There is now greater collaboration and understanding of the many parts of the Church’s works. We have welcomed many new staff and farewelled a number of long-standing employees.
There has been recognition following the Royal Commission that governance must be strengthened. We have been working to improve processes, systems and skills in order to respond to the community’s expectations. This is ongoing but at the forefront of the changes being made to how the Diocese operates.
The protection of children and vulnerable people remains a key priority of the Diocese. Whilst Zimmerman Services has been a bedrock of this focus, we expect that the Church’s commitment to safeguarding children and vulnerable people will be tested by audits and detailed scrutiny. This is expected and welcomed and it will provide assurance and certainty that diocesan and parish activities are safe.
The Diocese also continues to meet the demands for healing and support for those affected by abuse. This is difficult and requires significant resources, but must happen. The Diocese has committed to the National Redress Scheme and is working with a number of survivor groups to seek ways to work towards healing.
In terms of education we saw St Bede’s at Chisholm accepting its first students in early 2018. This was especially satisfying for me as I remembered walking around the paddocks that are now home to the most modern secondary school in the Diocese. We can also see the Catholic community which has developed around the Chisholm precinct with St Aloysius Catholic Primary School, St Nicholas Early Education and St Bede’s.
We have unfortunately had to defer the opening of Catherine McCauley College at Medowie due to delays in approvals. We believe this is the right decision to ensure the school can provide students with the best possible facilities and environment to achieve their educational outcomes. The new opening date is now 2021.
Expansion of St Mary’s Gateshead and St Joseph’s Lochinvar has been well received with strong enrolments and we look forward to some outstanding HSC results in 2019.
Gerard Mowbray has taken the reins in the Catholic Schools Office as Acting Director of Schools and we wish him well as he works with the school communities to meet their ambitious goals in 2019.
During 2018 we saw three new St Nicholas Early Education centres open at Cardiff, Chisholm and Lochinvar. These new early education services have been well received by their communities and we see the links with our schools and CatholicCare developing over time.
These centres are examples of some of our core beliefs as Catholics through the support of families, support of their dignity in work and the importance of children in our community. We anticipate opening a St Nick’s at Raymond Terrace in January 2019 with further centres opening at Branxton and Maitland later in 2019. Planning continues for other locations.
In the latter part of 2018 we have seen St Nicholas expand into before and after school care as well as vacation care. Such services have commenced at Glendale and Chisholm, with a number of other sites to follow in early 2019. This is an exciting development which again aims to support families and meet the needs of our local communities.
CatholicCare has seen its key programs continue to grow. The Permanency Support Program has replaced Out of Home Care and is now seeing additional children supported. Extensive communication and promotion has seen many new carers join the families who already offer vulnerable children a loving home.
With new offices recently opened in Singleton and Muswellbrook there are more opportunities for CatholicCare to deliver services to the community and tender for funding to expand into new areas. Led by Gary Christensen, there has been significant planning undertaken to prepare CatholicCare for the changing social services environment.
Pastoral ministries are preparing for the Plenary Council in 2020. This opportunity for the Church to listen to the community is probably one of the most significant events in the history of Australian Catholicism. We hope that the broader community will take this chance to “listen to what the spirit is saying” and share their input with the plenary.
As I’ve mentioned, the past year has been frantic and constantly changing which has thrown up daily challenges. Nonetheless, we are blessed with people willing to meet these challenges and provide education, social services and other vital supports to our community. For this we are grateful.