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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:04

Outback Sister offers healing and hope

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As the CEO of CentaCare, Wilcannia-Forbes in western NSW, Sister Margaret Mary has been named a finalist in two categories of the Telstra Business Women of the Year Awards - White Pages Community and Government Award and Nokia Business Innovation Award.  The winners will be announced on 25 September.

Margaret Mary has been running CentaCare since 1996 when she was asked to move to the largest and poorest diocese in NSW to set up the Catholic welfare agency. When the former teacher, principal and family counsellor arrived in the region she had an old car, a borrowed desk, an electric typewriter missing several keys and an annual diocese budget of $3000.

Since then she has worked to improve the quality of life of rural and indigenous communities. One of her greatest achievements has been in lobbying government to provide funding for remote rural areas of NSW.  Today CentaCare's budget stands at $16 million and she now leads a CentaCare team of 125 staff with 85 per cent of those staff women and 20 per cent, indigenous.

Inspired by Mary Ward, the founder of the Loreto Sisters, Margaret Mary vigorously champions the rights of women and indigenous women.

"With integrity, determination and doing ordinary things, women can make a significant difference to our world," says Margaret Mary. "Never be afraid to dream and ask: what if?"

Born and bred in Sydney, she says working in the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes, which covers almost 52 per cent of the state and is the size of France, has been a fantastic opportunity to be educated in a very different experience of living in this wonderful country.

"It has been an indescribable privilege to be accepted into both rural and Aboriginal contexts, and to share their struggles and joys and to experience such incredible resilience. It's also very satisfying supporting our expanding and very dedicated CentaCare community to deliver services, inspired by our vision and mission."

Some of Margaret Mary's initiatives at Centacare have been introducing services targeted at teenage pregnancy and financial literacy.

The Mary Ward International (MWI) Australia funded 'Strong Young Mums' program has now been running in Bourke since 2005. Working closely with TAFE, the program assists more than 50 young Aboriginal mothers a year with parenting skills and encourages them to reengage in education.

Margaret Mary's 'Manage your Income' program employs and trains indigenous staff as accredited financial counsellors to enhance financial literacy within their community. The program assists about 4000 indigenous people a year to learn financial skills to make informed decisions for their families.

"Providing services to some of the most under-resourced, isolated communities, and knowing that without us, there would be little to support healing and increased quality of life is very satisfying," says Margaret Mary.

Christine Burke, Province Leader, Loreto Sisters Australia said the Institute was very proud of the work that Margaret Mary has done in Western NSW over many years.

"Our Constitution and spirituality urge us to respond to the changing needs of the time, and Margaret has made a difference not just on a one-to-one basis with people, but through setting in place groups and structures that will support those in need well into the future.

"Margaret has ensured that those working with her are resourced in their relationship with God, as well as their skills and attitudes of care for others. Her work carries Jesus' message into practice, and gives meaning to Mary Ward's hope that "women in time to come will do much."

For Margaret Mary, the belief that Wilcannia-Forbes is where she is meant to be right now keeps her going, and that her mission lies at the heart of the Loreto mission inspired by Mary Ward.

"There have been so many times I have been reassured that this mission, far beyond my capabilities, has the blessing of a greater Power who wants us to be here.  It is an experience beyond description to have the sense of being the instrument of a greater Power in drawing a community together to help in healing the original dream of the Creator."

*Some of this story was first published on the Loreto website

 

Pathways September 2010

Have your say...
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"Well done, Margaret Mary. We are proud of you! "
- Kerry Scanlon fmm, 23-09-2010

"Congratulations to Margaret Mary as she was named the winner of the White Pages Community and Government Award at the Telstra Business Women of the Year Awards announced on 24 September. wncgi"
- Therese Spruhan, Pathways Editor , 29-09-2010