2023 – a special year in the life of our Diocese

As Bishop Michael Kennedy writes on page 4, this time of year is a time to reflect. When I reflect on the work of 2023 I think of the more than 5,200 staff, the volunteers, people in our parishes – all united in our common work, to serve all in the community so they may experience life to the fullest.

Across these pages you will read some of the work of our people and the highlights of the year across the Diocese, in our parishes, our schools, our St Nicholas Early Education and CatholicCare services. Our work is varied but our purpose and our values are united – through a Catholic faith and a desire to serve.

2023 has been a special year in the life of the Diocese – most importantly we welcomed our new Bishop. Bishop Michael Kennedy was installed as the Ninth Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle on Friday 17 March and has spent many months travelling the Diocese to meet his people and connect with their work.

Our newest agency, Hunter Community Housing, launched in March 2023. It is a registered Tier Two community housing provider offering secure and affordable housing to people in need in our community.

Hunter Community Housing supports people across the Hunter and seeks to provide crucial housing and additional support to those most in need. This work is not new to the Church but establishing this new agency, signals our strong commitment to reducing homelessness by expanding our social, affordable and disability housing footprint.

Across the Diocese, we strengthened our commitment to sustainability practices with the transition of all Catholic Schools and St Nicholas sites to 100% green energy.

As I reflect on the work showcased in the summaries across these pages, I am reminded of the planning, collaboration and dedication that each of our agencies across the Diocese has put in over the year to continue to deliver serving all in our community. It is the embodiment of our values – compassion, hope, integrity, justice and participation - that we continue the good work in empowering our diverse Diocese to experience life to the fullest.

Catholic Community Fund

In the last 10 years, the Catholic Community Fund has given back more than $51m to support the charitable works of the Diocese, its agencies and parish communities. The support of our members and their investments has been critical to this result.

This continued in 2023 with the Fund donating $500,000 to support the great work of CatholicCare and with the support of our members we aim to increase this to $1,000,000 in 2024. The Fund also provided $40,000 of targeted financial support to CatholicCare’s Community Kitchens and Social Enterprise programs. This assisted with the purchase of equipment for Martha Café and the upgrade of the kitchen facilities at the Hamilton South Community Hall.

Loan funding this year was more than $27m which was utilised on the acquisition, construction and upgrading of schools, early education centres, accommodation and facilities for CatholicCare as well as our parish communities and many other projects and infrastructure to support our community.

Continuing to reflect our new name that was launched in late 2022, the Catholic Community Fund has supported community engagement activities by providing financial support to parishes as they undertake this important community outreach and connection.

CatholicCare Hunter-Manning

Inclusive, just, strong communities where all people feel safe, validated and have their voice heard - this is the vision of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning, and in 2023 we continued to work hard to realise this vision as we supported people in their time of need through our varied services.

Our social enterprise program enhanced its services in two projects – a commercial cleaning service and a café that also offers catering. Both initiatives aim to deliver sustainable and professional services while employing individuals in our local community.

Across the sector there continues to be demand for foster carers. Our team seeks to support our carers and the children, young people, and their families, so that carers can provide optimal care for children and young people throughout their foster care journey.

Our Rosewood Centre team continued to strengthen and grow, now offering services from Hamilton, Cardiff, Maitland, Gloucester, Taree and Port Macquarie.

In partnership with the Diocese and Pastoral Ministries team, we recognised mental health month in October with a breakfast event to support staff across the Diocese and raise funds for our services.

Our community programs remain unfunded but fill much needed gaps. In 2023 we served our 100,000th meal – a confronting milestone that demonstrates the increase in demand across our community kitchens. At Hamilton South our community kitchen was renovated and generously funded by the Catholic Community Fund.

From our Beyond the Gates program to GambleAware counselling, through to the Refugee Hub and our child, youth and family portfolio, we nurture and encourage strong relationships where the individuality and strengths of each person are respected, valued and celebrated.

Office of Safeguarding

The first half of 2023 was a period of renewal in the Office of Safeguarding, starting with our work leading the Diocese’s external audit of compliance with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards. The audit was conducted by Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd (ACSL) and has been ongoing over the duration of the year. The Diocese is hopeful in achieving a strong, positive result which will demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding all children and vulnerable persons.

The year has seen an unprecedented demand placed on most of the functions undertaken by the Office of Safeguarding.

As part of National Child Protection Week 2023, a ‘core competency’ online training module was developed for all Diocesan employees to undertake.

National Child Protection Week also saw the return of our Decorate Your Gate competition that seeks to unite as a community and show our commitment to protecting and safeguarding children. By participating in Decorate Your Gate our schools and services made a powerful statement that child protection is a priority for our Diocese and our wider community.

Catholic Schools

This year Catholic Schools continued to walk alongside our parishes in support of our families, as we build skills, attributes and values for today, and for our graduates to take long far their future.

Our schools continued to record increases in enrolments in 2023. Supporting this growth is a commitment from the Diocese to ensure we have the staff, physical assets, pastoral resources and pedagogical approach for our school leaders.

