Centacare will mark 80 years supporting South Australians with an expo showcasing our history, mission, and achievements.

The event next Tuesday at St Aloysius College will bring Centacare services together from across metropolitan and regional sites, as the organisation celebrates a historic milestone.

Archbishop Patrick O’Regan will lead a liturgy following an address by Minister for Human Services Nat Cook. Past and present staff will join representatives of government, social and community services groups at the expo.

A feature of the event will be a history showcase and pictorial timeline, beginning with the organisation’s establishment in 1942 as the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and tracing Centacare’s growth through the decades.

The organisation today supports more than 20,000 people each year, operating within a strong ethical framework informed by the values and principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

It was upon this tradition that Archbishop Matthew Beovich founded the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and appointed one of the state’s first social work graduates, Hannah Buckley, as director.

Eight decades later, Centacare continues to fulfil its mission, with the unwavering support of highly skilled and committed staff.

“When I think of 80 years of service, I immediately think of the people,” Director Pauline Connelly said.

“Those who were here for that tentative first day of the then Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, with the path ahead undefined, not knowing what they were becoming a part of. I wonder how they felt.

“I think of the vision of Archbishop Beovich, the quiet urging of the spirit that led him to start a welfare mission, the discussions he would have had about this, and the discernment in choosing Hannah Buckley, a young social work graduate, to be the first Director.

“I think of the people we have supported through the changing times and needs, over eight decades, and the way Centacare has been shaped by those needs and responded accordingly.”

Celebrating 80 years: A message from Pauline Connelly

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With increasing demand for services run by religious orders, including orphanages, homes for the aged and for unmarried mothers, Archbishop Matthew Beovich created the Bureau as a coordinating agency. He appointed Hannah Buckley as its head.

Hannah took important initial steps in reforming the care of children in alternative care, and in providing essential services to families.

Helen Healey took over from Hannah in 1946 and spent a year consolidating the welfare role of the office. For the next 40 years, the leadership moved to priests who were also educated and trained in social work.

In the immediate post-war years, resettlement of refugees from Europe was one of the main areas of social concern. Fr Luke Roberts served in the director role from 1948 to 1960. His work in Catholic welfare and his concern for migrants later led him to establish the National Catholic Welfare Committee (NCWC) in 1957.

Fr Terry Holland was appointed director in 1960. Over the next decade, he aligned the agency with new social legislation and introduced an advocacy role for the bureau.

Legislative changes allowed the Bureau to partner with government in marriage counselling, with staff and volunteers trained by the Marriage Guidance Council. The 1960s also marked the beginning of the de-institutionalisation of orphanages, with children moved into ‘cottage homes’. The organisation’s social workers regularly visited these homes to work with children and families, marking the start of a home-visiting service model.

In 1972 Fr Peter Travers was appointed director. With a Master in Social Administration, he established the Family Support Unit along with specialised migrant support, childcare and family service units.

During the 1980s, the organisation diversified into two distinct areas: the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau team focused on counselling and children’s services while the Catholic Family Life Services team, led by Fr John Swann, was dedicated to migration, family planning and marriage education.

In 1989, Dale West was appointed director of the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and oversaw a period of significant growth.

Renamed Centacare Catholic Family Services in 1996, the organisation grew from 18 to 600 staff, delivering $52.6 million in programs supporting 30,000 clients each year.

Dale was instrumental in expanding disability, alternative care and foster care services, to name only a few, and nurtured Centacare’s growth and relationships within the welfare sector in South Australia.

He provided Centacare’s mission-based platform and was pivotal in negotiating the political policy of the day which he astutely balanced with Catholic Social Teaching principles.

In 2021, Dale retired after 32 years at the helm and Pauline Connelly, Chancellor in the Archdiocese and a long-serving Centacare leader, was appointed director.

Trace Centacare’s proud history providing social and community services, in The Southern Cross this month: