September 2021 Newsletter




One of the biggest expenses that we face each term is physically printing, folding, and mailing out the Emmanuel Centre Newsletter, in its original hard-copy format. Working with the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of Perth, we are developing a new format that can be emailed out with minimal cost and is easily shared with friends. Keeping the newsletter digital also lets us include hyperlinks in the text, links that will take you directly to more resources with the click of a mouse. Another aim of digitizing our communications is to ensure that we engage with the younger members of our community, who, whether deaf or hearing, spend so much time on their mobiles, tablets and laptops.

However, we know and appreciate that many of our older members prefer a hardcopy of the newsletter, and we would like to reassure you that this format will still be available upon request. If you would like to receive a physical copy of the Emmanuel Centre’s newsletter, please call us on 9381 8113.

Similarly, if you have recently changed your email address and would like to continue receiving the newsletter, or would like to discontinue your subscription, please send us an email at so that we can update your details.


Walking with God isn’t easy.  He changes your way of operating.  Makes you have a good look at things. What I got when I started at Emmanuel and what we have now are two very different things. Let’s be thankful for the past and look forward to the future.

What’s coming?

It has been clearly shown to us that young people with a disability leaving school are at a greater risk. So, what are we doing?  We are partnering with 24/7 who run youth groups in parishes and schools to run a few networking meetings next year starting in February. 24/7 has some great young leaders as my kids tell me, I’m too old to be a youth worker. The meetings are to give young people with a disability a chance to meet other young people.  Giving them a chance to meet a few agencies that they can call for help if needed.  A better chance of being independent.

Next year if funds allow, we will run a Youth Mental Health First Aid course in the last half of next year.

We will also be starting Parent Groups for parents of special needs kids.  The aim here is to support them run their own groups.  We are currently looking at where to start the first group and it looks like it will be south of the river. 

40th Anniversary of Emmanuel Centre and Christmas Mass and Celebration details for this are in a different section.  Yes, the Emmanuel Centre has been around for 40 years.  Fr Paul Pitzen and Barbara Harris started the Emmanuel Centre, as a response to the International Year of Disability.  Emmanuel is going back to what they started and reaching out.

We are now going through the process of visiting all the parishes and started by visiting Goomalling. It doesn’t matter where you are in the Diocese, if we can, we will help if needed.


Emmanuel Centre recently hosted a ‘planning and pizza night’ with the deaf community to find out what they’d like to do as a group. Seventeen people sat around the table including 11 deaf, 5 Emmanuel Centre staff, and 1 Auslan interpreter that Geoff brought with him (thanks Geoff!). It was a good meeting, starting and ending with a prayer as it should. Joe explained some of the plans that we have, such as inviting young deaf people who just finish high school into our community. And the deaf were invited to voice their opinion on what they think of the plan and what other things they’d like to happen. While we were talking, pizzas were ordered, and eaten! And so were other nibbles and a chocolate cake brought in by Christina (yum!). At the conclusion of the meeting, some of us went home but a few stayed on and chatted until 10pm! It was a good night.

One thing that came out of this meeting was a request to have a regular monthly social meeting where deaf people could come, socialise, and share a meal. We asked everyone which day of the week would be best and Thursday was decided to be the best night (as Friday is already taken up by the Deaf Club).

Emmanuel Centre is more than happy to host this fellowship, which will start on Thursday 30th September and is planned to be on the last Thursday of every month (except December), from 6pm. Everyone is requested to bring a plate of finger food to share, with coffee and tea provided by us.

So, if you know any deaf person who would be interested in this, please let them know. They could RSVP to us at


We are extremely sad to announce that the Emmanuel Centre has lost the use of the two classrooms that were the original St Francis Xavier school building. The classrooms, built nearly 100 years ago, have been inspected by engineers who have deemed them unsafe for use, due to collapsing roof segments (as pictured below), unsound foundations and poor structural integrity of the western wall next to the old kitchen. Despite the best efforts of the Archdiocese to preserve the building as a functional space for the Centre, the more than $200,000 cost of repairs greatly exceeds our budget. As such, we have completely stripped both classrooms and transferred all our group activities to the office building situated behind the old school. The buildings will be partially repaired and used as storage space by the Archdiocese.


