The Legacy of Mary MacKillop in Canberra

By Alison Weeks

In the middle of a Canberra winter two months ago, CatholicCare did a wonderful thing, it opened a residence for women who are homeless – and their children.  And this is not just another shelter, this is a strategy – to ensure that the women they help go on to find and access safe, permanent housing and stabilise their lives.

Anne Kirwan, CEO of CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn said that the opportunity to use the old Sisters of Saint Joseph convent to help women get back on their feet was too good to pass up.  “What a legacy of Saint Mary MacKillop!”, she said.

For the first time in ages, twenty single women, and another six with accompanying children will be able to sleep properly tonight – they will be able to breathe.

The convent in Lyneham was originally built as accommodation for single women and MacKillop House has exploited that to focus on the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, single women, especially those over 50 years of age.  Women who have run into difficulty and out of options are at significant risk; their plight is made worse by the threat to their safety.  Frequently, they sleep in their cars or move from one friend or family member to another, sleeping on couches and the floor.  COVID 19 and social distancing changed all that of course – no one wanted a stranger staying in their house.

MacKillop House opened on the 2nd of June to offer a “home” to women who were homeless and to walk with them, hand in hand, as they navigate the public housing system, the medical system, the job market and even the judicial system.  CatholicCare have relocated their child and family services so that they are on site for immediate access.  They work on a very simple (MacKillop) principle: “tell us what you need and we will work with you”.

Ms Kirwan said that CatholicCare started MacKillop House because that’s where the need was most urgent.  It is extremely difficult to focus on getting a job, finding schools and childcare, getting training, rehab, physio, etc, when you are constantly worrying about where you are going to sleep – and how you will pay for it.  She said “We needed to provide an option that offers women the stability and reassurance of safety, but also the time, support and resources necessary to get their lives back on track”.  MacKillop House is a ‘residence’, where people can stay for up to three months.

This special service focuses on single women, especially older ones.  Obviously, many women experiencing homelessness will have been exposed to domestic and family violence, but that is not the only trigger for homelessness.  Financial problems, relationship breakdown, the loss of a job, mental illness, drug & alcohol use, these often contribute to the loss of housing.

MacKillop House also allows six women to bring their children with them and to live in standalone units, as a family – another reason they can breathe again!

CatholicCare is focused on solutions, not handouts.  All residents pay rent from any income they receive so that they learn to budget for the future.  The payback for CatholicCare is to see a woman and perhaps, her family, back on their feet and safely and securely housed.

Anyone can refer a woman in need to MacKillop House. Perhaps you know someone who is already homeless or on the brink of losing their home.  Call CatholicCare’s MacKillop House on 61637677 or go to the websites: or

A person can also refer themselves, as can their family, friends, doctor, lawyer, or employer.

Onelink is  the centralised point for people who are in need of housing in the ACT and therefore is another pathway to assistance – where you can find out more, get advice, or get help; Ring 1800 176 468.

If you would like to find out more about CatholicCare, or perhaps you would like to donate your money or your time, please ring Toni La Brooy on 0408 880 943 or 6162 6144.


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