The Roman Catholic Diocese of Broome has been involved in providing social support to people of the Kimberley since 1897. While the type of support may have changed many times over the past 100 years there has been a sustained focus on assisting people to have access to quality education, housing, health care, social justice and family support. Over that time the Diocese of Broome has recognised the importance of developing social support services that enabled people to take control of their own lives, and to determine the outcomes that they believed, best met the community’s needs.

This movement over time is reflected in the establishment of Centacare Kimberley, which began in 1987 with the Sisters of St John of God providing support services to Broome families and people incarcerated in Broome Regional Prison. By 1997 the name Centacare Kimberley had been adopted and the services offered had expanded to include emergency relief and a Homeless Breakfast program. Because of a consistent engagement with highly marginalised and at risk people, in 2001 Centacare Kimberley was offered the opportunity to provide the Personal Support Program to people facing significant barriers to entering the workforce, in the West Kimberley region.

In 2007 Bishop Saunders recognised the value of allowing Centacare Kimberley to develop into an incorporated body with a dedicated Board of Management. Under the Bishop’s guidance Centacare Kimberley has developed into a major part of the social support network in the West Kimberley region. The Organisation now manages a suite of funded programs in the areas of Homelessness Support, Mental Health, Housing Support and Emergency Relief. Centacare Kimberley has grown to become the largest provider of Homelessness and Emergency Relief services in the West Kimberley.

Our Grand Opening:

 Mr Mathew Gilbert and Neil McKenzie representing the Yawuru peoples, welcomed Centacare Kimberley to Broome in Yawuru Language and in English. Cissy Djaigween performed the Aboriginal Water Ceremony, using a local cultural practise to cleanse the building for its new beginning as a place of care. The outgoing Broome Shire President, Mr Ron Johnston, welcomed Centacare to the Kimberley on behalf of the four Shire Councillors and spoke of the importance of the Centacare Kimberley theme “Building our future together“. “That is a task,” he said. “which falls to each of us,” but he was especially happy that a special agency for care had made it “the primary concern in its vision for community sevice.”

Mr Fogarty told those who attended the opening: “Centacare Kimberley is a visible commitment of the Church and community to continue the work of many dedicated people over decades, especially the St John of God Sisters with their history of caring for the Kimberley. Such caring activity is the work of social and justice issues, and the work of building an inclusive community.”

Perhaps Centacare Kimberley will be seen as a symbol of a united Australia, which in the words of the Vision Statement of the Council for National Reconciliation says: “A united Austrlia which respects this land of ours, values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equaty for all.”  “In this regard,” he said, “it is indeed a great privilage to represent Centacare Australia to you at this opening, as a Centacare Australia wishes to indentify with this same vision.”

Mr Fogarty told the guests at the opening that Centacare Australia consists of a network of twenty-five separate Diocese Agencies, all of which are about similar aims and goals that reflect the heart of the Mission of the Church.  These agencies are to be a social conscience of society in which they work and they then set about “endeavouring to achieve human dignity for individuals and their families, irrespective of ethnic background, culture or creed.”

Both Mr Fogarty and Bishop Saunders thanked the St John of God Sisters for their generosity in providing the premises for Centacare Kimberley – the old St John of God Convent in Barker Street. This fine example of early Kimberley architecture stands next to the Cathedral in the heart of original Broome. While it is a modest building, it “oozes history” Bishop Saunders said. “The St John of God Sisters pioneered work in the Kimberley as health providers and community carers and educators. It is only fitting that Centacare Kimberley should reside here, where it all began for the Sisters in the town of Broome. They began in a small way in Broome and at the back of the convent you can see the site of their first dwelling – about the size of a garden shed. From there they began their caring for the people of Broome. The Kimberley is grateful, as I am, that the Sisters have been so supportive of this Centacare venture. It is fitting that the first Director of Centacare Kimberley is a St John of God Sister-Sr. Leone Collins.

“Represented on the Board”, Bishop Saunders said, “are a group of people who mirror the various aspirations of the culture that make up the Kimberley. I have no doubt that with the Director of the Cenre, they will continue the tradition of care for which the St John of God Sisters are famous.”

The first Board Meeting of Centacare Kimberley was held at the Diocesan office on Wednesday 19th March – the feast of St Joseph 1997. Sister Leone Collins SLG, was appointed the first Director of the Centre by Bishop Saunders. Besides Sister Leone the other members of the first board included; Mr Don McKinzie, Dr Tony Franklin, Ms Lyn Page, Mr Brian Pernich, Ms Clare Sampi, Ms Marie Cox, Mr Pat Kerlin, Sr Veronica Ryan and Rev Patrick de Silva. At the first meeting of the Board Mr Don McKinzie was elected Chairperson and Mr Pat Kerlin – treasurer/minutes secretary.

Centacare Kimberley moved from the Barker Street site to 35 Robertson Street in 2006 and has grown to be quite a large provider of emergency support with 10 staff members servicing six different programmes. In 2013 the Father McMohan Breakfast Centre, which is next door to Centacare, was opened and now provides food each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to all those in need in the Broome area.

If you wish to explore more of the rich history of the Broome Catholic Diocese this can be done by going to their website shown on the Links drop down menu.