With the recent opening of the Emmanuel Community House, the Archdiocese has moved forward with selling the old residential property at number 29 Windsor Street (next door). Proceeds from the sale will go towards covering the construction costs of number 27, which has been constructed in accordance with the highest, ‘platinum’ standard for disability accommodation services. Number 29 was one of the original accommodation services provided by the Centre and has housed numerous residents over many years, providing a safe place for the vulnerable when no one and nowhere else would. As you can imagine, this is a bitter-sweet moment for the Centre, saying goodbye to the old to welcome in the new – especially for Debbie, who called number 29 home for over 30 years. 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2


We have been deeply involved in research this year (in between our clean-up activities), drilling down into the facts and figures that inform the provision of disability services, both in general and specific to Perth. We want to ensure that our decision-making process is based on accurate, up to date data that reflects the real, lived experience of people with a disability – rather than mindlessly repeating the approaches of the past. We want to be effective!

One of the key factors that emerged was the importance of community integration and support for young people during those first years after leaving school. Leaving behind the familiar support networks of friends, teachers (and even parents) can be incredibly daunting during this transition from childhood to becoming an adult, especially when faced with greater inherent challenges to easy integration in a fast-paced world. 

The Disabled Youth Social Networking Group (not the final name) is a proposed means of overcoming at least a few of these challenges by allowing young people to meet and form strong relationships with others in a similar situation, while in their last year of school. The Emmanuel Centre in conjunction with the Catholic youth ministry, 24/7, is planning to hold its first meeting of the Networking Group on the 5th of February 2022 at Trinity College (Gibney Hall), bringing together disabled youth from across the Archdiocese of Perth in a forum where they are able to provide and access support for themselves and their peers.

Though they may be the only person in their school with their diagnosis, there is a good chance that their situation is potentially very similar to that of another young person, in another school, on the other side of town. Our aim is to bring them together and empower them through faith and fellowship to be the best that they can be in partnership with one another and the Church.


Good governance is crucial to ensuring that the Emmanuel Centre performs to the best of its ability in meeting the mandate that we have been given by the Archbishop. As such, one of the first tasks undertaken by the new Coordinator, has been to assemble an experienced management committee that will keep us accountable, assist in strategic planning (contributing invaluable insights from their respective fields) and ensure that we are truly living the vision and values of an Agency of the Archdiocese of Perth. The inaugural meeting of the management committee took place on Wednesday the 11th of August, at the Emmanuel Centre, where the seven members (listed below) were inducted. We are truly grateful to our committee members for volunteering their valuable time to assist the Centre at this crucial time of renewal.

  • Kate Warren – Industrial Relations Lawyer, Chairperson
  • Lia Florey – CAPAC Accountant, Treasurer
  • Ken Brown – Cathedral Parish Representative
  • Prof John Olynyk – St John of God Healthcare Consultant Hepatologist, Fiona Stanley Hospital Dean of Clinical Research, Edith Cowan University Theme Lead, Health Research Edith Cowan University
  • Mary Ballantine – Archbishops Representative
  • John Holsgrove – Retired Prendiville School Counsellor

And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19


The Emmanuel Centre would not be the place that it is today without Geoff Scott, who for some 30 years has been both a volunteer and employee – and its only Deaf staff member. Everyone who has worked at the Centre during the last three decades has been taught Auslan by Geoff, who is amazingly patient with our struggles to learn a new language: our huge, ungainly signs; constant errors and the slow pace of our adult learning. All of which he takes in stride with his great sense of humor and ready smile.

Geoff was gifted with a vision from the Holy Spirit one Sunday morning (March 20) in 2011 which has been his source of spiritual inspiration.

Geoff is a jack-of-all-trades here at the Centre and when he’s not teaching Auslan, he is busy taking care of the gardens, repairing things, managing the recycling program (drink containers and newspapers) and leading the Tuesday morning art class for our intellectually disabled guests.

