I first learned about Norma Parker and Constance Moffit in 2014, from Fr Joe Caddy who was CEO of CatholicCare at that time.
He spoke of the two women who founded the Catholic Social Service Bureau back in 1935, pointing to a black and white photograph on the shelf in his office.
In the photo, Norma and Connie (no surnames required) are sporting sculpted hairstyles, all pincurls and mirrored partings. Their outfits are smart and they appear to be wearing bold lipstick. Both are smiling - but they look formidable.
Their story goes like this: in the late 1920s, Norma and Connie received scholarships to study social services in the US. While there, they were impressed by the modern, professional social work practices in place.
In 1931, they returned to Australia where hundreds of thousands of people were out of work. Families who could not afford to feed their children would relinquish them to the care of institutions.
Norma and Connie challenged the traditional, charity-based interventions and convinced Archbishop Mannix to allow them to conduct a review of Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
This review resulted in the establishment in 1935 of the Bureau (which would later become CatholicCare). Connie was named Executive Director.
The Bureau would alter the landscape of social services through coordination of the work of Catholic charities, establishment of formal training for social workers, and advocacy to government for increased resources.
I was drawn to the story of these women: courageous innovators (the disrupters of their day) at a time when women were still wearing gloves and hats. Their story is one of the reasons I joined CatholicCare.
I was happy to discover that CatholicCare has continued to be a stomping ground for many other competent, feisty and tenacious women.
Women like Sr Mary O'Shannassy, who heads up CatholicCare’s Prison Chaplaincy. Sr Mary began working in Victorian prisons in 1994 and still makes the weekly drive on the Princes Hwy to visit ‘residents’ at Barwon prison. Sr Mary is a no-nonsense kind of woman; who is equally comfortable meeting with violent offenders as she is with government bureaucrats.
And then there was Sheree Limbrick, who was Acting CEO of CatholicCare, before leaving to head up Catholic Professional Standards - set up to develop and audit standards in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I could not imagine a more capable person for that role.
Another is Colleen Liddell, who at 75 was knocked back as too old to volunteer at another charity, but was welcomed with open arms at CatholicCare. Colleen celebrated her 90th birthday last year and is still volunteering at the HIV/AIDS Ministry!
And then there are the other hundred or so women who are working and volunteering at CatholicCare, providing caring, compassionate support for those in need.
I like to think that Norma and Connie set the tone for how CatholicCare would grow into the organisation it is today. An organisation that welcomes ‘thinking outside the box’, that excels in collaboration, and shows fearlessneses and leadership to best meet the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalised.
And as CatholicCare embarks on a new decade, our people (men and women alike) could do no better than look to Norma and Connie for continued inspiration.
Executive Manager Communications, Fundraising and Marketing
Read more 85th anniversary stories
In 2020, CatholicCare is commemorating 85 years of caring for Victorian families. Throughout the year we will share stories of our proud history – stay tuned for more news.