Winter 2017

On the NSW south coast – Wollongong

Denis Walsh

Coastline and beach shot from a hilltop looking down.
Stanwell Park from Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Tops.

Denis Walsh is a member of the West Wollongong St Theresa conference. He joined the Society 12 years ago, after holding many senior positions in the insurance and superannuation sector.

‘I always wanted to be involved with something beyond the business aspects of life,’ he says.

Denis was elected NSW State President in December 2015. Ahead of the October congress, he says it is more important to address the root causes of poverty than ever.

In Wollongong, where Denis resides, stunning beaches, beachside restaurants and million dollar apartments mask problems including high levels of unemployment and a lack of homelessness services.

‘Overwhelmingly, the people who come to the Society for assistance come from social housing backgrounds,’ Denis says.

‘And single-parent families—sometimes single fathers with children, but overwhelmingly, it is single mothers with children.’

Loneliness, drug and alcohol addictions, and mental illness are other problems.

The Society’s shopfronts in the region receive around 20 to 30 people a day seeking appointments for some form of assistance.

‘If you have volunteers doing that, they are lucky to spend between five and ten minutes with each person,’ Denis says.

‘So all you are doing is shovelling material goods into their hands. They go away. And a fortnight later, come back and get more material assistance. And on it goes.

‘You have to go back to the basic question and ask, “Are we really trying to get rid of poverty?”’

Denis’ thoughts on the congress

The Society’s Congress in October will be a tremendous opportunity for St Vincent de Paul Society leaders to dream, inspire and position the Vincentian vocation for the next generation.

Indeed, it has been 60 years since the last congress convened; and during this year’s highly anticipated event, we must seize the moment by revisiting the vision of our founder, the young Frederic Ozanam. It was Ozanam who said “It is our vocation to set people’s hearts ablaze, to do what the son of God did, who came to light a fire on earth in order to set it ablaze with his love.”

This call to action is as relevant today as it was 184 years ago.

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