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  • Moving Diocesan Offices: Generational Change 

    October 2010

    When Bishop Prowse first spoke to me about his intention to move the diocesan administration to Warragul, he spoke of it as “generational change.”  Generational change it is indeed!  It is an organisational and a cultural shift for the Diocese of Sale that marks an extraordinary point in our history.

    I write from the point of view of Catholic Education, which has had its roots in Warragul ever since the Catholic Education Office was created in 1973. 

    Of course, there are a number of reasons the Office was established in Warragul rather than in the cathedral city of Sale.  It is a significant inconvenience to have the Bishop and his office 100 kilometres away.  However, Warragul it was because, for one, it was closer, even then, to the demographic heart of the diocese.  It was clear that it was to be in the western end of the diocese that growth of population, of parishes and of schools was to take place.  How very true that prediction has been shown to be.

    The second significant reason for the location of the Catholic Education Office in Warragul was, quite simply, due to the extraordinary generosity of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion.  These wonderful women, who had laboured so hard and so well in Warragul, found their reducing numbers called to other ministries in the Church.  At that point quite amazingly, they gifted the building to the diocese, as they also gifted what is now the Sion Campus of Catholic College Sale.

    The Warragul building continued its life as a school for quite some years, until well after Marist Sion College was created in 1975.

    The Catholic Education Office had occupied only a small part of the building at the time, as the range of its activities was limited.  However, when history and governments intervened, the scope of its activity and responsibility grew and it continues to grow significantly.  The CEO now requires ever greater numbers of staff, and today we are close to 50.

    But while the Office is close to the bulk of the people, close to the majority of the schools, it was far from the Bishop and far from the cathedral.  Of course, it was also far from a good number of Catholic schools, in Orbost, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Stratford, Yarram and others.  It is a geographic inevitability that the tyranny of distance must always be a reality in country dioceses such as ours. 

    Now, though, we welcome the move of the diocesan offices to Warragul.  Now, Catholic Education can be seen to be the integral part of the mission of the diocese that it is, not a separate entity situated in another town. 

    We all recognise that the move to Warragul is not universally welcomed by Catholics, particularly in the eastern part of the diocese.  Some people in our schools have mentioned to me that they feel somewhat abandoned as I am sure some others do, too.  Yet, the Bishop, in his wisdom, has sent a strong message that Sale will always be the mother church of the diocese, the cathedral city.  Sale will always be the place of the Bishop’s chair.  A substantial effort will soon be underway to renew and refresh the cathedral building.  That is an exciting development in our cathedral city. 

    Certainly, the loss experienced by schools and by some other Catholics east of Traralgon, must be acknowledged.  However, at the same time we must acknowledge the sense of separation that the growing population in Berwick, Cranbourne, Pakenham and Narre Warren have experienced for so long.  The Bishop’s Office and the Cathedral were very far from them.  I am quite certain that many of our people in those parishes and schools do not really appreciate that they belong, not to the Archdiocese of Melbourne, but to the Diocese of Sale.  The heightened sense of belonging to this diocese that the Bishop’s move will provide will be welcome indeed. 

    With the Bishop’s move to Warragul, to share the gift left by the Sion Sisters with us in Catholic Education, we see a wonderful blessing.  Catholic Education can now be seen in its rightful place as a part of the organic work of the Church, sharing in its mission to evangelise those that have never been Christian, to revitalise those who still enjoy the privilege of belonging actively to Church and to invite back those for whom the institutional Church has lost some of its meaning in their personal search.  All three of those groups are very present in our Catholic schools.  The Church reaches to them in many ways and Catholic schools are a major arm of that work.

    As Director of Catholic Education, I look forward to having my Bishop close by.  I look forward to the time when the staff of the Catholic Education Office can share morning tea with those other diocesan workers who share our mission.  Our being together is more than a convenience.  It is a powerful statement that we are together in our work, that we are of one mind through many actions to bring God’s Kingdom to people and to bring people to God’s Kingdom.  The work of the Church is one.  We, together, are part of that one. 

    As I write, architect’s plans are being drawn to develop and adapt the Warragul site.  That is part of the physical symbolism of the workers of the diocese sharing a common mission.  Indeed, something as simple as being able to share morning tea is a powerful statement in itself. 

    It is an exciting move, one that will not be without its challenges, certainly, but an important one for us in Catholic Education, an important one for all who work for the diocese and an important one for all Catholics in the diocese.