Geoff received a certificate in Fine Arts from TAFE before going to Curtin University where he undertook a Bachelor in Fine Arts and he did the better part of a Graduate Diploma in the same subject. He is a gifted artist, and we are extremely grateful that he is willing to pass on his talents to the students here at the Emmanuel Centre. We would like to let parishes know that Geoff has turned his artistic skills to repairing and restoring Church statuary, bringing the saints back to life if they have been damaged or their colours have faded over the years, and we encourage churches to get in contact with The Emmanuel Centre if they would like him to work with their art.

Geoff also has more medals than anyone we have ever met, won during his many years as a champion Deaf swimmer and water polo player. Geoff has represented Australia many times and was a swimming coach, helping fellow Deaflympians achieve their dreams yet is one of the most down to earth, humble people you will ever meet. Once again, we are incredibly grateful that he is willing to be such a big part of the Emmanuel Centre and acknowledge the crucial role that he plays in our ministry to the Deaf and hard of Hearing – with his skills and experience he really is the lynchpin of this ministry.

You’re invited to



Where: 25 Windsor St, Perth (near East Perth train station)

When: Tuesday 14th December 2021

Starts at 11am Mass celebrated with Bishop Don Sproxton

followed by Lunch from 12 – 2pm

Please bring a plate of finger food to share.

RSVP 9328 8113 or email by 10th Dec 2021

Newsletter June 2021


This year, a number of things have happened that have forced a few changes. 

  • COVID 19:  Infection Control
    • Now we have to be able to deep clean any furniture and anything that can’t be Deep Cleaned has to be disposed of.
    • QR codes and registers the same as the parishes.
  • Health, Safety and Environment:
    • Closure of the old kitchen. The corner of the old school building near the old kitchen has major cracks in it and has had to be closed for safety reasons.  This has required us to make a few changes to the away we run the programs.
    • All chairs must be rated to take 130kg.
  • The introduction of the new Auditing standards from the Australian Catholic Bishops Council (ACBC) which has led to a new filing system, accountability measures and risk management planning.  This has created new challenges we have to meet.
  • The Archdiocese is moving to stop the overlap of services which has meant a new collaboration between Identitywa and Emmanuel Centre for the running of the house at 27 Windsor St.  Identity WA has been great in stepping outside their normal practices so the philosophy of how the house is run is consistent with Emmanuel’s philosophy.
  • We have done a review of the numbers the Emmanuel Centre is serving and have realised we need to bring some younger people into the fold.  In the next few weeks, you will see the following…
  • Advertising for expressions of interest for a Parents group for those with disabled children. Many years ago, these were called Mothers Groups. In 2021 there are a lot of Dads who are the primary carers for their kids so today they are called Parent Groups.

A lot of the changes we have had no control over.  We just have to do it.  The ACBC changes are significant, and I am not sure exactly what they yet mean.  The Diocese is also working to make the system more effective and transparent because of the Royal Commission a couple of years ago.


In May, our new Chaplain will come. Currently he is relieving in a parish in the far North West.  Every Chaplain brings their own gifts and talents, and I am looking forward to the new Chaplain bringing his gifts to the table.

On Friday the 9th of April we were joined by good friends (both Deaf and Hearing) for a time of sharing and fellowship here at the Emmanuel Centre for our Pizza Night. A huge thanks to Anne Page for her generous provision of drinks and deserts (I think she knew that we were at risk of missing out if it was just left to us males to organize), which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Not only did we get to discuss what has been happening here at the Centre, we also got the chance to practice our Auslan in a real conversational environment – which was both encouraging and a reminder of just how far we have to go in our journey towards fluency. The night was opened in prayer by Joe O’Brien, before we unpacked a few boxes of Dominoes’ finest and a little bit about how each of us came to be involved with The Emmanuel Centre. And most importantly, we were able to discuss the current needs facing the community and how we can best position the Agency to assist. We also shared the new vision and mandate that the Centre has been given by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, now that the introduction of the NDIS has so dramatically changed the disability services’ landscape. Most of all, it was just great to have an opportunity to engage with our community in a meaningful way after being so busy with other, foundational aspects of the transformation.


