Centacare has marked 80 years supporting South Australians with an expo showcasing the organisation’s proud history, mission and achievements.

The event at St Aloysius College brought together Centacare’s 67 services from 31 sites across the state, as past and present staff joined representatives of government and social and community services groups in celebration.

Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Patrick O’Regan led a liturgy following an opening address by Director Pauline Connelly and a speech by Minister for Human Services Nat Cook.

Minister Cook highlighted Centacare’s strengths-based approach when working with clients and families facing complex challenges.

“Centacare’s willingness to use that strengths-based approach in family services is something that I think we can grow, and I think we can do more to make sure families in the future are stronger and can remain together with the requisite supports that need to be offered,’’ she said.

Minister Cook noted the success of programs including RESTORE Intensive Family Services and the Breathing Space pilot before sharing her personal story.

RESTORE supports families with children at imminent risk of entering care to stay together, while Breathing Space works with young women who have experienced removal of a child.

“I am the child of a 16-year-old mother; I am an adopted baby,’’ Minister Cook said.

“I have reconnected with my birth mother and we have had those very difficult conversations. She didn’t get that opportunity, so that opportunity is something fundamental to provide that chance going forward.

“So all of these programs that have a focus on the interruption of generational disadvantage and poverty are very close to my heart.’’

In her opening address, Pauline paid tribute to Archbishop Matthew Beovich and his decision to appoint one of the state’s first social work students, Hannah Buckley, to the position of Director upon founding the then Catholic Family Welfare Bureau in 1942.

Pauline became Director in August last year following the retirement of Dale West who led the organisation for 32 years.

“As a student at Loreto College, Hannah was encouraged, along with a number of other girls, by Mother Brigid Jones I.B.V.M. to pursue the career of social work as a suitable missionary service to the community,’’ Pauline said.

“Her pioneering courage in the early days of welfare in the church, especially as a female leader, still inspires us today. We never want what Hannah did to be taken for granted, and we never will.

“I acknowledge all previous staff who are with us today, and those who have gone before us.

“I cannot speak to all of your experiences, your stories, the happenings and connections that only you know, but I can say thank you, because you left an impression that has never disappeared, and has been built upon, story by story; a foundation of experiences with our clients and each other, and as we know, it is in fact our clients who change our lives.’’

Pauline highlighted Dale’s contribution in shaping Centacare’s vision, mission, culture and client focus while being a “mentor and guide for many hundreds of people over the years’’.

“I want to acknowledge with reverence, the tens of thousands of people that have needed our assistance over the years, and those who still do,’’ Pauline added.

“It is an honour to be in that space of vulnerability with them. It is often an intense experience for us all, but if we cannot solve a problem, or an issue, we do not walk away – we stay in the pain with the person we are with, and it is in those moments where we most deeply live our mission, and experience what our calling really is.’’

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

Pauline pointed to a crucifix, found discarded in a skip bin after being removed from Fennescey House – where it had hung for decades – ahead of Centacare’s move next door in 2015.

“There was some minor damage to the hands and feet of Our Lord on this cross, and it was a powerful moment for me in recognising the symbolism inherent,’’ Pauline said.

“Jesus, on this cross, depicting Him in his most vulnerable and agonizing moment, being discarded and left in the waste.

“I thought of our most vulnerable and fragile clients, and how discarded so many of them have been by those whose role was to support them. I decided then, that this discarded Jesus on this cross, would form the focus of our 80 Years of service and be central to how we acknowledge these years and all those we seek to serve.’’

The crucifix was rededicated by Archishop O’Regan before being passed between Centacare’s Executive Managers in “an expression of how the giving of ourselves at great cost, is transformative to both the giver and the receiver’’.

“I pray it will be a continual reminder of why we do what we do and be a blessing to all who serve and are served by the mission and dynamic spirit of Centacare Catholic Family Services, for many years to come,’’ Pauline said.

Centacare supported 21,305 clients in 2021-2022.