‘Today as we celebrate in anticipation, the opportunities of a unified statewide social service agency of the Catholic Church in Victoria, we also take time to reflect on the histories and exceptional achievements contributed by each of the agencies coming together.’

Agnes Sheehan, Chief Executive Officer of CatholicCare Victoria spoke these words at the official Opening and Commissioning Mass of CatholicCare Victoria on Wednesday 24 March.

More than 150 people including CatholicCare Victoria Board members, staff, volunteers, donors, clients and friends gathered at St Anthony of Padua parish in Melton South, to formally celebrate the opening of the new entity.

On 1 January 2021, CatholicCare Melbourne/Gippsland, CatholicCare Sandhurst and Centacare Ballarat merged to become CatholicCare Victoria, which is now the social service agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Catholic Dioceses of Sale, Sandhurst and Ballarat.

Principal celebrant Archbishop Peter A Comensoli of the Melbourne Archdiocese was joined by Bishop Shane Mackinlay of the Sandhurst Diocese, Bishop Paul Bird of the Ballarat Diocese, Bishop Greg Bennet of the Sale Diocese and a number of local priests in celebrating the Mass.

In her opening remarks, Agnes Sheehan shared that in 1935, two social workers, Norma Parker and Connie Moffitt, undertook an appraisal of Melbourne’s Catholic child welfare institutions for Archbishop Mannix. They recommended an integrated approach to working with families in need and the Catholic Social Services Bureau was established, the first of its kind in Australia.

In 1977, the Ballarat Diocesan Family Service began followed by CatholicCare Sandhurst in 1986 and then CatholicCare Gippsland in 1998.

‘Fast-forward to December 2020, and Norma and Connie’s vision for an integrated and coordinated approach to Church social services moved even closer to reality when our Victorian bishops, Archbishop Peter and Bishop Paul, Bishop Shane and Bishop Greg, signed the Deed of Transition to bring the four social service agencies together,’ said Agnes.

To celebrate the rich legacy of a combined 184 years of service, a representative from each region brought forward a symbol chosen to honour the unique contribution of each social service agency.

From Centacare Ballarat a painting titled It Happened to Me was presented. It was a winning entrant in the annual Grampians Mental Health Week Art Competition, which Centacare has been actively involved in since the mid 1990s. From CatholicCare Gippsland, the blackened remains of a fence scorched by the 2020 Black Summer Bushfire that raged through the East Gippsland town of Sarsfield where 70% of homes were impacted, was presented. From CatholicCare Melbourne a photograph taken at a Water Safety program held at Brighton Beach for refugee families was presented. And from CatholicCare Sandhurst, an Aboriginal Message Stick, which was handcrafted specifically for CatholicCare Sandhurst by local artist Rodney Carter Dja Dja Wurrung.

‘May these symbols serve as a reminder – of our rich and diverse contributing histories – which make up a solid foundation as we forge our new future as CatholicCare Victoria together,’ said Agnes.

In his homily, Bishop Paul Bird CSsR encouraged everyone to ‘draw on the inspiration of our Catholic faith’.

‘Ours is a faith that calls us to care for those in need. Ours is also a faith that calls for a deep relationship with God. We could say that it’s a faith of care and prayer,’ he said.

‘As we work together to provide services across Victoria, I hope we’ll discover the particular gifts that each person and each community brings to this ministry. The diversity, the variety of gifts, this will enrich our service. At the same time, I hope we’ll discover the bonds that bind us in unity, particularly the bonds of our faith.’

‘In this Mass, we’re celebrating as CatholicCare Victoria. From here, we’ll move out to serve as CatholicCare Victoria. May the prayer we share today inspire the care we show in the days ahead.’

Each of the Bishops presented a framed copy of the shared Commissioning Prayer to each of the regional executive directors.

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