The Good Samaritan Sisters have become the first religious congregation to join the citizens’ coalition, the Sydney Alliance, which brings together diverse community organisations, unions and religious organisations to advance the common good and achieve a fair, just and sustainable city.
Sister Clare Condon, Congregational Leader of the Good Samaritan Sisters, sees the decision as an opportunity to address today’s social issues collaboratively. “I believe we can achieve more by working together with others,” she told The Good Oil.
“The Alliance is an invitation to work in partnership. Partnership building is part of our congregational vision for the future.”
As an active member, the Good Samaritan Sisters will co-host an event next week with the internationally renowned campaigner and community organising expert, Austen Ivereigh. Austen will explore community organising from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching at an open forum on Sunday May 26 from 2:30pm to 4:00pm at Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills.
While religious congregations have participated in the Sydney Alliance as part of their respective dioceses, individual membership entitles the congregation to a seat on the main decision-making body of the Sydney Alliance, ‘the Leader’s Council’. It is also a strong vote of confidence in the emerging civil society organisation.
“The Alliance operates from a consultative and collaborative basis which is important for us,” said Clare. “As a congregation we were founded in 1857 to attend to the social needs and crises in Sydney at that time. We felt we had something to offer in attending to the social issues of Sydney in our time.”
Good Samaritan Sister Patty Fawkner, who has attended both the Sydney Alliance two-day training and advanced six-day training in community organising, is one of the Sisters exploring how to make the most of this new engagement.
“There’s a wonderful harmony between our values and principles and those of the Sydney Alliance. They are principles of the Gospel,” said Patty. Declaring it is still “early days”, Patty is optimistic of finding ways to maximise the benefits of this engagement.
“We’ve been having conversations with Pauline Roach, one of our Good Sam oblates, about whether we can do things together, the oblates and sisters, to implement these principles across Good Sam life and mission.”
Good Samaritan schools are also getting involved in the Sydney Alliance. Students and staff of St Scholastica’s College, Glebe have participated in a number of Alliance events, while Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills will begin its association with the Alliance at the May 26 event with Austen Ivereigh.
The Sydney Alliance hopes to mirror the phenomenal success of the more established London Citizens, where Austen worked for a time as a lead organiser. London Citizens has achieved meaningful action on housing, cost of living, street safety and the rights of asylum seekers.
Along with coalitions in Milton Keynes, Nottingham and Birmingham, London Citizens also participates in Citizens UK to address nationwide issues. As at the city level, it does this by intentionally developing leaders, fostering trust across diversity and goading institutions into action.
It was his experience with London Citizens that led Austen to pen Faithful Citizens: A Practical Guide to Catholic Social Teaching and Community Organising.
Speaking to The Good Oil before the forum, Austen likened community organising to the witness offered by the early Church.
“People became Christians in the early days of the Church because of the way they [fellow Christians] treated people. It was attractive and led them ultimately to God,” he said.
Austen sees broad-based, non-party political coalitions like London Citizens and the Sydney Alliance as a useful means of parishes and religious orders being present in their community and at the margins.
“How do we evangelise?” Austen asks. “We evangelise as Pope Francis says by being present on the outskirts of the community. We have to show we’re present there, we have to be present there, and we have to be able to affect change there. And that’s probably the brightest light we can put up on the hill.”
Of particular relevance in the Australian context is that Austen is a leading practitioner of using community organising to uphold the rights of asylum seekers. He was one of the principle architects of the ongoing “Strangers into Citizens” campaign, which seeks a pathway to citizenship for irregular migrants, some 700,000 who currently reside in the UK. He was also involved in the successful “Sanctuary Pledge” campaign, which ended the detention of children in Britain.
To hear Austen Ivereigh speak on community organising and Catholic Social Teaching or for more details about the event, please contact the Sydney Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Office by Ph: (02) 9390 5935.