The professionalisation of Australian catholic social welfare, 1920-1985

Download files
Access & Terms of Use
open access
Copyright: Gleeson, Damian John
This thesis explores the neglected history of Australian Catholic social welfare, focusing on the period, 1920-85. Central to this study is a comparative analysis of diocesan welfare bureaux (Centacare), especially the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide agencies. Starting with the origins of professional welfare at local levels, this thesis shows the growth in Catholic welfare services across Australia. The significant transition from voluntary to professional Catholic welfare in Australia is a key theme. Lay trained women inspired the transformation in the church’s welfare services. Prepared predominantly by their American training, these women devoted their lives to fostering social work in the Church and within the broader community. The women demonstrated vision and tenacity in introducing new policies and practices across the disparate and unco-ordinated Australian Catholic welfare sector. Their determination challenged the status quo, especially the church’s preference for institutionalisation of children, though they packaged their reforms with compassion and pragmatism. Trained social workers offered specialised guidance though such efforts were often not appreciated before the 1960s. New approaches to welfare and the co-ordination of services attracted varying degrees of resistance and opposition from traditional Catholic charity providers: religious orders and the voluntary-based St Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP). For much of the period under review diocesan bureaux experienced close scrutiny from their ordinaries (bishops), regular financial difficulties, and competition from other church-based charities for status and funding. Following the lead of lay women, clerics such as Bishop Algy Thomas, Monsignor Frank McCosker and Fr Peter Phibbs (Sydney); Bishop Eric Perkins (Melbourne), Frs Terry Holland and Luke Roberts (Adelaide), consolidated Catholic social welfare. For four decades an unprecedented Sydney-Melbourne partnership between McCosker and Perkins had a major impact on Catholic social policy, through peak bodies such as the National Catholic Welfare Committee and its successor the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission. The intersection between church and state is examined in terms of welfare policies and state aid for service delivery. Peak bodies secured state aid for the church’s welfare agencies, which, given insufficient church funding proved crucial by the mid 1980s.
Persistent link to this record
Link to Publisher Version
Link to Open Access Version
Additional Link
Gleeson, Damian John
Conference Proceedings Editor(s)
Other Contributor(s)
Corporate/Industry Contributor(s)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Degree Type
PhD Doctorate
download whole.pdf 1.59 MB Adobe Portable Document Format
Related dataset(s)