Sr Leone Wittmack: A ministry in the Top EndPrint
We Sisters of Charity, seeking God in all things,
commit to a culture of encounter and collaboration.
We hear the call for us to be an inclusive community of presence for each other and our world. We commit to deep listening and open-hearted, respectful encounters. We will be “more” for the greater glory of God.
(extract from Sisters of Charity of Australia Direction Statement- 28th General Chapter 2021)
Currently General Manager for Mission and Culture for CatholicCare in the Northern Territory, Sr Leone has had a long and fulfilling career in health in Australia.
Trained at St Vincent’s in Toowoomba, she has worked in Rwanda, Cambodia,Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea, and was the National Director of Mission at St Vincent’s Health Australia for nine years, having worked in many positions in our Health Services including the Director of Nursing at was then known as Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst.
In 2013, she was named Executive Director of Catholic Religious Australia. During this time she went on a journey of spiritual renewal which saw her walking the pilgrims’ way, el camino de Santiago to Campostela. “It was a wonderful experience. Fantastic. I walked 800 kilometres through Spain and it allowed me time for deep reflection and renewal. It provided me with the opportunity to rid myself and let go of the many stones that I had gathered over my life’s experience which prevented me from being totally open and free. During the Camino they presented themselves in reality in my shoes along with many blisters. By the end of the pilgrimage I had managed to divest myself of the stones both literally and figuratively.
“I had just come back from that experience, and saw an advertisement for a mission role in CatholicCare NT. I applied for the position and was fortunate enough to be the successful applicant.“
In February 2015, Sr Leone began her Ministry with CatholicCare NT, a not-for-profit organisation providing counselling, social work, community development and other support services and programs to individuals, couples, families, children groups, schools, and agencies across the Northern Territory. CatholicCare NT also manages the NoMore Campaign, saying no to family violence. What started out as a campaign has now extended to programs addressing family violence and behavioural change counselling and programs. Another important service is the provision of Safe Houses in some of the remote communities and more recently CatholicCare has been asked to provide and manage Child Care Centres on the Tiwi Islands and in Ali Curung south of Tennant Creek. Funding for all the services provided by CatholicCare is provided by both the Australian and Northern Territory governments. CatholicCare NT is a Ministry of the Diocese of Darwin which covers 1.35 million square kms.
Sr Leone’s role at CatholicCare is General Manager for Mission and Culture. She works closely with the Executive looking at values integration in strategy, policy, learning and development and evaluation processes. She also has the opportunity to work with and get to know all the staff, travelling to all the area of the NT and the APY Lands where CatholicCare conducts its services.
“When I first came to live in Darwin and to work more widely in the Northern Territory, it was certainly a big learning curve, and although I am now in my seventh year the curve continues. Working up here you never stop learning. It’s clearly very different to working within a huge health service with 16,000 staff and lots of resources. This is such a vast area, which ranges from the Tiwi islands in the north to the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) lands in the south, and there is a lot less people to cover area. Currently CatholicCare employs around 260 people with 30% coming from Aboriginal heritage.”
The main offices of CatholicCare are located in Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. From these centres services extend to Wadeye (Port Keats), Nauiyu (Daly River), the Tiwi Islands,-Bathurs and Melville , Santa Teresa, Titjikala, Finke, Maningrida (West Arnhem Land) and Jabiru.
Despite the scale of the NT and the limited resources of CatholicCare NT, Sr Leone was grateful to be offered her role. “I had always wanted to work in the NT. while at the same time having the urge to go back overseas and work in a developing country. As an Australian, it is a terrible thing to have to admit, but working up here with some of the most disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable people in Australia, it is not much different to working in a developing country. Unfortunately, you don’t have to leave Australia!”
Working in the Northern Territory is very different to working in our other States and there was a lot to take into account. “One of my first learnings was that I had to be flexible enough to use my knowledge and experience in a way which serves and supports the people here. To do this I also took a lot of advice from our Aboriginal staff who are our cultural educators and I continue to work very closely with them.”
“Understanding difference in theory is one thing. Living that understanding is another.A really important focus for CatholicCare is to ensure that all of our new staff are inducted in cultural awareness for the area of the NT in which they are working. To do this our Cultural Educators have developed a cultural awareness program. This team of Cultural Educators come from all the areas where CatholicCare provides its services so they are able to provide the correct information to our new staff. There are at least 40 different cultural and language groups in the NT, so one size doesn’t fit all. This was highlighted a few years ago when the theme for NAIDOC Week was ‘Our Language Matters.’ It is the richness of all these cultural differences that I love so much.”
