Taking it to the streets
Stepping up to lead a highly respected organisation is never easy, but for ACU alumnus Deacon Andrew O’Brien, taking the helm at the Queensland-based charity known as Rosies came as somewhat of a surprise.
“It just popped up on me. In fact, my entire career happened this way. I never planned any of it,” said Andrew. But for this Master of Theological Studies graduate, putting his faith into action through his career was always the intention.
Andrew’s work, as well as his postgraduate studies, has consistently been intertwined with his faith, with each a reflection of the other. Before becoming the general manager of Rosies, Andrew was the director of employment for Centacare, a Catholic organisation that supports marginalised people in the community.
“It was eye-opening to be close to those who were struggling to secure employment and be motivated to find work. I saw how difficult this can be and how it effects people mentally and physically,” he said.
“I’ve always been conscious of how crucial being occupied or employed is for a fruitful life, and I really believe this is central to the Church’s social teachings.”
Leaving Centacare behind for Rosies, a charity so popular it has to regularly turn volunteers away, Andrew is now managing a new set of challenges, including sharing what he sees as the organisation’s most important work.
While Rosies is best known for its signature food vans for the homeless, for Andrew, his organisation is about so much more than a free meal.
“The food is secondary. Our focus is on sharing friendship to create community,” he explained. “We’re about giving hospitality, however it’s really about offering people our time and the conversation.”
Andrew believes building relationships between Rosie’s homeless patrons and the organisation’s many volunteers has been an act of humility for everyone.
“It requires humility for our patrons to come up to us on the street and be recognised as people who need friendship. For our volunteers, it’s the humility of saying I can give up my time and go into a space I wouldn’t necessarily choose to be in to talk to people I might not always be comfortable with,” he said. “And yet the two groups continue to work. It’s just people sharing time together.”
Andrew’s Master of Theological Studies became a natural complement – and an asset – to his work.
“My studies were more than just a religious exercise,” he said. “The highlight of the course was how the scriptures came alive for me. It helped me become much better at communicating what the church and scriptures teach and how to think through the issues that are grounded in the theology and philosophy of the church. What I was learning became essential to my role as a deacon at my local parish too.”
Andrew’s masters not only helped him find answers, but he also discovered which questions to ask.
“You can read a document related to Catholic social teaching and think, yes, that’s good, that makes sense, there’s no issue with being compassionate and in solidarity,” he said.
“But I wanted to ask and learn the why – how did a particular church document get written, what was its history, who were the people that contemplated and reflected on this issue before acting on it. For me, the story behind it is more important than the story itself.”
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