Putting Flesh on the Works of Mercy
By Sharon Brewer
Toni La Brooy
I’m not sure if Toni La Brooy would like to be described as a ‘mother hen’, but when you watch her in action you see a woman deeply committed to the emotional, spiritual and professional welfare of her ‘brood’. There is a gentle hint of witty wickedness as Toni ‘encourages’ some of the staff to briefly share with My Family, My Faith, about their work and family life.
Toni’s nursing background, her experience of being a mother, her many years of ‘at-the-coalface’ pastoral work, means that she is well respected in her role. Toni is the Mission Engagement Officer, who, with CEO Anne Kirwan and 260 staff at CatholicCare delivers a significant number of services and programs to over 10,000 individuals and families across our Archdiocese.
One of Toni’s jobs at CatholicCare is to create a culture that puts flesh on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. So what does that mean? Well firstly, it means providing services to everyone, not just Catholics. Catholic Social Teaching involves a holistic approach that cares for the dignity of every human being. It also means that in order to provide the best possible service, employees come from a diverse range of ethnicity, cultural and faith backgrounds.
Toni’s role therefore, is to help staff to understand how the values of the Catholic Church underpin all the work they do. Each time a decision needs to be made, such as an acquisition, new business or the cessation of a program, the four agency values of solidarity, stewardship, respect and excellence are considered.
In a climate where the Catholic Church is struggling with the child sexual abuse tragedy and declining participation rates, CatholicCare’s work paints a much different picture about the role Catholicism plays in our world. Often hidden in our suburbs are people anguished by mental health, or a disabled teenager who is unable to feed or toilet themself, or a single mother who can no longer afford the rent and the only safe haven is to sleep in the car with her children – then the staff of this Catholic agency can be called in to help.
Toni says that there will always be a bureaucratic battle to fight. But through the work she does, the staff at CatholicCare know that they are the face of the Catholic Church in our community. They are indeed, the hands and feet, the compassion and mercy of Jesus in the work they do.
Find Shelter for the Homeless – John Kennedy
At 67, John Kennedy shows no signs of retiring from his work of finding homes for the homeless in our community. John is married to Jan, and together they have six children, 16 grandchildren and a little one who has already gone to God. His career, and that of his children, which include a police officer, a social worker and one working in mental health, indicates a family life rich in outreach to the marginalized.
John’s work involves dealing on a one-to-one basis with people who have come to the end of the road in terms of finding suitable accommodation. Many of these people have lives entrenched in substance abuse, violence or live with chronic mental health issues. In their crisis and despair, John fights for their basic human right to live in a dignified manner, which includes secure accommodation. This fight often includes the challenges of bureaucracy. But John says he will keep hitting his head against the proverbial brick wall in order to find shelter for those who seek it.
John relays the story of a man he was helping. The young fellow noted that each day John got out of bed with thoughts of the many things he would do that day, but he would crawl out of bed with only one thought; how would he get his next heroin fix.
John has given most of his life to the care of others. His experience and professionalism allow him to separate work life and home life. However, his whole life is drawn to the care of others, be it at work or helping with children in Papua New Guinea who have become orphans as a result of the AIDS epidemic, assisting with education programs in Indonesia, in his parish and faith community, and as a husband, father and grandfather.
In the Year of Mercy John makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if you are privileged to work with the poor, or you’re an accountant or a public servant, a mum or a dad, the response to every difficult relationship issue should be one of mercy.
Counseling the Doubtful – Monica Phelan
When Monica Phelan contemplated her vocation, she was inspired by the Catholic church’s social teaching: to afford dignity to each person, to respect all people, to be in solidarity with the poor and to work for the common good. As a social worker, Monica spends much of her working day helping individuals and families deal with complex issues.
A normal day could include helping parents cope with a very rebellious teenager or the care of a severely disabled child. It could also include helping someone care for his or her spouse suffering from a chronic mental health issue.
Monica focuses on creating a dialogue that allows her clients to confront their own brokenness, fragility and vulnerability. She is amazed, that when given the opportunity and space to discuss openly their worries, clients are often able to find solutions to their own problems. Monica says that many of her clients have a deep faithfulness or spirituality that she encourages them to draw upon. Her role is to be non-judgmental, supportive and to journey with her clients as best she can.
When asked how she separates the intensity of her work situation and home life, Monica admits that this can be difficult. However, over the years she has learned to involve herself in life-giving activities outside of work. Monica has been married for almost 40 years and has three children in their 20’s. She is actively involved in marriage ministry, St Vincent de Paul and advocating for the rights of refugees.
In this Year of Mercy, Monica believes we are all called to be compassionate in our relationships. And we need to challenge ourselves on a daily basis to ask the question: “Who is my neighbour?”
To Comfort the Afflicted- Kitty Wei
Most of Kitty Wei’s family and friends think she is a little crazy to work in a field where the pay rates are low, the complexity of work high and the emotional energy required significant. Kitty aged 34 came to Australia from Asia seven years ago. She made a conscious decision to take employment in the area of social work and the case management of people affected by disability and mental illness, rather than entering into a more prestigious academic career.
Many of the people Kitty works with have multiple challenges. A family centered approach means that where there is a combination of issues, such as disability, substance abuse, marriage breakdown or poor mental health, a solution addressing all the issues can be sought. As well as dealing with these struggles, Kitty assists families and individuals in their dealings with other organisations, such as schools and welfare agencies.
Emotionally this work can be tough, explains Kitty. Working through the ethical dilemmas that each case brings can also be challenging. Trying to find the energy to attend to her own personal needs, such as study, as well as deal with her workload, has often been hard to balance. So how does she do it? Kitty explains that she draws on the professional support her colleagues and supervisors provide, and on her Christian faith and the community she belongs to. Above all, she has a deep sense that God has purposefully placed her in this work setting.
Kitty has the ability to place herself in the shoes of the families she works with. There is no sense when you speak to this young woman that she feels superior to her clients. In fact, Kitty says she is the one truly blessed by God to work with families to help them set and achieve their own goals. She is also motivated by the generosity of volunteers that assist in the many programs that are offered. With caseloads increasing, she hopes more people can volunteer to help CatholicCare to care for the most vulnerable in our local community.