Maree’s journey from 70’s rebel to retail evangelist

When the serene lady with the twinkling eyes, selling crucifixes and religious books, refers to herself as a “wild child” of the 70’s, you don’t doubt it for a minute.

With her fiery Auburn hair and tanned visage, one can still see in Maree Ataya a hint of a Northern Beaches “Stevie Nicks” resplendent in vibrant tie-dye and flowing skirts—and a mark of those turbulent times.

“I grew up one of nine, in the beaches of Sydney. We were raised in faith. But as we got older, my older brothers and sisters went totally and completely wild,” Maree said.

“My older brother became a heroin addict and he was like a father to me, it hit me hard.”

Maree, the youngest of her siblings, also fell into a lifestyle of rebelliousness and experimentation.

“It was all sex, drugs and rock and roll. It was the times,” she said.

“I’d see bands at the pub every weekend. INXS, Midnight Oil and the Angels.

“Got into the drinking scene and, not so much drugs, but occasional drugs, and lived a pretty wild lifestyle.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, the chaos of this tumultuous upbringing, Maree still went to church every Sunday.

Maree in her “wild child” days. Photo: Supplied.

The parish was conveniently just across the road from the pub.

“Sometimes I was drunk, but I would go to church, and I was sincere as well. I was searching, I was asking God to help me,” she said.

Maree believes her life would have spiralled down this dangerous trajectory, if not for a chance meeting with a young man studying to be a priest.

“He invited me to a Youth Rally. It was a Catholic event. It was at Manly Oval. Thousands of kids there. And I remember the lay preacher saying something like, ‘All you have to do is cry out for God to save you for help,’” she said.

“And so, I did!”

Surrendering to the power of this moment led to an unexpected encounter that changed her life, forever.

“I had this most incredible encounter with God. No one had ever told me that that you could encounter him! I felt this sense of well, incredible, unexplainable joy because it was like, I was loved anyway, no matter what.”

From that moment on, Maree began a journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening, shedding her old ways and embracing a new life dedicated to evangelisation.

“I knew there were so many young people out there who didn’t know this, who didn’t know that Jesus wants us to encounter him and wants to empower us and wants to change us.”

Her newfound faith steered her onto a new path. She joined the Youth Mission Team in the first year of their formation and stayed with them throughout much of the 80’s.

Soon, she’d meet her soulmate and husband, Atef Ataya and they quickly began raising their family of three.

Her passion for evangelisation never faded.

Catholic convert Maree ataya - The Catholic weekly
Maree with her family. Photo: Supplied.

“As a parent, I was part of the school community would often invite people along to, our events that we ran,” she said.

“I ran a women’s prayer meeting in the parish, and we had various programs which I would invite people to.”

Today Maree continues her mission to help others encounter God through her daily encounters in Mustard Seed Bookshop, the Catholic bookstore at St Martha’s in Leichhardt.

“I use it to evangelise. It’s been a real opportunity to share my faith. And that’s just that’s just a gift to me, because my greatest desire is to see our young people find meaning,” she said.

“There’s been a lot of twists and turns and a lot of, seemingly dead ends. But because we walk in faith, God turns those dead ends around.

“People like the ‘wild childs’ of this world. People like me.”

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