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The professionalisation of Australian catholic social welfare,1920-1985

Gleeson, Damian John, History, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW


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  • Title:
    The professionalisation of Australian catholic social welfare,1920-1985
  • Author/Creator/Curator: Gleeson, Damian John, History, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW
  • Subjects: Church charities -- Australia -- Catholic Church -- History -- 20th century; Social service -- Australia -- History -- 20th century; Social workers -- Australia -- History -- 20th century; Volunteer workers in social service -- Australia -- History -- 20th century; Professions -- Social aspects -- Australia -- History -- 20th century
  • Resource type: Thesis
  • Type of thesis: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2006
  • Language: English
  • Permissions: This work can be used in accordance with the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
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  • Description: This thesis explores the neglected history of Australian Catholic social welfare, focusingon the period, 1920-85. Central to this study is a comparative analysis of diocesan welfarebureaux (Centacare), especially the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide agencies. Startingwith the origins of professional welfare at local levels, this thesis shows the growth inCatholic welfare services across Australia. The significant transition from voluntary toprofessional Catholic welfare in Australia is a key theme.Lay trained women inspired the transformation in the church’s welfare services. Preparedpredominantly by their American training, these women devoted their lives to fosteringsocial work in the Church and within the broader community. The women demonstratedvision and tenacity in introducing new policies and practices across the disparate andunco-ordinated Australian Catholic welfare sector. Their determination challenged thestatus quo, especially the church’s preference for institutionalisation of children, thoughthey packaged their reforms with compassion and pragmatism. Trained social workersoffered specialised guidance though such efforts were often not appreciated before the1960s.New approaches to welfare and the co-ordination of services attracted varying degrees ofresistance and opposition from traditional Catholic charity providers: religious orders andthe voluntary-based St Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP). For much of the period underreview diocesan bureaux experienced close scrutiny from their ordinaries (bishops),regular financial difficulties, and competition from other church-based charities for statusand funding.Following the lead of lay women, clerics such as Bishop Algy Thomas, Monsignor FrankMcCosker and Fr Peter Phibbs (Sydney); Bishop Eric Perkins (Melbourne), Frs TerryHolland and Luke Roberts (Adelaide), consolidated Catholic social welfare. For fourdecades an unprecedented Sydney-Melbourne partnership between McCosker andPerkins had a major impact on Catholic social policy, through peak bodies such as theNational Catholic Welfare Committee and its successor the Australian Catholic SocialWelfare Commission.The intersection between church and state is examined in terms of welfare policies andstate aid for service delivery. Peak bodies secured state aid for the church’s welfareagencies, which, given insufficient church funding proved crucial by the mid 1980s.

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