Research Centre a Unique Gift to Australian Catholics

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After 25 years of informing Church and pastoral thinking in Australia, the National Centre for Pastoral Research has carved out a unique niche and provides invaluable information. PHOTO: Freepik.com

A national research centre which has played a pivotal part in the planning of Catholic schools and parishes in Australia has marked its 25th anniversary, reflecting upon the unique part it plays in the Catholic Church today.

The National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR) was established in 1996 and has contributed greatly to supporting major Church initiatives, from research on Catholic youth events such as World Youth Day and the Australian Catholic Youth Festival through to the current Plenary Council and the Synod of Bishops.

Bishop Michael McKenna says the NCPR is a uniquely Australian story. “No other episcopal conference has its own pastoral research agency,” he points out. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst, Michael McKenna, who played a critical role in the establishment of the NCPR as General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference at the time, has reflected on its contribution the Church in a lecture on 17 November, entitled “How do we know what we don’t know?” Bishop McKenna said in its early years the NCPR helped advocate for the religion question to be retained in the Australian census and its research continues to play an influential role in the Church today.

“It’s a uniquely Australian story. No other episcopal conference has its own pastoral research agency. While other bishops’ conferences do indeed commission research when they need it from external bodies, the NCPR has helped the Catholic Church in Australia approach research from its own unique perspective”, Bishop McKenna said.

Bishop McKenna paid tribute to past and former leaders within the NCPR for their pioneering research work, including its current director, Dr Trudy Dantis.

ACU hosted the lecture with the head of its School of Theology, Professor Dermot Nestor welcoming everyone to the online gathering.

The Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, Daniel Ang, said the NCPR has provided important data to guide the Archdiocese of Sydney in the development of its mission plan, Go Make Disciples.

What we see through the work of the NCPR ought to provoke us in our parishes, work against a maintenance mindset or complacency, and move us forwards by opening up the opportunity to do something about it in faithfulness to God – Daniel Ang

“The research, advice and theological sensitivity of the NCPR enables our parishes today to develop greater situational awareness in this time, to “take stock”, Mr Ang explained.

The Archdiocese of Sydney’s Director of the Centre for Evangelisation, Daniel Ang, says the NCPR’s advice and theological sensitivity enables parishes to develop greater situational awareness. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“What we see through the work of the NCPR ought to provoke us in our parishes, work against a maintenance mindset or complacency, and move us forwards by opening up the opportunity to do something about it in faithfulness to God”, he said.

“The greatest gifts our parishes enjoy are the presence of Christ himself and the gifts of our people, clergy, religious and lay men and women: their lives, natural talents, charisms, faith, experience and time”.

“Reflection on both these gifts and the theology of our Church places us in a better position to shape our approaches to evangelisation in new and faithful ways. Research spares us from making assertions about the Church and our parish and school communities when there is no evidence and, more positively, when we understand where we are, we can assess our next steps to better serve and enable the encounter with Christ and the growth of his Kingdom in this country”.

Alongside its research on Catholic parishes, the NCPR has also contributed greatly to important research decisions in Catholic education, including the provision of demographic data to help Catholic education offices determine the location of schools and early childhood centres.

The Director of Education Policy with Catholic Schools NSW, Ms Danielle Cronin said some of the centre’s current research projects will help shape educational decisions for a long-time to come.

“Recent research, jointly with the NCEC, on the educational learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be of immense benefit to schools and school systems in the years ahead”, Ms Cronin said.

She believes the greatest strength of the NCPR lies in its position as a research body that is informed by the Catholic dioceses and supported by the bishops themselves.

“No-one should know more about ourselves than us. It is critical to crafting our own narrative and telling our own story in the public square, rather than have others, perhaps with limited experience of the Church, do it for us”, she added.

“The ability to know ourselves deeply as a Church is essential if we are to be successful in our apostolic works in parishes, in healthcare, in social services, education and elsewhere”.