St Michael’s Conference in Nowra celebrates 90th anniversary

St Michael’s Conference, Nowra celebrated a significant milestone this year as it marks the 90th anniversary of service to the community. Since its inception in 1934, St Michael’s Conference has been a beacon of hope and support for the community in Nowra and surrounding areas.

Over 30 people gathered for a warm and joyful Festival Mass on Saturday 27 April at St Michael’s Church, Nowra, celebrated by Monsignor Patrick Faherty, Pastor Emeritus. The day was a collective effort and reflected the breadth of the Society in Nowra and the region.

During the Festival Mass, Peter Doris, Wollongong Central Council President awarded Life Membership to Ivor Davies, dedicated stalwart of the Society and former Conference, Regional and Wollongong Central Council President. Brian Murnane spoke on Ivor’s more than 60 years of distinguished Vincentian service since joining the Society in Wales.

“Ivor epitomises a St Vincent de Paul Society member – his dedication to his family, his dedication to the Conference and his willingness to take on leadership roles,” Brian said.

Life Membership Awarded To Ivor Davies

Reflecting on his long involvement with the Society in Nowra, Mgr. Faherty, an Irishman, quipped, “there have been 22 Conference Presidents and I’ve known 20 of them.”

“I have wonderful memories of the Vincentians I’ve known…they were very, very saintly, good people and it’s an inspiration to be part of today,” Mgr. Faherty said.

He also gratefully remembered the many people who have supported Vincentians to do their ministry, which he described with inspiration from Pope Francis.

“We depend on those hidden ones, those who are behind the scene, the salt of the earth people.”

“Pope Francis referred to the Church as a field hospital.”

“I would like to suggest that in many ways, the stretcher-bearers of the field hospital are the members of the St Vincent de Paul Society,” he said.

Conference Presidents Judith Walker of St Michael’s Conference, Nowra and Anne Hayward of St Patrick’s Conference, Sussex Inlet were commissioned in their offices during the liturgy.

Mgr. Faherty presented Judith and Anne with four symbols important to their office, the Bible, a lighted candle, a piece of bread and The Rule of the Society. As he did, he shared a profound message from Vincentian spirituality, “It is your vocation to be of help to the poor but remember it is only your love for the poor that will enable them to accept with dignity the assistance you give.”

A celebratory lunch was shared heartily afterwards with guests from across the Shoalhaven region and beyond, where long-service awards were presented to members, alongside speeches for the occasion.

Peter Doris, also of Irish heritage, noted the irony of the event involving “two Irishmen and a Welshman…” As it so happened, a special Scotswoman was also present.

Ivor Davies shared a significant display of historical photographs and materials relating to the rich heritage of St Michael’s Conference, which members, friends and family perused.

Guests of honour at the Mass and lunch included Uncle George Aldridge, who shared about his family history, thanked Vincentians for their service to First Nations peoples, and gave the Welcome to Country. Uncle George was supported by Jasmine Robbins, Support Worker at John Purcell House.

Leo Tucker, who leads the Mission, Formation and Spirituality of the Society in NSW shared his congratulations and that of other senior employees. Brian Murnane, former CEO of Amelie and St Vincent de Paul Housing, also shared his congratulations, as did Denis Walsh, former NSW State Council President, and Peter Houweling, NSW State Council Vice-President.

St Michael’s Conference Nowra’s contribution to the community in these 90 years is outstanding in their major ongoing person-to-person support at the Conference and impressive special works founded in the local area.

“We see upwards of 60 people a week, at the Centre, or they ring up and we go to their homes afterwards,” Judith Walker said.

“You get to know people. You get as much back as you give, probably more.”

Judith previously worked for the Society at the Paddington Shop in central Sydney and is deeply invested in the homelessness sector, frequently attending inter-agency meetings. In February, Judith visited the Commonwealth Parliament alongside Society employees to advocate on ways government can better support people we assist at the Federal Government Social Policy Caucus Committee.

John Purcell House is another impressive expression of the Society’s work in Nowra, providing emergency and temporary accommodation in a contemporary building. The service is named after one of Mgr. Faherty’s predecessors, Monsignor John Purcell of St Michael’s Parish. Any surplus of the anniversary lunch’s deluxe meat pies and sumptuous sandwiches quickly made their way to John Purcell where residents were pleased to chat and gather in the open-air courtyard.

Jim da Silva Farm, 5 minutes from West Nowra, is unique within the Society in NSW, set on a beautiful and peaceful property nestled next to Bamarang Reserve. Jim, a Society member and past manager of John Purcell House, with his friends, came up with the idea to build accommodation for people we assist set in nature. It has a welcoming country retreat feeling to it, comprising accommodation, Veterans Men’s Shed, Workshop and Vegetable Garden.

The farm’s more than 20 rooms were constructed mostly by hand from mud brick, with members, volunteers and people we assist from John Purcell House volunteering to manufacture the bricks over a year. You can sense the care that was poured into its construction and see why its leafy tranquillity and special mission were featured on Geraldine Doogue’s ABC program, Compass.

A tiny Hobbit-like mud-built Chapel sits serenely on the edge of a small lake on the farm, named in honour of Matthew Talbot. Bishop Peter Ingham, retired Bishop of Wollongong had blessed and opened the Chapel in 2011. As it happened, Bishop Peter died peacefully the evening before the Festival Mass, so all gathered remembered and prayed for him.

John, a long-term resident, takes pride in caring for the veggies and plants, among which families of kangaroos roam freely. Strawberry guava, Madagascan beans, grapefruit, curry and mulberry trees are among his garden, next to which he makes stunning lead lighting in the workshop.

The Mollymook Holiday Flats and Tom McGee Memorial Holiday Flats are other special works in the Nowra region, donated to support the mission of the Society and provide people we assist with much needed affordable holidays in the beauty of the Shoalhaven.

The St Vincent de Paul Society congratulates St Michael’s Conference Nowra on its 90 years of outstanding service and wishes St Michael’s well for the next 90!

Written with special thanks to Peter Doris, Wollongong Central Council President, Kathy Jones, Member and Community Engagement Coordinator, South Region, Ivor Davies, Julie McCormack, and Matt Paquet, for their welcome and assistance.


Related articles

View All