Since its inception, attendees at the Emmanuel Centre’s Monday and Tuesday programs have their lunch provided, all for the amazing price of $2! Being able to access a nutritious meal as part of the program is incredibly important to our guests’ wellbeing, as is learning food preparation skills and the social engagement that occurs during a shared meal.

To support this more effectively, the Emmanuel Centre will be increasing the lunch fee from $2 to $4 – to reflect the increases in the price of food that have occurred over the last 40 years and give the team greater flexibility in preparing options for lunch.


It was a moment that we had all been waiting for with anticipation, the big day when Debbie and Toto were finally able to start moving into the new accommodation at 29 Windsor Street, Perth. The new house was completed earlier this year, with delays in the move occurring due to administrative processes – as the best operating model for the future was established between The Emmanuel Centre and Identity WA, the Archdiocese’s largest disability services agency and an acknowledged leader in the provision of specialised accommodation within Western Australia.

We are very grateful to all those who have made the project possible: the people on the steering committee, the volunteers, Tim Lanigan (the architect), Damian and Marcel Bianchini (the builders) and the many workers and tradespeople who have been part of the project.

The house has been constructed in accordance with the highest, ‘platinum’ standard for disability accommodation services and it was thrilling to see residents moving in and starting to make the house into a home.

And no one was more excited than Debbie, who had been preparing for this moment for months. She has claimed her favorite bedroom as her own and has started decorating, personalizing her rooms with artwork to make it feel like home. Debbie really likes the high ceilings and roof mounted windows in her private ensuite.


Judith Wirawan is the Administration Officer here at The Emmanuel Centre….

My name is Judith and I’m the admin person here at Emmanuel Centre. That means I do admin and paperwork such as database, bills, receipts, etc… but as we’re a small team here at Emmanuel Centre, we all do our bits when there is a job that needs lots of hands, such as cleaning, preparing for events, moving office, and others. I started here at Emmanuel Centre as a volunteer about seven years ago now, mainly helping with the newsletter preparation. After a year or two, I started working part time in an administration role, and I am still here now! I love the idea of working for a Church agency, in an organisation that is trying to do good things. And when I come to work and see the happy faces of our regular participants such as Debbie, Veena, and Alan, I feel like my choice is confirmed. And it doesn’t hurt that I have kind colleagues who all also want to do good things for people around us. I always feel the friendship and support from them in whatever we do here.

  Rachel Felix is the Project Officer here at the Centre…

My name is Rachel Felix.  I started my journey at the Emmanuel Centre 5 years ago, volunteering to assist in certain projects.  My task has been++ to get the members attending this centre as well as a group of deaf people, involved in meaningful activities such as growing and juicing of wheatgrass, growing of fresh herbs and vegetables in our vege-pod, upholstery etc.  I have also been involved in the compilation of the religious sign language document. The deaf have always been a big part of the Emmanuel Centre and hence learning of sign language has been crucial to our communication with them.  Learning of this language is very much a ‘work in progress’ for all of us here at the Emmanuel Centre. I am excited about the new plans and projects our Centre is planning for the future.

Shannon is the Activities Coordinator here at The Emmanuel Centre…

Hi, my name is Shannon and I run the activities sessions on a Monday and Tuesday each week at the Emmanuel Centre. We have a great group of people who regularly attend, having fun creating things, making foods, having a cuppa and socialising. On Mondays we run a craft session in the morning. This year we’ve made some great things like travel neck pillows, personal heat packs and our own Red Poppy brooches to wear on Anzac Day. We also have our wonderful volunteer Judy who comes in and shows us how to do spinning of wool into yarn and weaving on looms. On Tuesday mornings I assist our deaf artist, Geoff Scott with the painting session. Each day we create a meal and eat together, while our afternoons are revolved around a rotation of activities such as playing Skittles, scrapbooking, cards and board games etc.