“CatholicCare is very committed to working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 2016 we developed and launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). This is done in partnership with Reconciliation Australia. Every three years we have the opportunity to develop our RAP strategy further. A member of our Executive from Aboriginal heritage chairs our RAP Committee. He is responsible for our workforce development strategy with a particular focus on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. This is a strong focus in our RAP and as a result we now have Aboriginal staff working at all levels of the Organisation. I am also on the Committee and each year we submit a report to Reconciliation Australia.
New and Current Ministry in the NT
Sr Leone is responsible for ensuring that the vision, mission and values are integrated into all areas of the service.
She works closely with CatholicCare NT’s Human Resource team, Finance, Program Leadership, Program evaluation and Clinical Governance. She also provides support to the Director and other members of the executive and has developed a Mission and Values Integration Framework. “One of the most fulfilling aspects of my ministry is meeting and working with all the staff in the numerous urban and remote localities in which CatholicCare delivers its services,” she said.
“Inducting new staff in mission and values provides a great opportunity to meet all the staff on a one to one basis and enables me to form good supportive relationships. I am involved in delivering the orientation programs and providing reflection and mission development to the managers and program leaders.”
The mission, vision and values of CatholicCare are founded on Catholic Social Teaching which calls this Catholic social service to strengthen individuals, families and communities in ways that respect their dignity and culture. CatholicCare is committed to promoting justice and inclusion, caring for the most vulnerable while working for the common good. All this is very evident in the work of CatholicCare.
“Getting to all of the areas can be quite a challenge especially in the wet season, travelling by air, road and in recent times COVID 19 has presented a further challenge. However, the effort is well and truly worth it. Working with and getting to know these very committed staff, who do a wonderful job as they walk alongside and work with very vulnerable people is an absolute privilege. They are an inspiration and provide me with the encouragement I need to do my ministry.”
“Working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff is also a wonderful experience. Being open to the learnings that they bring only contributes to a person’s growth. It is an opportunity to learn from each other,” Sr Leone said.
“As mentioned earlier, CatholicCare NT has a great commitment to our First Nations peoples and each year during NAIDOC week we acknowledge the great work done by our Aborginal staff by presenting them with our own Director’s NAIDOC Awards. These are awarded in keeping with the National Theme for NAIDOC Week. The categories include , Emerging Leader, Team Award, Caring for Country and Person of the Year. Our staff are very proud to receive these awards and go back to their communities a renewed sense to show leadership in their place of work.
“Reconciliation Week provides another opportunity for CatholicCare to celebrate. This takes on different celebrations depending on the area. In Darwin the celebration includes inviting the Larrakia Elders, and members of the Stolen Generations to join us and share their stories. Some of our staff are the children of these wonderful Elders and so this opportunity is alwaysof special and significant importance for everyone.
“Working up in the NT also gives me the opportunity to work in other areas of the Diocese. These opportunities include working with Jesuit Social Services and other NGO’s to highlight and contribute to writing submission on Climate Emergency highlighting how this is affecting our remotes communities. I am also on some Committees set up by the Bishop which has included writing policy and guidelines for Supervision for Clergy and Religious. Another delight for me is the opportunity to play the drum every Saturday evening at Mass with a great Filipino choir and at other liturgical celebrations put on by the Diocese. From the Ecumenical perspective, I am a member of the NT Council of Churches representing the Diocese. This gives the opportunity to have some very important discussion and reflection on a number of issues affecting the wider Christian Community and Church.
“I really love my minsitry up here in the Northern Territory, My ministry continues to unfold for me every day and I continue to embrace the challenges it brings. At our 28th General Chapter in March 2021 our Direction Statement said ‘ We, Sisters of Charity, seeking God in all things, commit to a culture of encounter and collaboration’ My ministry certainly gives me many opportunities to do this every single day.”, said Sr Leone said.
If you would like to know more about the Mission of CatholicCare NT you can visit www.catholiccarent.org.au
The Northern Territory is an area of Australia where the Sisters of Charity have not had a permanent presence in the past. However, as with a number of our Sisters current ministries, the efforts of Sister Leone Wittmack rsc show that the spirit of Mary Aikenhead is very much alive. Her ministry in the Northern Territory certainly reflects the 2014 – 2021 Chapter Statement as it allows the Sisters to live the joy of the Gospel with all its challenges going out to the margins of Australia in some of the remotest areas of the country to walk in partnership with the people there and offering much needed services.
Main image: Sr Leone. Photo by Tim Bauer
Second image: Sr Leone – Time for a meeting
Third image: Out in the field
Fourth image: Sr Leone’s range in the NT
Fifth image: Sr Leone at the 28th General Chapter of the Sisters of Charity of Australia. Phot by Tim Bauer