National Catholic Social Services Conference to be held in Port Macquarie 19-20 February

More than 160 delegates will gather for the Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) National Conference, to be hosted by St Agnes’ Parish, at Rydges Port Macquarie on Tuesday and Wednesday (19-20 February).

The conference, to be emceed by journalist, Genevieve Jacobs, features speakers such as Fr Frank Brennan SJ OA, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM CNV, Dr Maria Harries AM, and leaders from social service organisations who have successfully introduced integrated service models.

Fr Frank Brennan, Chief Executive Officer CSSA said the main purpose of two-day conference was to encourage participants to ask how they can better work across the social services, health and education service sectors to create real change for local communities.

“The theme of the conference, ‘Meeting the unmet need’, was inspired by Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint, who urged practical action using available resources and to trust in God,” Fr Brennan said.

“The work of St Agnes’ Parish will be showcased at the conference as an example of how organisations can evolve within their own community to meet the health, welfare, and educational needs of local people regardless of their background or religious affiliation,” Fr Brennan said.

“Originally, we planned this conference for last October when Fr Leo Donnelly would have been present, but that was not to be,” he continued.

“We will honour his work in resourcing the St Agnes’ Parish community with health, welfare and education services, nevertheless, with the inaugural ‘Fr Leo Donnelly Oration’ to be delivered by The Most Reverend Gregory Homeming, Bishop of Lismore, at the Conference dinner on Tuesday evening”.

The program includes panel sessions, targeted workshops and small group discussions that will allow delegates to examine the options available for cross-sector service delivery in their region or program area.

CSSA invited the Parish to host the National Conference in Port Macquarie in the middle of last year, much to the delight of Adam Spencer, CEO of St Agnes’ Parish.

“It is an absolute privilege to host this conference in Port Macquarie – we have been working with CSSA over the last six months to develop an exciting and informative program for those who attend,” said Mr Spencer.

“We have representatives attending from organisations around Australia, including those from Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania so the response has been outstanding,” he added.

Dr Maria Harries AM, Chair of CSSA, will officially open the conference at 9am Tuesday followed by the Welcome to Country by Uncle Bill O’Brien of Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“I was assistant priest to Father Donnelly at St Agnes’ Parish from 1990 to 1995 so it feels like I have come full circle,” he said.

“Father Donnelly and I have been firm friends since that time and I am pleased that he now has the opportunity to slow down a bit.

“One of my priorities as I settle in is to get to know the parish community, some are familiar faces but there are also many new ones to get to know.”

St Agnes’ chief executive officer Adam Spencer said no one deserved the blessings of a peaceful retirement more than Fr Donnelly.

“Our parish is fortunate that a man of Father Paul’s calibre has been appointed as Father D’s successor – he will be a great asset to the parish,” he said.

“I look forward to working closely with Father Paul to serve the needs of our parish and the community.” Fr Donnelly has retired close by at The Francis Retreat in Bonny Hills.