Eric is the Pastoral Worker here at the Centre…

Hi, I’m the newest member of the team, having started at the beginning of this year in the role of Pastoral Worker, three days a week. I am also employed as a journalist with the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of Perth, where I am blessed to come into contact with a wide range of people and activities that support The Emmanuel Centre. My background is in communications, management and marketing – where the skills used in running teams and training, transfer readily to supporting good mental health and wellbeing. My sister (a long-term resident with Identitywa) has both a physical and intellectual disability, and our journey as a family through the many unique challenges that came with her situation, has given me a passion for supporting people in this area. Similarly, my young son is on the Spectrum and as we embark on our NDIS journey with him, I firmly believe that this process can only add to the knowledge and approach that I bring to the Centre.

Out of His infinite glory, may He give you the power through His Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong. Ephesians 3:16

Newsletter January 2021

A New Year Brings a New Beginning

The Emmanuel Centre is both sad and excited to announce that in 2021, big changes are taking place: sad, to farewell Barbara Harris, who for some 40 years has been the heart and soul of the centre, alongside the late Fr Paul Pitzen; yet excited to begin the next chapter in this amazing journey with our friends and clients as we pursue new opportunities for the community. We wish Barbara every blessing and success in her new endeavours and sincerely hope to build the ministry in a way that reflects her and Fr Paul’s original vision: to provide a service on a needs basis to those who embrace the ethos and principles of Emmanuel Centre without regard to labels, embracing people’s needs and dreams, their aspirations and visions. People’s lives are changed for the better because people are seen as individuals with their own individual needs and capacities.

  • The Emmanuel Centre serves all people with disability, their families, carers and friends – the definitions of the disability and labels are irrelevant.
  • The Emmanuel Centre advocates for inclusiveness in all areas.
  • The Emmanuel Centre provides its services through people with disability, their families and anyone interested in the values of Emmanuel.
  • Emmanuel encourages and supports other generic agencies to include people with disability to take on services and programs for access.
  • Emmanuel Centre works through self-help with everyone accepting responsibility for their own growth as far as they are able.
  • Emmanuel Centre endeavours to provide what is needed, as it is needed, with or without funding. God provides.

We would love for you to be involved, either as an active member of our community or as one of our many supporters, and invite you to get in touch via email to re-join our mailing list.

As ‘care for our common home’ is a principle of Catholic Social Justice, we will be transitioning to digital communications wherever possible, including the newsletter (though we will still mail out the newsletter in its current form on request). Our Facebook page ( will begin to play a key role in our communications, helping you to find out and share what is happening here at the Centre and letting you know about issues that affect the community. Please add us as your friend!

Welcome Joe O’Brien

After much prayerful discernment by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, the Curia and Archdiocesan Executive Team, we are thrilled to announce that Mr Joe O’Brien has been selected as the new Coordinator of the Emmanuel Centre in 2021.

Exceptionally qualified, Joe O’Brien was the Coordinator for Prison Ministry at the Archdiocese of Perth and is highly experienced at organising support from both lay people and religious, with a mind to the impact that acts of mercy and compassion can have for all involved.

“Prison ministry was really one of those things that was about living your faith: the idea was that if you lived your faith well, then people saw that faith in action,” Joe said.

“Because for most people, you can say what you like, you can give them things to read but it makes little or no difference – it’s about what you do. People see what you do and they realise that you mean what you say – they appreciate it and go: ‘Well, okay!’.”

Prison Chaplaincy is all about living “a real faith” and it is this same willingness to put one’s faith on the line that maps a clear transition pathway from the prison ministry, to one focussed on supporting people with a disability.

“Working in that sort of environment, you really have to have a concrete faith. In my experience, my faith was always getting challenged, even simply by some of the stories that I heard. However, even hearing those stories, just by listening and being there, I’ve had guys tell me years later that those moments really changed their life.

“And that’s incredibly faith building.”

