Acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly

Assisting with monitoring the General Election of 1994 in South Africa is just one outcome of Patricia Banister’s commitment to social justice.

Patricia was born in Morpeth, educated at St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar, and has been a parishioner of St Paul’s, Rutherford, for over 50 years. Patricia and her husband, Adrian, reared four children while immersing themselves in parish affairs. Patricia has served on parish and diocesan Pastoral Councils and been involved in faith formation, Special Religious Education and Meals on Wheels.

As the family grew, so did Patricia’s passion for social justice. Before long, she became a voice to be reckoned with in the affairs of women as Chair of the Council for Australian Catholic Women. In 1989 she was invited to become a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Council and subsequently to be part of the Bishops’ delegation to monitor the General Election of 1994 in South Africa.

Social justice took on an even broader perspective when, as Patricia’s term with the Social Justice Council concluded, she was invited to become Caritas Australia Diocesan Director and to join the Caritas National Council. She served there for nine years, concurrently with her position as Diocesan Director.

Patricia says that it was during her visit to Africa and thence to Zimbabwe in 1994, where she saw Caritas-funded projects such as dam building, micro businesses and refugee camps’ food programs, that she experienced a “significant change in my life”. Patricia said.

I asked how she saw the focus of social justice in her life. She responded by saying, “It’s very simple, social justice is like a slice of bread where you use both sides.” She then proceeded to explain that concept in terms of Caritas operations. “Caritas,” she explained, “looks at the strengths of the people and what they have – and then we begin to work with those strengths to make communities whole. This is all possible because of the support Caritas receives from the people of Australia. The people we support are always less fortunate than we are and all is so gratefully received.”

Patricia spoke fervently about the work of Caritas, both in Australia and in developing countries. She explained Caritas’ multi-level involvement with schools and communities, in infrastructure and health development. She said the Caritas website is a wonderful exposition of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching complemented by geographical and social science perspectives.

I asked Patricia what encouraged her to keep going. One of the things that inspires me is the Caritas staff, those people who work in Caritas offices, people from varied backgrounds − they have inspired me in different ways I can’t wholly explain, but they just ‘get it’. Somehow or other, they just know what social justice is all about. They are wonderful people.”

And finally, I asked this lady to share her spiritual philosophy. “Just this, Shirley, to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with my God.” Now, that’s not too hard, is it?

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