Peter Maher, Catholic chaplain at UTS 1995 - 2009
Friends - thank you for being here today - I am most grateful to you and the university for honouring me this way
I would like to begin by recognising the Cadigal and Kuring-gai peoples - the traditional owners of the land on which the university stands.
In July 1995, I was appointed Catholic chaplain at UTS in the new Visiting Chaplaincy established by the university. Margaret Edmonds was the Director of Student Services. She had seen the value of a multifaith approach to university chaplaincy during her time at Sydney University working with Robyn Johnson who was Catholic chaplain there at the time. Margaret had a vision of a team that served the university following the best practice of Australian and overseas universities. This involved a partnership between the churches and faiths, and the university. This arrangement included a formal agreement whereby the university invited church and faith bodies to nominate chaplains who were appointed by the Vice-Chancellor to assist the university in making available to all staff and students pastoral and personal support.
UTS began a modest but professional Visiting Chaplaincy under the direction of the then Head, University Counselling Service, Chris Hepperlin. Adapting the excellent guidelines of the University of Newcastle, the UTS Visiting Chaplaincy soon took shape as the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy Service which was located on level 19 of Building one. I was privileged to work with Chris and the other chaplains until the UTS guidelines were produced. I became the first Chaplains' Representative of the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy and I remained in that position till concluding my time at UTS in February this year.
The multifaith chaplains began to contribute to the university community through regular forums and events that opened up spaces for thoughtful reflection on issues and values that may assist staff and students in their lives and work. We began to work with Student Services to address current issues or respond to critical events on campus so that holistic care was available to students and staff. As all the UTS chaplains are part-time, these have been modest but important contributions to the university community.
I will remember with greatest pride the times I have been able to be present with students and staff who appreciated a listening ear and a few words of encouragement without reference to sectarian interests. This is the day to day work of chaplains in a secular institution. Those chats, formal and informal, offer an independent caring face within the university. I also remember the times I was able to support students seeking a voice on social and ethical issues such as freedom from discrimination on the grounds of ethnic, racial, cultural or religious background or on the basis of gender, disability or sexual orientation. I am proud to have been associated with student campaigns opposing war and discrimination, and also campaigning for better student conditions. I am particularly proud of the close association I have had with Student Services, the Equity and Diversity Unit, the UTS Union and the UTS Students' Association.
On October 14, 2004 the new Multifaith Centre opened on Level 3 of the Tower providing much improved facilities for chaplains and those using the Multifaith spaces. There was special attention paid to the requirements for Muslim students. This centre provides adequately for the spiritual and pastoral needs of students and staff.
I would like to recall some moments that have been special to me over my years at UTS. I was privileged to be on committee of the Equity and Diversity Unit called the Cultural Diversity Network which contributed greatly to the recognition and celebration of difference at UTS. When the Queer space provided by the Students' Association was found to be marked with graffiti that seemed to come from Christians, I was proud to be a signatory on a letter written by Mike Paget, the Anglican chaplain, that noted how unchristian that activity was. This letter was posted on the wall of the queer space. Other notable contributions of the Chaplaincy have been the response to the Bali bombings and the pastoral and ritual assistance after a suicide on campus.
As the Catholic chaplain I was privileged to work with the International Movement of Catholic Students, Australia and its affiliate bodies in the Asia Pacific and internationally. On campus, the UTS Catholic Student Movement actively engaged with the Asia Pacific region. The UTS Catholic Asian Student Association has also been a part of my work here at UTS. May I mention some student leaders including Niko Winata, Rachel Galea, Minh Nguyen, Aaron Tang, Robert Day and Michael Ormerod who have been especially influential in facilitating my ministry with the UTS Catholic Student Movement and the UTS Catholic Asian Student Society over the last 13 years. These networks combined with the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia, the national professional body for Multifaith chaplains, and its international links, have been the backbone of my professional training and support. I am still the Vice-President of the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia.
I am particularly proud of the Catholic Mass that has been celebrated each week, except in January, throughout my time at UTS and was begun by staff over 30 years ago. This could not have been done effectively without the support of many staff, students and priests but Susanna Gorman, Joe McMahon, Fr Patrick Sharpe and Michael Ormerod have been particularly important in providing this ministry to the Catholic community at UTS.
