Centacare NQ

History of Centacare NQ

The History of Centacare

The History of Centacare in the Diocese of Townsville
Australian Beginnings

The Catholic social service agencies, now known as Centacare, had their beginnings in Perth in 1928.  An Irish priest, John Thomas McMahon, had emigrated to Perth in 1921.  He subsequently undertook doctoral studies in education at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC between 1926 and 1928 and become acquainted with the National Catholic School of Social Sciences which provided professional training for female social workers.  An alliance with the US National Catholic Council of Women provided tuition and accommodation scholarships for international students.

On his return to Perth, Fr McMahon, at a meeting of the University of Western Australia's Newman society (which he had founded in 1924) met two final year Arts students, Constance Moffit and Norma Parker.  He persuaded them to go to America to study social work and secured scholarships for them.  They left Perth in September 1928 and graduated with their Masters degrees in social work in 1930, the first professionally trained Australian social workers.  Parker initially worked in psychiatric social work in St Elizabeth's Mental Hospital in Washington DC and then in the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Los Angeles.  Moffit worked in the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Cleveland, Ohio.  Parker returned to Australia in 1931 and Moffit in 1932, both settling in Victoria.  In 1935, Moffit, aided by Parker, had surveyed Catholic welfare services in Melbourne and had recommended a coordinating body based on the American Catholic Welfare Bureaux.  

In her survey, Moffit had proposed that children who were allocated to institutions be fully assessed by a trained social worker who, after a full enquiry, might be able to identify a 'more constructive solution'.  She also ‘placed importance on a central bureau to train social workers, to provide policy advice to institutions and to make appropriate representation to government for better funding for institutions and clients (Gleeson, 2002, pp. 34-35).  The Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, approved the formation of the Catholic Social Services Bureau in 1935 with Moffit as head (Gleeson, 2002).  There are now over 30 Centacare agencies across Australia.

Townsville Diocese

Centacare began operation in Townsville on 17 April 1979 when Bishop Leonard Faulkner was in office. Under the direction of Fr. Bernard O'Neill, Centacare, then known as Catholic Family Welfare Bureau (CFWB) moved forward due to the dedication of Jean Rooney, Zita Byrne, Colleen Hegarty and Jenny Creedy. The CFWB was located in the downstairs rooms of the former Redemptorist Monastery on Ross River Road, Cranbrook (now Brookleigh Lifestyle Village). The CFWB provided personal and marriage counselling, Natural Family Planning, Teacher Effectiveness Training and Parent Effectiveness Training.   The organisation's advisory group, Angelo Gabrielli, Tom Page, Neville Arkinstall, Howard Barlow and Noel Brosnan acted as a sounding board and assisted with funding. On Fr. O'Neill's departure, Jean Rooney became Director and when Jean Rooney left Townsville in 1985 Zita Byrne became Director.

In approximately 1986, Sister Annetta Llewellyn sgs was appointed Director. Sister Annetta realised the importance of establishing a professional agency and so took her concern to Bishop Ray Benjamin for improved premises and funding. As a result of this, Sr. Annetta oversaw the renovation of the building on Hindley Street in Currajong, where CFWB relocated in 1987. Until this time, all members of the CFWB were volunteers. Sr. Annetta recognised the need to engage professionally qualified counsellors and, in time, paid employees replaced the staff of volunteers. In 1986 also, Sr. Annetta formed a strong association with James Cook University, taking between four to eight students a year for their practical placement. This strong association continues today. Over the next two years the CFWB experienced solid expansion in State-funded programs. Sr Annetta suggested the establishment of a Catholic Welfare Commission to guide policy for welfare and family care in the Diocese. The Centacare Advisory Board was established in 1989.


In 1989 the construction of the Respite House in Railway Estate commenced. The house provides respite for those families caring for a family member with a disability.  The land for this project was donated to CFWB by the St Francis Xavier Parish. Ninety per cent of the funding for this facility was provided by the State Government Housing Assistance Scheme administered by Housing Commission. The official opening and blessing took place in 1990. Also in 1989, Centacare's Hughenden office was opened.

