Centacare grew out of the long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching and the vision of Archbishop Matthew Beovich for professional services for people in need.

In 1940 in Adelaide there were a number of social services including orphanages, homes for the aged, a home for unmarried mothers and another for delinquent girls. All the services were run by different religious orders who had discerned a need in the community. These were run in the context of a world grappling with a second world war which brought its own new challenges.

So it was that the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau came into being.

In 1942, young social work graduate Hannah Buckley, was charged with the responsibility of coordinating all of the Church’s institutions. It was a huge task, and while unsuccessful in establishing the coordination of all of the charities, Miss Buckley did institute, in the four years in that position, two particular fields of work:

  • Child placement
  • General Case-Work Service

Helen Healey took up the reins in 1946 and spent a year consolidating the welfare role of the office.

For the next forty years the leadership moved to ordained ministers who were also trained in social work.

Fr Luke Roberts, a social worker, was appointed to the role 1948-60 and while maintaining the child placement and case work services, focused on the resettlement of migrants, mainly Europeans and particularly Polish and Italian.

The period that Fr Holland was appointed, 1960-71, was a time of new social legislation and this shaped the agency, bringing forth an advocacy role with regards to: 

  • The Social Welfare Act
  • New Adoptions Act
  • Matrimonial causes Act – Matrimonial Counselling.

In addition, funding became available in the form of the new Federal Grant-in-Aide Scheme. This grant funding allowed the employment of more fulltime workers especially in the area of residential childcare where the emphasis was on maintaining links with dysfunctional and separated families and creating ‘new families’ via adoption or long term fostering arrangements. By 1971 there were 4 fulltime staff, 2 part-time and volunteer marriage counsellors.

In 1972 Fr Peter Travers was appointed to the leadership. Fr Peter was Master in Social Administration and his skills were brought to bear in a time when the orphanages began to close. The Family Support Unit was established along with specialized migrant support units and childcare and family service units.

By 1980 Centacare had three main social service objectives: 

  • The well being of families
  • marriage counselling
  • family support
  • school/family services
  • telephone & drop in counselling

The well being of people with special needs 

  • care for children
  • respite care for children with an intellectual disability
  • Migrant services
  • emergency assistance
  • links with other welfare agencies

A socially just society

  • advocacy & support for victims of unjust decisions
  • monitoring of legislation & public policy
  • placement for students of social welfare

Joseph O’Neil was appointed in 1986 and carried on the work directions set by Fr Peter Travers until 1988 when Michael Flannery was appointed Director.

Dale West took up the leadership in 1989. He retired in early 2021 as Centacare’s longest-serving director, having grown the agency from 18 full time equivalent staff to 520 staff offering 72 services from 34 sites.

Every Centacare service is informed by the values embedded in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, as we strive to enhance the quality of life of our clients and enable them to participate full in the community.