At a personal level, there has been an enormous growth in my appreciation and understanding of how the church might enter into dialogue with secular institutions to work toward civil society. Chaplaincy in a secular institution is a partnership that creates space for people to grow and explore their potential through the prism of their faith and/or spirituality. This aspect of education for life has been embraced by the university. As UTS Catholic chaplain and UTS Chaplains' Representative I have learned much through practice, and reflection on practice. This has been helped by my fellow chaplains here at UTS, and in other universities around the world where I have fostered professional networks. The students are also great teachers. Much of what I have learned about living the gospel, applying gospel values to students' lives, engaging with the civilising forces of the world and working at the margins of society and church has been discovered in partnership with students' concerns, and their methods of reflection and direct action. Pastoral supervision, consultation and professional appraisal, along with spiritual direction, have been constant companions in the process of learning effective ministry in chaplaincy and maintaining professionalism.
Being at UTS has also offered me opportunities for formal learning. I have been privileged to experience the best of UTS formal education graduating with a Masters in Adult Education in 2001. Through teachers skilled in experiential, community and work-based learning such as Mike Newman, Sue Knights, Alex Nelson, Griff Foley and Jane Sampson, I engaged in the kind of learning that has informed my chaplaincy work, my ministry as a priest and my life. There have been numerous opportunities for formal and informal learning over these 14 years. However the Masters Degree in Adult Education and being honoured with a Human Rights Award last year, the Ally Award Celebrating and Supporting Sexual and Gender Diversity, will stand forever as two concrete symbols of everything that UTS has meant to me for my life and work. Together they represent how theory and practice work together to offer hope and support to the people with whom I shared stories, fears and dreams as chaplain at UTS.
But of course none of this would have been possible without the vision and commitment of the University itself. Today every university has a chaplaincy service. I have worked with chaplains from Australia, Asia and many parts of the world. I have been privileged to host two national conferences of the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia and I have attended three International Conferences while being a committee member for the International Conference in Brisbane in 2004. I say this only to add credibility to my claim that the commitment of the UTS Executive to the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy and Centre is the envy of many chaplains I have spoken to from around the world. UTS does not have the biggest space, the largest number of chaplains or the most expansive program but it does have a practical commitment to best practice, practical and personal support for chaplains, and it provides adequate resources for the chaplains and their programs and student and staff needs.
As Chaplains' Representative I have been the beneficiary of this commitment and I have gained much from the UTS professional approach. The people I most wish to thank in this respect are Chris Hepperlin and Brett Smout and their staff at Student Services. The most important thing they offer is a professional commitment to the partnership ideal. There have been very few chaplains' meetings in my 14 years of the chaplaincy at UTS without Chris or Brett present to assist us. This is the envy of chaplaincies everywhere. But that would not happen without the commitment of the UTS Executive. Over these 14 years we have had the support of Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors. The present Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Ross Milbourne and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Teaching, Learning & Equity), Professor Shirley Alexander are active supporters of the Multifaith Centre. I know past members of the executive have been very influential in the development of the Centre. I won't mention them all, but I must thank two great supporters of the UTS chaplaincy, and of me personally, and that is the previous Chancellor, Sir Gerard Brennan and the recently retired Registrar, Dr Jeff FitzGerald.
May I thank my colleagues of all faiths and denominations who have assisted as multifaith chaplains here at UTS. It has been a very rewarding experience to be a co-worker and facilitator of the group. Only one chaplain remains from the original group - John Hirt, the Uniting Church chaplain. Other serving Christian chaplains I have been privileged to work with include Colin Scott, recently resigned; Stephen Tanuwijaya; Mike Paget and Rhombus Ning. It has been a great privilege to work with Buddhist chaplains, Brian White and Venerable Mahinda; Jewish chaplain, Shmuel Markovits and recent Bahai chaplains Sue Thomas, Nazrin Adel and Leo Newport. There have been Muslim chaplains at UTS although there is no Muslim serving on the Multifaith team at the moment.
There are so many others I wish to thank for their support during my time at UTS. They are too numerous to mention by name but they include members of the UTS Administration, Equity and Diversity Unit, UTS Union, The Students' Association, Security, Room bookings, Faculty members, UTS Library, Research and Innovation Office, Human Resources and the UTS Gallery.
Finally I wish to thank my family. In different ways they have been associated with UTS over these years. My niece, Lisa is a graduate of UTS in my time here; Chris, my brother, has mentored UTS accountancy students at AMP and others have attended various events here. They are a great support in my life and work and I am so pleased some family members are here today to celebrate 14 wonderful years at UTS.
I will greatly miss UTS students, staff and the learning community but I hope I will still participate in this great learning and teaching community as an alumnus and through many UTS colleagues and friends. Thank you all.
See UTS website for picture