In 1990, Guido Vogels became Director. At this time the organisation also saw a name change from CFWB to Centacare, which created uniformity with other centres across Australia.  Guido Vogels together with Bishop Benjamin saw a need to offer a relationship counselling service in the West. Centacare in Mt Isa was officially blessed and opened by Bishop Benjamin on 16th October 1992. The establishment of an office in Mt Isa was seen as paramount in terms of ensuring the availability of quality services to western communities. Mary-Jane Costello was employed as a part-time counsellor and Trinidad Kreutz as full-time migrant support worker. Since then Centacare in Mt Isa has grown to such an extent that it employs about half the Centacare staff in the Diocese.

In October of 1991, Tony McDermott was appointed Director. At the time of his appointment there were six programs offered across the three centres in Townsville, Hughenden and Mount Isa: Respite House, Family and Relationship Counselling and Natural Family Planning in Townsville, Family and Individual Support Program and youth support in Hughenden and Migrant Resources and counselling in Mt. Isa.

Further expansion of services came in 1992 with a successful submission for an additional counsellor in Townsville and the inclusion of a marriage preparation program for couples. In Townsville, in 1993, Centacare was successful in securing funding for the Break Even Program (for problem gamblers) and for a Family Skills Program. Centacare was the only Centacare agency in Queensland to be granted money for Break Even. From this expansion, Centacare firmly established its position as a provider of quality counselling services in North Queensland. During 1994, Centacare began the ROSA program which began the move by Centacare into the area of child protection, a commitment which is still evident today.

In 1996, the Hughenden program relocated and became Centacare's presence in Bowen. Tony McDermott also oversaw Centacare's move from the Hindley Street premises in Townsville to the vacant school building of St Mary's in West End on 20 January 1997.  At the end of Tony McDermott's leadership in 2001, the list of quality professional services offered by Centacare had grown considerably, with offices in Townsville/Thuringowa, Mt Isa and Bowen as well as outreach components of existing programs to the Ingham and Burdekin areas.

On 22 January 2001 Barry Sheehan was appointed Director of Centacare. At that time, Centacare was an organisation of about fifty employees in 15 programs across four sites: two in Townsville including the Respite House and in Bowen and Mount Isa.  By 2004, Centacare had grown to be one of the larger regional, rural and remote services in Queensland with 85 staff across 18 programs. In 2004, Centacare in Townsville relocated from West End to a purpose built office in Cranbrook and in 2006 Centacare was successful in securing funding to establish a Family Relationships Centre which necessitated the establishment of additional premises in Townsville.

In recent years, in Mt Isa, service provision has broadened from counselling and related services to community engagement, support, education and partnerships.  Two major programs have driven this change.  Thus, Centacare in Mt Isa began working with homeless families and individuals in different ways including becoming registered housing providers.  In addition, significant Communities for Children funding has enabled staff to broker other agencies to provide early intervention and preventive services for child protection and development as well as be direct providers of services themselves.  Mt Isa staff also undertake significant community engagement within the local community.

On 5 November 2007, Tony McMahon became Director. In Mt Isa, expansion of services required the purchase of a new building in Miles St in 2008 in addition to the use of the offices in Corbould St.  In 2008, a new office was also purchased in Normanton. 

In October 2015 Peter Monaghan became Director of Centacare Townsville. In 2015 Centacare changed our name to Centacare North Queensland, in recognition of the area in which we provide service. Currently, Centacare in the Diocese of Townsville has about 160 staff with offices in Bowen, Cloncurry, Mt Isa, Normanton and Townsville. In addition, Centacare staff provide services in Richmond, Julia Creek, Palm Island, Collinsville, Charters Towers, Ingham and Ayr.  This area is about 23% of the landmass of Queensland.

After more than 30 years of service to North Queensland, Centacare continues to provide quality service delivery from dedicated professional staff inspired by the social teachings of the Church.  

Gleeson, DJ. (2002). The origins of Melbourne's Catholic Social Services Bureau (Centacare), Footprints, June, 25-48.