Catholic social services in Australia: A short history


  • Peter Camilleri,

  • Gail Winkworth

Peter Camilleri is Professor in Social Work and Rector of the Canberra Campus of Australian Catholic University.
Gail Winkworth is Business Manager (Strategic Partnerships) at Centrelink, part-time Lecturer in the School of Social Work at Australian Catholic University and is currently completing doctoral research through the University of Sydney.


This paper provides a brief history of Catholic social services in Australia. The underlying theological base has been Catholic Social Teachings. The paper outlines Catholic Social Teachings and its impact on the development of distinctive Catholic social services. Catholic social services is an umbrella term, which includes the diocesan based services – Centacares, religious orders and lay associations such as St Vincent de Paul Society. A condensed history is presented, which highlights the various stages of the development of Catholic social services. These stages have been identified as the early years of the colony – charity for those in need, Industrialisation and ‘Rerum Novarum’– the right of all people to live in dignity, Catholic Welfare Bureau – improving coordination, training and expertise, Conservatism/Innovation and Advocacy – 1949–1986 and Restructuring of human services – the recent period.