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Bruce Fitzgerald

Finding hope


For Bruce Fitzgerald, childhood was little more than a nightmare plagued with trauma. But he found a way through his pain, and with the help of education, has changed his life.

Being told “you’re ugly” by members of his family was just one element of Bruce’s childhood torment. As well as constant mental abuse, Bruce endured both severe physical and sexual assault – it was a childhood made of nightmares. 

But while he endured a childhood that many of us would have struggled to survive, Bruce has been able to overcome the trauma to realise his dream of a university education – graduating from ACU with a Bachelor of Arts and Certificate of Liberal Studies. 

For Bruce it’s been a lifechanging journey, and he now wants to use his university education to help others realise new possibilities and choices. 

A difficult start

“The worst part of my childhood was the mental abuse,” said Bruce. “Being blamed for everything that was wrong and then constantly being told how ugly I was.”

Bruce was a bright child and did well academically in both primary and high school, despite his difficult home life.

“I did well in form 5, now Year 11. My marks were as follows, 90 per cent for accounting, 89 per cent for economics and 87 per cent for legal studies,” said Bruce. “The only subject I failed was English – 47 per cent. But I was expelled for non-attendance so I went to work.”

Building a bridge to a better life

Most of Bruce’s working life involved heavy labour in the metal industry. It was during this time that he began to suffer mental health issues that developed into injection drug use and a heavy drinking problem. The drug use left him with serious health issues, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

“In 2011, I was put on the pension which meant I was able to start the Hepatitis C cure. It was 12 months of pure hell. I was very unwell but now I am free of the disease,” said Bruce.

“It was after I finished treatment and feeling at a loss that I started the Clemente Fitzroy program.”

Finding hope

Bruce now works for ACU

Education opens doors

Clemente is an innovative university pathway program that empowers people experiencing social isolation and multiple disadvantage. Students are often dealing with complex social issues that can make studying difficult, such as mental illness, disability, addiction, unemployment, homelessness, or family breakdown.

Clemente Australia’s National Leader, ACU Associate Professor Peter Howard, led the establishment of Clemente Australia in 2003. 

“Clemente is all about bringing people together,” said Professor Howard. “It is a program that is transformational – it creates new opportunities for people.”

By focusing on the humanities, the Clemente program supports students to re-engage with their community while enabling them to see themselves as agents of change. It aims to increase self-esteem, improve social connections and provide more structured lives.

“Clemente opens doors to new opportunities. Everyone is always helpful – there was always support from the staff at ACU,” said Bruce.

And the results speak for themselves. The program has produced hundreds of graduates with many choosing to undertake further studies.

A dream fulfilled

After graduating from the Clemente Fitzroy program in Melbourne, Bruce went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts at ACU. 

“The best way to battle mental illness is to keep doing things. Getting involved and learning new things such as philosophy and sociology,” said Bruce.

After a competitive interview process, he has commenced working for ACU. From Bruce, the best is yet to come. 

Find out more about Clemente Australia at ACU.

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G