The history of the Emmanuel Centre is full of similar stories: tales of the impact that God has had in the lives of so many people within the community, as they overcome adversity and tackle the extra challenges that they may face in daily life.

“We’re really excited about the future of the Emmanuel Centre and are looking forward to welcoming our friends and family back to help us realise the full potential of this amazing opportunity for renewal that we have been given,” Joe said.

“Re-engaging with the community in 2021 and identifying the gaps in the current service delivery model on offer within WA is a real priority for us yet at the same time, we are commited to ensureing that there is a high level of continuity for our existing clientele.”

“I look forward to the challenge that God has set for us and would like to extend an invitation to all of those people who have been involved with the Emmanuel Centre over the last 40 years to get in contact and to stay engaged with what we are doing: you are the reason for our existence, your story is our story and we want you to be a big part of the future, part of the vision that we share.”

“To quote Romans 8:28: ‘We know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.’”

Emmanuel Centre Christmas Party

The Emmanuel Centre Christmas Party was a warm, wonderful affair that brought together family and friends to reflect on the favour that God has shown to the community in 2020, the year of COVID-19, and to give thanks for everything that He has done for us through the provision of His son, Christ Jesus.

Some 100 guests gathered for the 11am Mass at St Francis Xavier’s Church on Windsor St, East Perth – next to the Emmanuel Centre – concelebrated by Monsignor Kevin Long of St Joseph’s Subiaco and Fr Patrick Toohey, with the familiarity between the priests, the congregation and special guests enlivening the entire service.

“Barbara Harris (Chaplain for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community) and I go way back and I can tell that my being here (at St Francis Xavier’s), rather than St Joseph’s, to celebrate the Mass has definitely confused the normal order of things for some…” Fr Long began in his introduction.

“Squeaky (Mrs Harris’ dog) won’t stop staring at me. She is probably thinking that this is not my church – what am I doing here!”

The close knit nature of the community, where people of varying levels of ability come together to support one another, allows its members to flourish and fosters a reduction in the strict formality that people often associate with the Church, encouraging all comers to actively participate in the catechesis of their faith – to the best of their ability.

The entire service was Auslan interpreted, with the words to each song signed by Mrs Harris or guest interpreter, Ms Kristy Smith, ranging from traditional hymns to Sunday school favourites, once again reflecting the diversity of ability at the Emmanuel Centre. The music ministry from St Denis Parish Joondanna provide the music support.

Special appearances by Mary, played by community member Sara Burke and the closing remarks made by Centre resident Debbie Kappler and regular attendee Alan Roddy were a particular highlight of the celebration.

Following the Mass, guests were invited to join the community for an outdoor pot-luck feast, setup under the dappled light of the Morton Bay Figs that dominate the Emmanuel Centre’s grounds, where Debby, assisted by Toto and Rachel Felix, handed out Christmas presents to the guests.

As with many different abilities service providers, this year has been significantly challenging for the Emmanuel Centre as it dealt with the impact of COVID-19 and the need to provide pastoral support to a vulnerable community, during a pandemic – many members found themselves especially isolated during this time, excluded from finding out what was happening due to inherent communication barriers in the messages transmitted to the general population.

Being able to come together at Christmas for a special time of celebration was a wonderful experience that reaffirmed each person’s place within the community and strengthened the bonds that unite us.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 118:1

Emmanuel Centre Community House

The Emmanuel Community House project has been completed and is now in the last stages of preparation for handover. We are very grateful to all those who have made the project possible: the people on the steering committee, the volunteers, Tim Lanigan (the architect), Damian and Marcel Bianchini (the builders) and the many workers and tradespeople who have been part of the project.

The house has been constructed in accordance with the highest, ‘platinum’ standard for disability accommodation services. We are incredibly excited to begin the next phase of the project, which will see the transition from house to home under the management of Identitywa, the Archdiocese’s largest disability services agency and an acknowledged leader in the provision of specialised accommodation within Western Australia. This selection of photos displays the recently landscaped gardens and beautifully finished kitchen and meals area.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:6-7