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CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn’s CEO Anne Kirwan’s Keynote Address to Staff for 60th Anniversary
September 01, 2017

Thanks to Warren for providing such a wonderful welcome to country.  I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today, the Ngunnawal people, and acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city, this region, and in particular, to our sector.  I would also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who maybe attending today’s gathering.

Why are we here?

Thank you for taking time out of your day to celebrate our 60th year and join us for our Staff Birthday Party!  And thank you to those involved in organising this event.

CatholicCare’s mission is simple, we aim to provide quality services to those most in need – in both the ACT and surrounding NSW regions.   Our doors are open to every human, regardless of socio-economic status, age, gender, race, sexuality, or religion – we welcome everyone.

This year we – as CatholicCare – we celebrate 60 years of serving our community.  But where did we come from?

CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn is of course, an entity of the larger Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn.  The Archdiocese evolved from the Diocese of Goulburn, and Canberra was created as a parish in 1928.  The first parish priest of Canberra was Monsignor Haydon – and many of you will recall the Haydon Annexe that our Youth Programs worked out of in Manuka for several years which was obviously named after him.  St Christophers school was opened that year in Manuka, and now makes up the Catholic Education Office precinct in Manuka.  In fact, our lovely Bishop Pat Power went to that school as a child.  And it was opened by the Good Samaritan Sisters, who also built this building we are meeting in today, and it was their old convent.

In 1938 the cathedral stone of St Christophers was laid, and the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn was created in 1948.

Around 1957 (60 years ago) there were regular meetings across Canberra involving Catholic community members who were volunteers providing ad hoc services and support to each other and families in need.  One such group was the Marian Club organised by Fr Lynch.  Again many of you will recognise that Marian is the name of the new Independent Living Units developed in Manuka on the site of our old office.  Fr Lynch was a key figure in supporting this group of parishioners who volunteered their time across Canberra to support those who needed help.

Then in 1959 there was a significant change in Australia, as the government passed the Matrimonial Causes Act which united all Australian States under one matrimonial law, and one divorce law.  You can imagine that the Catholic Church had serious concerns regarding these changes and laws on divorce, and the Australian government responded by offering Catholic Diocese across Australia a fund of $5,000 pounds to train people to become marriage guidance counsellors.  The Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn was one of a few diocese across Australia to accept this funding.

As such, the Catholic Marriage Guidance Bureau was born, and commenced in 1960.  This was CatholicCare’s first name!  This also marked the beginning of the Church officially receiving government funding to provide services within its regions, and saw the movement from ad hoc volunteer based parish activities to a more coordinated response.

Fr Lynch became the first Director of the Bureau, and became the first staff member.  He quickly recruited other members of the Archdiocese to train as marriage counsellors, who all worked part time mainly after hours to provide counselling services to the community for the next 20 years.

During this time the Bureau and its team of part time staff worked with an ANU professor Mark Pentony and he is regarded as the key person who brought this part time community based volunteer approach to counselling to a professional model.  Many of you will recall that our Board room in Manuka was named the Pentony Room after this influential clinician, and now the board room here at Red Hill.

These services began to be provided out of our old Manuka offices.  In 1972 the Marriage Bureau began offering marriage education courses, and we still offer these today should any couple wish to be married in a Catholic Church.

In 1977 Fr Lynch stood down, and the Archbishop undertook a review of the pastoral activities within his Archdiocese, and as a result Fr Tom Wright was appointed as the new Director of Catholic Social Services (our second name).  This change saw the centralisation of services to Manuka, including Marriage Counselling, Natural Family Planning, Pre-Marriage Education, School Counselling, Family Life Education, Canberra Homemaker Services for families in distress, Rainbows a program for children whose parents separated or divorced, Catholic Church Insurances and Refugee Resettlement.  Fr Wright was a strong political advocate and retired in 1991.  The counselling wing in Manuka was named after him.

In 1991 Catholic Social Services (this was the plaque in the wall outside our manuka offices remember) hired a new Director Fr Southwell, and also renamed itself Centacare across Australia (our third name).  At this time, we were also offering Mediation and Canberra Family Support programs, as well as FACES and protective behaviours.  The total income was $172k.

It was around 1992 that Centacare with the support of Sr Jeanie Heininger lobbied the government for funding for disability services.  This funding saw the commencement of our disability care services and our first group home, and was the beginning of our NDIS services today.  When Fr Southwell stepped out, Sr Jeanie acted in his role until a permanent Director could be appointed.

