Story of the Tranters: Good and Faithful Servants

21 Dec 2020

By Eric Leslie Martin

Tom Tranter with his wife Fay (left) and daughter, Genevieve. Photo: Supplied.
Tom Tranter with his wife Fay (left) and daughter, Genevieve. Photo: Supplied.

The story of long-lived support for the acceptance of children with disability into the sacramental life of the Church in WA is intrinsically linked to the story of the Tranters, one of the founding families of Catholic Care for Intellectually Handicapped Persons (Catholic Care) – started in 1977 when a group of parents saw a future in which their children received the sacraments, greater acceptance from their parish communities and quality care.

Their passion for expressing God’s love for all his children, no matter their abilities, has inspired families across WA and it is in recognition of their sacrifice that Catholic Social Services Western Australia (CSSWA) named the Volunteer of the Year Award in Tom Tranter’s honour.

In the late 1970s, Tom and Fay Tranter were part of a small group of parents, called on by Vicki de Haas, who believed strongly that their children with intellectual disabilities had as much right as anyone else to be included in the life of the Catholic Church.

They encouraged Church authorities to open the way for their sons and daughters to receive the sacraments and eventually, as a result of their efforts, a large group of children and adults (including their daughter Genevieve) received Confirmation in 1977, going on to receive the Eucharist in 1978.

PAS volunteer Nada Clastres shares a moment with her friend Genevieve Tranter, whose father, Tom Tranter, gave his name to the Volunteer of the Year award. Photo: Eric Martin.

The determination of these parents captured the imagination of the Perth Catholic Archdiocese which provided support to these pioneers, enabling the establishment of Catholic Care, which became an official part of the Catholic Archdiocese in 1981.

It was the love shown by parents for their child that helped them to share the Love that God the Father has for all of his children, no matter their abilities: The story of the Tranter’s passion for inclusion for people living with a disability is inextricably linked to their love for their daughter Genevieve, who contracted encephalitis as a toddler – leaving her with severe brain damage.

Loving his daughter whole-heartedly opened up completely different things in his life, a new direction, new people and new challenges – a whole new positive meaning – and Tom often said that “spending time with people who had an intellectual disability was a good way of staying grounded and getting back to basics.”

Catholic Care became Identitywa in 2001, and subsequently the organisation continued to expand their supports to include over 40 shared independent living homes, children and adult respite houses, an in-home support service and a range of community supports, all based on a strong foundation of providing person-centred active support to people with disability.

Identitywa provides accommodation and support for people with a disability, such as Simon and Joshua, pictured with Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB and Identitywa Chief Executive Marina Re. Photo: Rachel Curry.

With Catholic Care well established, the Tranter’s desire for acceptance of children with disability into the sacramental life of the church continued to evolve.  Thanks to the efforts of Sr Maureen McCarthy RSM, a key founder and original Manager of Catholic Care, and Sr Eileen Casey, a fellow Sister of Mercy from Melbourne, a new organisation was set to emerge.

Sr Eileen, had studied an American program called SPRED (Special Religious Development) – a faith program that offered a way for parishes to reach out to people of all ages who had an intellectual disability and include them in the sacramental, liturgical and social life of the parish community – and proposed its implementation here in Perth at a meeting in the Tranter’s home.

Everyone pledged their support immediately.

After much negotiation, the Archbishop of Perth invited Sister Eileen to come to Perth with the challenge of establishing a ministry, based on her experience in the USA, which would provide ongoing support for those with intellectual disabilities.

Sr Eileen was very definite that this ministry had to be parish-based, providing friendship and support through parish volunteers who were linked one-on-one with the people with disability and in answer to the prayers of parents, the Personal Advocacy Service (PAS) was officially established in 1989.

Tom Tranter was one of the founding members of the organisation and threw his heart and soul into its development for some 30 years, remaining a stalwart member and Treasurer of the Board of Management until the day of his passing in December 2017.