. Friendships bloomed over the hearty cooking of the lovable (and hilariously straight-talking) Colleen. The Ministry welcomed, dignified and walked with folks living with HIV, regardless of their faith background. It is impossible to separate Marg from the Ministry she coordinated; both played a huge role in helping people navigate the stigma and shame imposed upon people living with HIV.
Marg’s work and impact wasn’t just within the Ministry, she was an integral part of the wider HIV community partnership. The team at Living Positive Victoria have worked with Marg over many years. Marg has been a regular at our Planet Positive events and has helped distribute our annual Holiday Hampers to people she knew were most in need. She regularly contributed to HIV sector meetings and working groups with humour and compassion.
At the final Monday lunch this week, farewell tributes flowed from around the room. People talked about how everyone Marg worked with was counted as and spoken of as a friend. Marg’s practice continually reminded people they were valued and loved, and that HIV did not diminish their humanity. Marg was not afraid to break the rules to place people before structures and systems.
Marg shared a personal highlight, when she worked with her HIV Ministry friends to co-author the book Angels in Disguise. It contains personal stories from many community members who continue to feel great pride in having their stories published. The book came together in just six months, perfectly timed for the international conference AIDS2014 in Melbourne.
Many wonderful stories were told at the farewell on Monday. Knowing smiles spread around the room when an infamous Pictionary game was mentioned, leaving others to wonder what went wrong with Marg’s attempt to draw ‘Paris’. Was the Eiffel tower more Gay Paris than she had intended? Marg has valiantly endured endless teasing ever since.
In 2019 Marg decided that, having written a book, it was time for the HIV Ministry group to write a song. The song was written at the annual retreat with the assistance of singer-songwriter Phil Hudson. It marked their connection as a family, and the song fittingly came together at the dinner table. Sparks of Beauty was sung and recorded by the group at a subsequent Monday lunch and released for WAD 2020.
“When the darkness comes upon us we reach out and connect. We are sparks of beauty in a family of love and light.”
Members of this family spoke with warmth and sadness at Marg’s departure, remembering her joy and energy and being wholly unable to count the ways that Marg helped and supported each person in the room. We all got a glimpse of how Marg lived out her theology and embodied the principles Catholic Social Teaching. She often worked with people falling through the cracks, who were marginalised or struggling to fit into other services. Marg made herself generously available to people who would’ve otherwise found themselves completely alone.
With Marg’s retirement comes the end of the HIV Ministry, but the community that Marg nurtured lives on.