Awarding Excellence


Robyn Mitchell (left) CatholicCare Sydney being presented the award by Donella Johnston (right) ACBC Director of the National Office for the Participation of Women.

Robyn Mitchell (left) CatholicCare Sydney being presented, with a merit award in the Norma Parker Award Category for Most Innovative Program, by Donella Johnston (right) ACBC Director of the National Office for the Participation of Women.

Judging the 12th annual Catholic Social Services Awards in Canberra recently, Donella Johnston writes about the experience.

On 21 October, I attended the 2014 Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Awards as a member of the awards judging panel.

CSSA works with Catholic organisations, governments, other churches and all people of good will, to develop social welfare policies, programs and other strategic responses that work towards the economic, social and spiritual well-being of the Australian community.

CSSA is a commission of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and reports to the ACBC through a Board of nine persons. Each Board member is appointed to their position by the ACBC.

The Awards formed part of the CSSA 2014 Leadership Forum – Shaping Civil Society held on 21-22 October 2014 in Canberra. The Awards Ceremony was held at Parliament House on Tuesday 21 October, I had the honour of presenting the Norma Parker Award for Most Innovative Program.

As an advocate for women in the Church I could not help but notice that all of the award recipients were women. I was so impressed and humbled by the work being done in the community by the various Catholic Social Services agencies that provide support and care to Australia’s most vulnerable people.

Introducing the Awards, CSSA CEO Marcelle Mogg noted that “the Awards pay special tribute to the outstanding programmes, organisations and people who work tirelessly and often quietly for a better life for disadvantaged people … all the entries give living testimony to what it means to be an agency or person living out their mission with a strong foundation in Catholic Social Teaching – what it actually means to live out principles such as the common good or the preferential option for the poor”.

Reflecting on Marcelle’s words and the stories behind the award recipients and their inspirational, hope-giving programs, it occurred to me that the majority of people who work in the field of social service in the Catholic Church in Australia are women. This is hard, messy, heart-wrenching, and often un-(der) paid and un-(der) recognised work.

Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council also attended the CSSA Leadership Forum as a panel member and noted that “the role played by Catholic welfare organisations delivering social services to the more than 1 million people across Australia every year continued to attract the support of the broad community despite the sex abuse crisis in the Church… the work of Catholic social services, health and education organisations is still respected and highly regarded by the community and the non-government and government partners they work with”.

As Mass attendance in Australia decreases, increasingly, most people’s encounter with the Catholic Church these days is through its agencies and organisations especially in the areas of Catholic Education, Catholic Health and Catholic Social Services. These are all areas of social need where the participation of women is particularly high.

The caring, compassionate face of Christ in the world today is increasingly that of a woman – an early child-care worker, a teacher, a health care professional, a social worker; a woman living out her Gospel vocation to “clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the incarcerated” (Matthew 25:36).

Donella is the Director of the National Office for the Participation of Women at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.