Jubilee year for Sisters of Charity domestic violence outreach

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Government money has been offered to try to stem the scourge of domestic violence which has become a regrettable and increasing feature within too many relationships, but services provided by the Church have long been working to address the problem.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month made available $100 million while calling for parents, teachers and bosses to join what he called a big cultural shift to eliminate violence against women.

Community and advocacy groups questioned whether the grant would be enough to provide necessary crisis accommodation and community legal centres for victims – but the Sisters of Charity are among groups already offering support through Outreach.

The good works of Outreach, now celebrating its silver jubilee, extend well beyond domestic violence.

Operating from an initial base at St Vincent’s Hospital Clinic, Outreach helps out-of-town visitors and their families who need medical treatment through the Country Care Link program which has extended to the Parramatta diocese aiding Westmead Hospital patients.

Home visits in Sydney’s eastern and south western suburbs also provide trained staff and volunteers offering home visits and outings for frail, aged, disabled and socially isolated people.
Support has been provided for those attending courts in the city and the south-west, but what’s called the Safe Haven program has specifically targeted domestic violence.

An escape for 1621 women and their families has been provided, with 22 of them assisted this year alone. More than a third of the victims successfully accessed the NSW Housing Start Safely Program and, most importantly, none of them returned to their abusive partners.

Sr Clare Nolan RSC, Congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity, marked the Outreach jubilee by paying tribute to the nuns, lay staff and volunteers who bring alive the motto Compassion in Action through the ministry and mission that they serve.

Reference was made to the determination of her predecessor, Sr Mary Maguire, who stood up to the medical world when St Vincent’s Clinic was proposed, saying simply but firmly: “No Outreach, no clinic.”

The result has delivered important community services with assistance this year from 228 volunteers donating 15,971 hours to Outreach by the end of September, valued at more than half a million dollars.

Layman Gary Sillett recently became general manager, succeeding nuns who as executive directors developed programs through the previous 25 years, concentrating on “filling the gaps” to meet the needs of women and families.

“Outreach was a very special time in our years of ministry in living out our charism of service to the poor,” Sr Margaret Fitzgerald (executive director 2004-2012) told the anniversary function, saying the spirit of charity and “fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus” were the driving forces.

She referred to the dedication of the order’s founder, Venerable Mary Aikenhead, and told a story showing that compassion from the Sisters of Charity knows no boundaries of either nationality or gender.

She told of a man in London who’d abused alcohol and other drugs and was homeless for about 30 years who arrived badly
dishevelled at a hostel one night before raving and shouting when asked to take a bath, saying he would rather return to the streets.

A nun called Sr Mary then simply sat beside him holding both of his hands. He wept for a long period before finally saying that her gesture was the first time anyone had touched him for 20 years.

That action and her willingness to listen led him to bathe, shave and have a haircut. He gave up alcohol, found a job and accommodation, and began a new life.

Admitting that such dramatic changes don’t happen often, Sr Margaret stressed that the essence of making a difference is found in loving, serving and helping others.

That’s the gift of Outreach to people who are facing difficulties – including at least some victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence calls to the CatholicCare counselling service jumped by three times the volume of the previous year after victim Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year in January.