Work on the new Religious Education curriculum continued with new courses implemented throughout the year, which was greeted with positive staff feedback and increased levels of student engagement.

ASPIRE, our creative and performing arts program held a host of projects and performances, the largest being ‘The Pirate Code’ which wowed over 5,000 audience members over five performances at the Civic Theatre.

Additionally, ‘DioSounds’ created by the Secondary Music Teachers allowed interested students the opportunity to be part of a music showcase at the Civic Theatre.

Work continued formalising the detail of Newcastle secondary schools transitioning to Years 7 to 12. These modifications to school admissions and curriculum offerings will commence in 2024, with Year 7 students commencing at St Francis Xavier’s College Hamilton. Following community consultation it was announced that St Pius X High School Adamstown’s name be changed to Trinity Catholic College in 2025 in parallel with their first Year 11 students commencing.

SchoolTV, a new online wellbeing resource for parents and staff providing credible information and an extensive range of wellbeing resources in one location was launched. SchoolTV hosts a large range of informative topics accompanied by podcasts, articles, factsheets, books, apps and video interviews with wellbeing experts and researchers from around the world.

After a pilot program at St Paul’s Catholic College Booragul, trialling the provision of free sanitary products, the Period Positivity initiative has been rolled out across all Secondary Schools in the Diocese. This means sanitary products have been made available to students for free, via dispensers in the toilet blocks.

This initiative is complemented by an educational awareness program which provides students with knowledge and dignity in relation to their menstrual health.

Our educators welcomed opportunities for spiritual growth and continuous professional advancement throughout the year. This enthusiasm was fuelled by a renewed Professional Learning initiative L!FT, developing lead learning in literacy and numeracy meaning our teachers could continue to uphold the foremost standards in nurturing student development and well-being within our schools.

The Growing Minds Inspiring Readers project was an example of this initiative, culminating with St Pius X Windale students working with a children’s author to co-publish their own book, Stolen Heart!

St Nicholas

Over the course of 2023, St Nicholas has taken the opportunity to deliver several key initiatives designed to improve our services for the communities we serve.

The beginning of this year marked a pivotal moment for St Nicholas as we welcomed Fletcher Early Learning Centre and Montessori into our family. Our unwavering commitment to providing quality education persevered, ensuring that every child entrusted to us found a nurturing and stimulating environment in which to grow.

In 2023 we proudly celebrated a record intake of school-based trainees (SBATs), 63 enthusiastic individuals who embarked on a journey of learning and personal development as they commenced study of their Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care whilst completing their HSC. Simultaneously, our Early Childhood Immersion program experienced almost triple the growth of the previous year, with 310 young minds immersing themselves in a simulated Early Childhood service environment. This expansion underscores our dedication to enriching the lives of as many young learners as possible.

Fundamental to our achievements in 2023 are St Nicholas' refreshed core values: Hope, Integrity, Justice, Participation and Compassion. These - 14 - values are more than words; they are the guiding principles that shape our community. This encapsulates our mission, purpose and unwavering dedication to making a positive impact on the communities we serve as we embrace 2024.

Pastoral Ministries

Pastoral Ministries finds its meaning and purpose in Christ and the faith of the Church.

A review process of Pastoral Ministries has been taking place during 2023 with the Pastoral Ministries Team imagining the opportunities for continuing to serve our parishes, agencies and local communities. Our diocesan five foundation framework shapes the structure of Pastoral Ministries – Identity and Community, Worship and Prayer, Formation and Education, Mission and Outreach, Leadership and Structure.

2023 has seen many events and opportunities for outreach and connection with our communities. One of the largest faith-filled moments of the year was World Youth Day, a group of people from across our Diocese journeyed from Australia to Lisbon in Portugal to come together with young people from around the world to celebrate their faith and futures. The Pastoral Ministries team also ran a local pilgrimage around Maitland to celebrate the global movement.

During NAIDOC Week in July, the team hosted a number of events and workshops to recognise the week. This included an event with Indigenous leader and activist Noel Pearson - he spoke about his work on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to Parliament Referendum.

Another highlight from this period was releasing our Stories from the Elders video series. This year's NAIDOC Week theme was For our Elders so we invited some Elders from around the east coast of Australia to tell their stories. It marked a time of powerful storytelling.

The return of the aMeN caMiNo was another highlight of the year. A small group of participants had the opportunity to reflect, reconnect and refresh while exploring our beautiful region and connecting with their faith. The gatherings of our Diocesan Councils continued to enhance the spiritual underpinning of our endeavours, providing direction for our mission, vision and values. This extended to the various events, courses and activities we ran throughout the year, including the launch of Project Compassion in February, the Way of the Cross in March and our Pastoral Placement Program and Christian Formation Course.

Each year, these occasions remind us of the strength and importance of community. They empower us to forge meaningful connections, celebrate diverse expressions of faith and ultimately service our communities through our steadfast commitment to our foundational principles.

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Sean Scanlon

Sean Scanlon is the Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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