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