“We are but travellers here!” These words of St Mary MacKillop tell the story of those who have walked through the doors of St Joseph’s House of Studies in Lyneham since it opened in 1969.

This House, once a home for Sisters of Saint Joseph in training, was reopened in June 2020 as MacKillop House, a place of refuge and safety for homeless women.

As one of the first residents of the House of Studies it is a privilege to be involved once again with this special place.

MacKillop House.

In 2020, I volunteered my services to CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn and commenced work at MacKillop House. Like CatholicCare itself, which saw many changes during the merger with Marymead, my role has evolved and broadened to one of ‘supporting our community’, i.e. our community of Marymead CatholicCare, MacKillop House, and our local community. I am involved in a mixed range of activities with my particular focus being to raise awareness of homelessness and tell the ‘story’ of the hope MacKillop House offers our most vulnerable women.

My background in education has given me great ‘entrance’ into our school communities and I enjoy visiting schools/colleges and speaking with staff and students at assemblies and other gatherings. In such settings, I seek to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in Canberra, and to seek partnership and support from our school communities, to assist Marymead CatholicCare in their care for our homeless women. Latest statistics shared by Community Services ACT, tell us there are some 1777 homeless people in Canberra each night of which some 733 are women!

As part of my ministry and as another chance to ‘tell the story’, I am happy to attend functions offered as fundraisers for MacKillop House. In October, there were fundraising dinners hosted for MacKillop House by the Catholic Women’s Taskforce ACT. In early November over two nights, I opened a Drama Night at St Mary MacKillop College, a Year 12 Drama presentation the proceeds from which went to MacKillop House.

In these latter months of the year, there have been frequent calls to receive a donation, the fruits of fundraising efforts during the year. Over the last three years, John XXIII College at ANU and other college communities have been most generous and enabled us to upgrade security, replace carpets and furniture, feminise bedrooms, enhance an outdoor barbeque area, and purchase some air-conditioning units in preparation for the hot summer ahead.

The need is great! Since opening its doors in June 2020, MacKillop House has become ‘home’ to 125 single women in the ‘big house’, while the six Villas on the same property have become home to 20 mothers with some 34 accompanying children. Over 90% of the women are escaping domestic violence; they live with the consequences including trauma and a high state of anxiety. Staff at Marymead CatholicCare go the extra mile in providing professional and pastoral support for the women in their search for other forms of accommodation, including government housing where the waiting list is now over 3000 people.

It is a privilege to play a small part in the journey of our women at MacKillop House. This place offers a ministry lived in the legacy and vision of St Mary MacKillop. It is a safe place where women have their dignity upheld, feel a deep sense of care and support and are given hope for a new future.

Noelene Quinane rsj