In a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, those working in and with Catholic Social Services Victoria (CSSV), including some of its council, committee and member representatives, life and associate members, staff, and volunteers, gathered for an end of year celebration in East Melbourne, recently. The gathering provided an opportunity to celebrate, reflect and give thanks for the year that’s been.
Throughout the year, CSSV has hosted and co-hosted a number of well-supported events including the launch of Fr Frank Brennan SJ’s book in March, An Indigenous Voice to Parliament: Considering a Constitutional Bridge; the CSSV annual general meeting and commissioning Mass in April, the CSSV Annual Dinner in August, and the launch of the Shining A Light: A collaborative project working to build capacity for a whole-of-church response to domestic and family violence evaluation report in Warragul in November.
A number of reports, discussion papers and statements released by CSSV in 2023 have generated helpful conversations and meetings with sector and government including Relentlessly Pursuing Reconciliation in support of the Voice to Parliament, a submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission, the CSSV Victorian Budget Submission, Houses as Homes discussion paper on addressing immediate housing needs and the evaluation report on the Shining A Light pilot program in the Diocese of Sale.
There has also been much planning and preparation for the upcoming national social services conference in Melbourne, from 21-23 February 2024. Under the theme, ‘Commons, Commonality, Common Good’, this event will bring together social services experts from across Australia, inspire conversations, unity, and positive action for the common good.
‘The year has been a challenging one in many ways,’ said Jenny Glare, deputy chair of CSSV’s Council, ‘with many people deeply affected by the cost-of-living increases, social services and resources being very stretched, and division and conflicts of various scales, including at national and international levels—all having had deep impacts.
‘And it’s been a big year at Catholic Social Services Victoria. Much work was done in the lead up to the national Voice referendum with CSSV taking a lead amongst Catholic social services organisations in collaboration and engaging the Catholic community in discussions about the Voice proposal, and reconciliation more widely.
‘While the result of the referendum was not what we were hoping for, CSSV remains committed to walking with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, and the considerable connections and alliances that have been formed during the referendum work will be built upon as we continue to work for reconciliation and justice.’
With the aim of providing further reflection, inspiration, and encouragement, CSSV life member and Josephite Sister, Joan Healy, addressed the gathering. As she spoke, an image of a pregnant Mary on a donkey, with Joseph by their side, was projected on the screen behind her. She spoke of the plight of this family—Joseph, Mary and the soon to be born Jesus—finding shelter in a stable. ‘They were homeless,’ said Joan. Once Jesus was born, men travelled from afar to warn them ‘not to go back to their home, to find another place’, and so, ‘they were refugees from the start, having to battle, and having to know that their child was particularly targeted’.
‘So, you get a life that begins like that, and you live a life where Jesus showed this huge compassion for people on the edge all the time, for those who were suffering most, for those who were troubled most. And he challenged and spoke truth to power when he had to. He didn’t flinch from that. And because of that, he was tortured to death.
‘We know we can look to the resurrection, but this is a real human life, and this is the kind of human life that we [in Catholic social services] are touching.’
As a Josephite and advocate for those on the margins, Joan has been inspired by her community’s founder, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, who was known for saying, ‘Go where the need is’, and also, ‘where there is an evil, consider what you’re going to do about it.’ She recognised that many in the room from across Catholic social services ‘have stood beside’ those most marginalised and vulnerable.
‘You people have done everything you can in going to where the need is—in helping the homeless and the unprotected,’ she said. ‘I’m conscious that the thing you’re giving your heart to, is absolutely crucial. It was crucial to Jesus. It was crucial to the first church. It’s crucial now. What we’re on about is being at the margins where the going is really tough.’
Joan was one of the founding members of what’s now known as Catholic Social Services Victoria, together with Sr Toni Matha IVBM, Fr Kevin Mogg PE and Fr Brian Stoney SJ (all of whom have since died) and she was also instrumental in helping to establish what’s known as MacKillop Family Services, a member organisation of CSSV.
In closing, she said: ‘I’m just in awe at how far this group has come and the depth of cooperation, sharing of knowledge, sharing of background, sharing of skills, and sharing of contacts and the fabulous, significant contribution you’re all making.
‘It’s that spirit of being ready to be with the people, to listen to the people, to nurture something that is there—that’s my biggest thing. Wherever we go, God’s spirit is already there.’
An article was recently written about Sr Healy Healy for Melbourne Catholic. Read more, here.
Find out more and register for the upcoming national Social Services Conference, here.