Celebrating 30 years of Catholic Outreach opening doors for parishioners to help other people

21 Dec 2020

By The Record

Catholic Outreach Director Marietta Russo pictured with Tony McAlinden, the agency's foundational Executive Officer. Photo: Supplied.
Catholic Outreach Director Marietta Russo pictured with Tony McAlinden, the agency’s foundational Executive Officer. Photo: Supplied.

The Archdiocese of Perth established Catholic Outreach in 1990 with the objective of promoting, developing and implementing pastoral care programmes within parishes.

Catholic Outreach has this year marked its 30th year, inviting its many programme coordinators to a landmark Mass celebrated by Applecross Parish Priest Father Nelson Po at the Catholic Pastoral Centre chapel in Highgate on 15 August 2020, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

The agency began from a conversation that transpired between the then-WA Catholic Social Welfare Commission Director Tony McAlinden and a local couple needing assistance and community support as they were struggling with illness in the 1980s, which led Mr McAlinden to question why there was no service in place to help them.

With the support of Perth’s seventh Archbishop William Foley DD, Mr McAlinden channelled his passion and energy to develop a care agency that would meet the challenge of reaching out to local people in need, becoming the first Executive Officer of Catholic Outreach in 1990.

After examining models from Brisbane and Melbourne, Mr McAlinden realised the programmes “had to be owned by the parish”.

“It is about opening doors for parishioners to help other people,” he said.

The Doubleview Rosary Care group has run a craft group which works to produce items from mostly donated wool which are then donated to those in need via St Vincent de Paul during winter. They have continued to do so, to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and will do so for the winter months. Photo: Supplied.

Then-Auxiliary Bishop Robert Healey is reported to have described the agency as “the best idea the Church has had for a long time”.

Following Mr McAlinden’s retirement, Peter McMinn became the Director in 1999 and, with Betty Thompson aiding as Catholic Outreach Officer since 2006, the agency’s mission was bolstered with the introduction of a number of innovations that have allowed Catholic Outreach to continue its evolution and service.

After attending the 30-year celebration, Mr McMinn, now retired after almost 20 years as Director, commented: “I am always inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of people involved with Catholic Outreach”, which have resulted in tens-of-thousands of acts of kindness for many thousands of care recipients.

His successor, Marietta Russo, commented: “These figures are a shining reflection of the achievements of this agency through the endeavours of the people who lend it their hands and hearts – the coordinators and the volunteers in the parishes”.

Catholic Outreach, like many Archdiocesan agencies, has this year been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic enforced restrictions.

Parish Care programme coordinators rose to the occasion, delivering personalised service in different ways. There were instances where meals and essential groceries were delivered and left near front doors to ensure appropriate social distancing remained in place.

Reassuring conversations took place across front yards, suspended regular meetings and visits were replaced with “are you okay?” calls, and exchanging of emails.

“When I reflect on the work of Catholic Outreach, I am reminded of some simple words from Mary Ward IBVM: ‘Do good and do it well’,” Ms Russo told The Record.

“The number of volunteers and the volume of tasks completed over the years are evidence that this maxim is practised throughout the Archdiocese.”