Agnes Sheehan has extensive experience in leading large organisations through change and growth, in addition to a rich Catholic heritage, and so we are excited in welcoming Agnes to the CatholicCare family as she leads us through the momentous amalgamation of the three Catholic Social Service agencies of the four dioceses in Victoria!
As Agnes settles into her fifth week as CEO of CatholicCare Victoria, we’ve taken the opportunity to speak with her on her initial thoughts, goals and priorities in her role, and of course learn a bit more about herself!
Image: Agnes Sheehan, inaugural CEO of CatholicCare Victoria.
What are your first impressions of CatholicCare Victoria?
Firstly there’s been an extraordinary level of hospitality and I feel very welcome. I think our people are really committed to serving those in need with heartfelt kindness and respect, and they want to do it the right way too - I love the evidence-based culture and the reliance on our data to support our actions, and as a means of engaging with government and advocating for the vulnerable.
In my initial meetings with colleagues I’ve also been very impressed with the entrepreneurship and innovative spirit I’ve witnessed. They look at different ways to resolve some very challenging issues we encounter with the people we support, and I can see the deep passion and commitment they have for helping the most disadvantaged and marginalised in our local communities.
What drew you to this role at CatholicCare Victoria?
I was fortunate to have been involved in the bringing together of the three agencies, working with our members [Most Rev Peter A Comensoli, Most Rev Paul Bird, Most Rev Shane Mackinlay and Most Rev Greg Bennet], the boards of the three agencies, and their executive teams. Having been involved in this process, I really wanted to assist in taking the organisations forward and help deliver the ‘Sharing Mission’ vision.
This merger is the first instance in any state across Australia where multiple dioceses have amalgamated their Catholic Social Services organisations, and we’re fortunate in that we have a plan and a good team to lead us onwards. The deep commitment and passion of the leaders and our colleagues to doing more and advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves runs deep within all three organisations, and I thought it would be great to be part of this - I thought I could make a contribution.
What was the path you took to get to where you are today?
I’ve led some large international and national organisations throughout my career, but the one constant throughout those years has been the opportunity to grow and execute significant change. I have also been very involved with the Church all my life, which was influenced by my parents’ deep involvement and commitment with the Church. Sadly my dad died almost three years ago now, and at the time I had taken 12 months out of my career to look after him. He was a person who spent his life serving his community and made a real impact. This gave me an opportunity to consider my trajectory and choices, and I started working with for-purpose organisations.
I have been on the Boards of Catholic NFP organisations since 2009 and since 2004 I’ve also been involved with a charity called the Equestrian Order of The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and I was appointed to lead this charity in 2018. So what brought me here today is a mixture of my family background, my Catholic heritage and involvement and my corporate career. Everything that I’ve been through and experienced has led me here, and I am really glad that I am here.
What do you feel is the biggest strength of CatholicCare Victoria right now?
Our biggest strength is our people and their passion to serve others, as well as our heritage. Our Catholic Social Teaching also provides us with a North Star - solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity and respect for others, and the common good - these key principals are a real strength of ours and also our point of difference, which is important to have.
What goals do you have for CatholicCare Victoria?
CatholicCare Victoria heralds a strategic alignment of the three social service agencies of the four catholic dioceses in Victoria, and therefore it was important for us to have a range of goals and aspirations from the beginning.
The goals we have shared with our colleagues last week includes the enhancement of our service provision and offering greater choice of services for our clients; developing our diverse organisational culture; amplifying our scale and reach to support even more people in need, as well as diving into the root causes of poverty and injustice to make a greater positive impact for the most marginalised and vulnerable; to continue our strong commitment to local communities; and an aspiration to becoming a high performing Catholic organisation. We may refine our goals as we continue to work together with our colleagues and leaders on the Integration program.
What are your key priorities for your first 100 days?
In my first 10 days I worked with the leadership team to set out our goals and our 2021 Sharing Mission program [a 100-day integration project for CatholicCare Victoria], so it’s been very fast paced. Now I think we need to take a breather and ensure everyone is on this journey with us, because this is something all of us as colleagues need to do together.
My personal priority is to support our team to deliver the integration project, but also it’s really important for me to spend time meeting our clients, my colleagues and our partners. I really want to spend time learning about the organisation and the mission, and getting to know our people.
What are your hobbies or passions outside of work?
I used to play golf and tennis but that’s a long time ago – that was life before children! Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my husband Pat and son Thomas, and my friends. I was going to Ireland every year to visit my parents, but that has stopped now with the pandemic.
Family and friends are so important – I’m very blessed with some great friends here. I think the pandemic has shown to all of us that our friends and our families are what sustains us, not anything else.
Liz Gellel | Communications Coordinator