2022 marks the 200th anniversary of the foundation for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which in Australia is known as Catholic Mission. Today it is a worldwide network of lay missionaries and church leaders working together with communities most in need. It was born from the vision of a laywoman, Pauline Jaricot, who, even after the bloody reality of the French revolution was concerned for those missionaries across the world who faced extreme poverty and desperately needed support.

One important dimension of Pauline Jaricot’s mission was the raising of funds. She saw that this was an area of need that underperformed, and so she established a network of support, a group of factory workers who, though underpaid, nevertheless offered weekly donations. These Pauline would send to China to aid the mission to rescue abandoned children. This network would form the basis for the Universal Mission Aid Fund, where Pauline would work with the bishops to send money where it was most needed. In 1922, it would come under the protection of the Pope.

Pauline’s vision was incredible and international in nature. She dreamt of a network of charities that would financially support missions around the world. This led to the formation of the Pontifical Mission Society, of which the Australian agency, Catholic Mission, today forms a part. The Society’s network supports the vision and missionary endeavours of the Pope on a local and global level, and includes four areas:

  1. Work with communities through Propagation of the Faith
  2. Work with children through the Society of the Holy Childhood or Children’s Mission
  3. Work with Church Leaders through the Society of St Peter the Apostle
  4. Mission formation through the Pontifical Mission Union

2022 is a special year for Catholic Mission, since it marks the 200th year since Pauline Jaricot’s vision first came to life. It also marks the year of her beatification.

Work on the ground with a Catholic mission

Kevin Meese is the Melbourne Diocesan Director for Catholic Mission, and this year is a special year of his own, having worked for the agency for twenty-five years.

‘It’s sort of another anniversary,’ he said. ‘Of those two-hundred years I’ve clocked up one-eighth of the time.’

Kevin’s career took an unusual trajectory, in that prior to becoming the Diocesan Director he was in the Catholic education system, working at a school that, through various changes and amalgamations, eventually became Caroline Chisholm College. In the school system he worked closely with previous diocesan directors, and so when the job opportunity arose he was familiar enough to step into it. In fact, Kevin became Melbourne’s first layperson to take up the role. Other states had already shifted to laypeople, but Melbourne ‘was one of the last,’ Kevin said.

A lot of Kevin’s work involves maintaining exposure in the extensive network of schools and parishes, to keep people up to date on what Catholic Mission is up to. One of the activities that is at the heart of Catholic Mission, however, is the Propagation of the Faith appeal, which was central to Pauline Jericot’s vision.

One of the aspects of charitable giving people struggle with is knowing exactly where the money is going, and what exactly is Catholic about the Catholic agency. This is where Catholic Mission comes ahead of the rest in strides, since a lot of their work involves faith formation.

Every two years there is the Propagation of the Faith conference (“Mission: One Heart, Many Voices”), but the ‘main vehicle’ in the school system for aiding the formation of students and teachers alike is the annual Socktober program.

The theme of the program is soccer, and in order to get people to inquire more deeply about the world, and empathise with those in need, one of the activities participants engage in is the making of a soccer ball from recycled materials, something impoverished peoples around the world are forced to do. Because soccer is such a universal game, it is a simple means of uniting everyone, from Pope Francis in the Vatican to the children of Africa.

This is just the basis for their program, which goes on, Kevin said, to ‘unpack all the different layers of mission, which is more than just the material needs of people, but also the spiritual needs of people.’

Kevin has also taken small groups of people on immersion programs every year around the world, from the Philippines to Myanmar.

A key aspect of Catholic Mission’s style is a move away from evangelical models of the past. ‘We’ve moved away from the idea that people in the developed world can transport or transplant their faith environment into another place,’ Kevin says.

That whole idea of sending the Gospel or spreading the Gospel has progressed into an understanding that we don’t impose the Gospel, but we discover the Gospel together.’

‘The richness of faith within any cultural environment is already a place where we can discover God’s love for us through the person of Christ,’ Kevin went on. ‘So it’s not coming along and transporting it from an Australian culture into, let’s say, an African culture, but recognising and respecting the richness of the faith of the people in the first place.’

Catholic Mission’s unique donor style

Another thing that sets Catholic Mission apart is its personal style with donors. This is something that COVID has allowed to a greater extent, since without large gatherings Kevin has been able to work one-on-one with donors, get to know them, and, in his words, ‘match their interest in the faith journey with an opportunity to make a difference in other parts of the world.’

As an example of the concrete, beneficial work this style of donor-relationship allows, one of Catholic Mission’s recent projects was aiding the Church in Myanmar.

Myanmar suffered terribly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the onset of the Delta strain. One of the country’s most precious commodities ended up being oxygen. Many hospitals did not have the supplies to provide oxygen for those who needed it. After receiving the call, instead of starting a Church or school campaign, Kevin directly contacted a donor he thought would be well-placed to offer help. Within twenty-four hours, Kevin said, they had raised $100,000, and a few weeks later an oxygen tank was on the ground servicing people.

When it comes to donors, Kevin went on, ‘it’s always on their terms.’

We spend quite a bit of time trying to get to know our donors, to appreciate them, to journey along with them . . . We try to work out what it is about their interest in us that we can help channel into a particular area.’

This personal relationship with donors is the positive flip-side to one of the great challenges in recent years, which has been the inability to rely on regular parish donations. Kevin remembers as a child his priest announcing that it was time to give for the annual Propagation of the Faith appeal, and after Communion everyone would fork out money. This practice, as a kind of passive income, is not something charities can rely on anymore. The cultural and religious landscape is very different.

Getting inspired, getting involved

On 22 May 2022, the founder and visionary of Catholic Mission is being beatified in Lyon, France. The ceremony will be presided over by Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

Because this year is such a special year for Catholic Mission, not only with their 200th anniversary but with the beatification, too, Kevin said that if people want to be inspired ‘the inspiration has to be Pauline Jaricot.’ Usually motivating people to get involved means showing them that ‘people in a certain country don’t have a certain thing.’ But not this year.

I think it’s a particularly relevant time for us to focus on the story of Pauline Jaricot, who was a young woman of vision, who was inspirational, empowering, entrepreneurial, who had a business mind, but she was also deeply spiritual . . . She paved her own way.’

‘I think it’s a really personal journey of faith which then empowers you to think, “Okay, what do I do with this great gift? I have the gift of faith and the gift of opportunity.”’

If you’re looking for a way to get involved and give, yes, Kevin says, visit the Catholic Mission website. But above all, ‘get to know Pauline Jaricot more.’