In 1994 Centacare appointed its first lay Director (which means not a member of clergy) Mr Neil Harrigan.  This saw another shift with Neil coming to Centacare as a practicing Psychologist at a period of significant change within Australia and government and welfare services.  This was a time when the government began outsourcing its programs to the community, and we saw significant growth and investment into community organisations.  The income at the time of Neil commencing was around $800k a year, and Neil was told they could only afford his wage for 12 months.  At a time when most of the funding came from the Church, Neil needed to grow and build the agency, and he did.

Neil, with this small team, significantly expanded the organisation, adding the JPET, PSP, SAILS Program, Ainslie Village, Open Employment, Dorothy Sales Cottages, ACCESS EAP ACT, Reconnect ACT and NSW, the LODGE, Hands on Studio, Refugee Resettlement, Homelinx, Youth & Wellbeing, Sobering Up Shelter, Comorbidity Project, Youth Connections, CatholicCare Migration Service, Flexible Family Respite, AIM, ASSIST, MINOSA House, Mature Carers, Towards Independence TWIN, HACC, HASI HARI, Partners in Recovery, STEPS, Transitional Housing, EAP services, Better Access, Health in Mind ATAPS Suicide Intervention, GrogWatch, Regional Aged Care Assessment, LINC and SINC to the organisations offerings to the community, as well as two retirement villages.  A legacy to Neil, the organisation grew to be a $16 million large diverse agency during this 20 year tenure.

In 2005 Centacare sought to become Quality Assured, and has been operating against quality standards now for over 12 years. In 2009 the organisation changed its name again to CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn following the agreement by the Bishops to better reflect who we are (this is our fourth name).

We also developed our first Reconciliation Action Plan!

Neil Harrigan semi-retired in 2014, and handed the reins to the first female lay Director in me – Anne Kirwan.  His is a hard act to follow.  The last three years have continued to see significant change for CatholicCare, as we continue to evolve and change and seek to adapt to government legislation and priorities and respond to community need.

Most noticeable has been the transition into the NDIS and the cessation of many of our well known programs into individual packages of care.   However this has enabled us to offer new services to people with a disability like Speech Therapy, Home Maintenance & Gardening, NDIS counselling and behaviour support.  We have also seen the commencement of several new services, like Next Step High Intensity and Next Step Youth Clinical Programs, our ATOD Reaching Out Program and the new Complex Case Management ATOD Program that replaces Comorbidity, the Safer Pathways Program in Goulburn and Queanbeyan, Community Home Support Packages for the elderly in Braidwood and Southern Highlands, and Community Assistance and Support packaged in the ACT, as well as the significant achievement of registration as a Community Housing Provider and that of an Aged Care Provider.

CatholicCare has not stopped growing, changing and taking on new opportunities.

During the last 60 years we have seen 14 Prime Ministers (I didn’t count Rudd twice) and their relevant governments and agendas come and go.  We are still here.

Through all this change and turbulence, our focus has been clear.  To support those who are living on the edges, who are marginalised and who need assistance.  We have sought to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching in our daily work – by ensuring that we treat every person with dignity and respect and do our best, with what we have.

And throughout those 60 years, with our history laid out before us, one thing is clear.  That the Catholic Marriage Guidance Bureau, Catholic Social Services, Centacare, or CatholicCare – whatever our name, is an organisation made up of people, seeking to help other people, to make their lives better, to ease their burdens and help on their journey to recovery.

We are an organisation made up of people, initially volunteers, and then through the years, reflecting the changes within community, government and services, an organisation made up of professionals, seeking to do good.

We have a legacy of helping to maintain, and I look forward to working with each and every one of you to add to this history, to ensure that every person who comes into contact with CatholicCare, leaves in a better situation.

Without you, our staff, we cannot achieve our mission.  Over the last 60 years, hundreds of staff have walked through our doors, and given their time and energy to our organisation.  Sometimes, it hasn’t been easy work.  But together, we have done amazing things.

So today, we celebrate our 60 years, of giving and working together, of developing and building this organisation, and our services, to be recognised as a quality organisation that makes a difference.

So thank you to everyone who has contributed to the last 60 years.  Who knows, we might all be here to celebrate our 100th !!!

Happy 60 years CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn!!