Centacare’s Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care

21 years ago Jim Noonan saw a notice in the parish newsletter that caught his attention.

The notice was about a training course for pastoral carers offered by Centacare’s Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care (CPPC).

The training course is run each year by Mrs Janine De Maria, coordinator of CPPC and registered Mental Health Nurse, and Fr Jim Smith, a priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. They take 12 new carers each year and conduct the course once a week over 6 months. Trainees are thoroughly prepared to a high professional standard to ensure that they can assist with CPPCs various ministries:

  • The Office providing pastoral care by telephone to those with mental illness and their families from anywhere in Queensland and beyond
  • The Centre providing a place of welcome and prayer for people suffering from mental illness with an organised weekly program of activities and opportunities for one-to-one contact.
  • Hospital Visitation visiting patients in hospital in the midst of an acute stage of their psychiatric illness and connecting that person with the church community
  • Hostel Visitation visiting hostel residents and ensuring that their spiritual needs are met both individually and with small prayer groups and Liturgies of the Word and Holy Communion
  • Prayer Ministry comprising religious who have previously trained and worked with CPPC, who include the special intentions of members into their Masses and their weekly community prayer
  • Catholic Companionship Program a spiritual enrichment program specifically tailored to people with psychiatric illness held on Fridays, which involves choir practice, group reading and reflection on Scripture Readings, and Mass at St Patrick’s in Fortitude Valley, as well as morning and afternoon tea and lunch for members. Catholic Companionship is at the heart of what CPPC is all about – some 30-40 members meet individually and in groups with 10-12 pastoral carers who facilitate as members speak and ask questions about their faith. This is supported and directed by Fr Jim Smith’s letter – a handwritten homily bringing the Sunday Readings to members.

Jim, then a veterinary surgeon, applied and was accepted into this one-of-a-kind course.

He became one of 90+ pastoral carers that staffs these ministries. Initially Jim worked on Mondays in The Centre, but since retiring he has undertaken hospital visitations once a week and regularly helps out on Fridays with the Catholic Companionship Program. Like the other pastoral carers Jim is not paid for this work, he selflessly gives his time as an entirely voluntary commitment.

Having already had some experience in pastoral care Jim came to realise that what was most unique about Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care was that it aimed to be both therapeutic and pastoral.

Since walking through the door many years ago Jim Noonan has been a great companion for Justin Houghton, a CPPC member. They are pictured together reflecting on the liturgy for the coming Sunday.

Justin has shared with Jim how as a boy he, “grew up in a Catholic home and loved reciting the rosary together with my family“. But changes and some of the new movements in the Church started to leave Justine confused. It was particularly special for Justin to be introduced to CPPC by a friend who was already a member. Here Justin rediscovered all the beautiful traditions of the Catholic Church, the treasures of his childhood, in particular, “the Mass, the rosary, the Saints, the seven Sacraments. And I know now that this its the place to be, my search has brought me back home.”

On Tuesdays, Fr Jim’s Letter, accompanied by hymns selected by Fr Jim and recorded on MP3 players is taken by 24 pastoral carers who go out, two-by-two, on Hospital Visitation to the Mental Health wards of many hospitals: Princess Alexandra, Prince Charles, Royal Brisbane, Toowong Private, The Park, Moreton Bay, Redland, New Farm Clinic, Caboolture Hospital, Redcliffe, Belmont Prviate, Logan Hospital, and Gold Coast University Hospital.

Jim says, “Many of the members of CPPC will tell you that it was because of these hospital visits that they eventually came into The Centre. And members who come to The Centre frequently tell you that coming to to The Centre keeps them in touch with their faith and keeps them out of hospital.

What most of us never realise is that Psychiatric illness commonly isolates suffers. From his first-hand experience Jim has seen that, “they can be isolated from family, from friendships, from job opportunities, from community and most significantly from their faith community. Those suffering mental illness are definitely included as part of the poor in God’s people.”

Pope Francis pinpointed the issue in a profound and accurate way when he wrote:

I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.

– Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, (200).

Jim Noonan firmly believes that this has been the strength of CPPC: since it was first founded 30 years ago, Fr Jim, Janine and the dedicated volunteer staff have worked tirelessly to address this lack of spiritual care for those suffering mental illness.

Banner image: Fr Jim’s Letter pictured, Jim Noonan and Justin Houghton at Catholic Companionship
Feature image: Jim Noonan with Justin Houghton, CPPC Member, pictured together as they reflect on the liturgy for the coming Sunday.

Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care is one of Centacare’s six Pastoral Ministries which reach out to the mentally, the hospitalised, the imprisoned, local Aboriginal communities, and seafarers whose work brings them to our shores after many at sea away from their families and Church. Centacare Pastoral Ministries receive little to no funds from the government and rely on donations from the Catholic faithful for support.