At this time of the year, the State and Territory Councils in Australia release their annual reports on activities performed over the past 12 months.
A review of these annual reports shows that across Australia, the good works performed by the Society have increased as the number of Vincentians has grown. There are now 14,556 members, 29,923 volunteers and 3,404 employees.
Our people offer their talents, their enthusiasms and their personal commitment to walk beside our neighbours who, for whatever reason, need a hand up or just a friendly ear.
The continued growth of the Society across Australia represents both good and bad news. On the one hand, there is no question the increased numbers of people drawn to be part of the Vincentian family as a member, a volunteer or an employee reflects the goodness that is the very core of the Society. On the other hand, our growth is highly correlated to the growth in inequality and injustice that continues across all levels of our Australian community. Imagine the inclusive and fair community we might live in if the need for many of our supports was no longer essential for people to survive from day to day.
For many new members, the complexity of the challenges some of our companions are facing and the barriers they have to break through to take their rightful place as citizens in the life of their own community can be daunting. How might we be able to provide some guidance to members who look for some supportive suggestions to help them feel confident in their person-to-person contact with our companions?
For other members, commitment to working towards the transformation of the causes of poverty and challenging the societal causes that produce inequality is best done in solidarity with other members and people of goodwill. How might we help to connect members in different parts of Australia who have a commitment to promote the Raise the Rate campaign in their local community and at a national level?
When over 200 Vincentians joined together in Adelaide in October 2017, they radiated the inspiration that flows from the spirit of Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s commitment to serve the poor.
During the congress, the members developed a number of potential initiatives they believed could support new and existing members in a variety of areas.
As an incoming CEO whose role is to facilitate and to support the vision of the National Council, delivering these initiatives is a top priority for the National Council’s secretariat. After studying, consulting and reflecting, we have identified the following four themes: national collaboration, national training, national communication and making the Society ‘future ready’.
We have outlined a framework upon which to start delivering practical initiatives that respond to the above themes. Of particular importance to strengthen the Society for the future is the need to investigate how to better connect individuals and the many interest groups within the Society. At the present time, the Society has no capacity to ensure every member and volunteer has access to all the information they require to be fully engaged in the life of the Society at a local, state/territory and national level. The proposed framework will allow us to share material to nourish our members’ thirst for information that grows their spirituality and gives them a deeper understanding of the mission that has been handed down from Blessed Frederic Ozanam and Blessed Rosalie Rendu.
Following the direction of the National Council, we are now consulting with the State and Territory Councils to deliver the outcomes the members identified during the National Congress.
The role of the National Council and its secretariat is to listen, to discern and then to respond in a way that strengthens the Society and equips it to continue as a beacon in a world that has many dark spaces where our companions can struggle to find hope.
Toby oConnor is CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia.