Service to and of the People
The formation of parishes and the running of schools are two features of the Catholic Church. Service to the poor and marginalized has been a significant, though largely unheralded feature, of this diocese and it is revealed in a variety of forms.
The St Vincent de Paul Society opened in 1906. While the traditional meetings and visitations continue in their quiet, even hidden way, the Society has a distinctive place in the landscape of many towns with their local ‘Vinnies’.
The Apostleship to the Sea at Mackay performs the church’s missionary work for the seafarer. It commenced at Mackay in the years following World War II when a dedicated group of North Mackay parishioners led by Father Barney Cahill operated a seafarers’ hall at the Mackay harbor. In 1993 with the assistance of the National Stella Maris Head Office, Father Peter Greene reinitiated this mission to care for the vast numbers of mariners coming into the Mackay area. The Gladstone Stella Maris Seafarers Mission was established in 1983 and runs in a partnership between the Gladstone Star of the Sea parish and the Gladstone Anglican Church.
In response to a need to put into practice the social action gospel teachings the Diocese established the Christian Family Centre on 29 January 1974. Its prime movers were Sister Anne Marie Kinnane rsm and Father Frank Gilbert and they ran their ministry out of a donga in the grounds of St Patrick’s Church, Derby St, Rockhampton. This ministry was later renamed Centacare and operates today as CentacareCQ.
While Central Queensland’s history is one of European settlement which saw a dispossession of its indigenous peoples, pioneering priests like Father Pierre Marie Bucas challenged early community attitudes and practiced care and compassion when prejudice was displayed. When he came to the Mackay District in 1869, he took a prominent part in every movement for the welfare of the people. As a linguist, he devoted much attention to the learning of aboriginal languages. While individual stories of pastoral care of indigenous people are evident, the Rockhampton Diocese’s involvement in the welfare of Aboriginal and Islander people had not been overly impressive. It was not until the 1970’s that an Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Council was formed in the Diocese. On 16 July 1972, the first Diocesan Aboriginal Conference was held at Rockhampton. At this conference 80 Aboriginal and Islander people came together for the first time to discuss as a group church issues and to plan future actions to increase the inclusion of aboriginal and islander people in the celebration of the Eucharist. The first State Conference of the AICC was held at Yeppoon in January 1974 and was heralded as an event for those attending to listen and learn to understand the problems facing Aboriginal and Islander people.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus (Franciscan Sisters of Malta) arrived in Mackay on 6th June 1954 to staff the St Vincent de Paul Home for the Aged (renamed Francis of Assisi Home in 1997). This first Home for the Aged in Northern Queensland was built in response to a need identified by Father Paul Healion, Parish Priest of West Mackay, who in the early 1950’s saw a need to provide support to old people who were being held in hospital as patients because they had nowhere to go.