By Paul Dobbyn
ST Vincent de Paul Society’s newly-elected Queensland president John Forrest lists homelessness as a major area of concern as he starts his four-year term.
“It’s one of several priorities which will keep my book full for my entire term,” he said.
“Mental health issues in those we support are also significant.
“I also intend to be very focused on encouraging spiritual development among our members. This is essential if we are to maintain the society’s identity.
“I also aim to strengthen recognition of the society in Queensland as a caring Catholic charity offering a hand-up to those in need.
“And I will be focusing on ensuring membership growth among young people and parish communities.”
Mr Forrest, a society member for the past 23 years, will take over from outgoing state president Brian Moore on March 31.
He has held positions including vice-president on state council, chair of the property and finance committee and State Centres Committee, diocesan president and regional president.
Mr Forrest was also senior vice-president of state council from 1998 to 2001.
After learning of his appointment on March 14, Mr Forrest said “it is a great responsibility and honour”.
“I’m glad the society’s leadership saw fit to put its faith and trust in me … now the work begins,” he said.
Queensland St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive officer Peter Maher said the changeover of presidents was “both sad and exciting”.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Brian Moore who has made a tremendous contribution and will be greatly missed,” he said. “I now look forward to working with John who brings a wealth of experience to his role.”
The St Vincent de Paul Society had a major influence on Mr Forrest’s formative years.
His father was a member for 30 years and was regional president of the Rosalie branch for much of this time.
“I saw my father taking boxes of groceries out to help those in need,” he said. “From my teenage years onwards, I was aware that people out there needed a hand.
“I also saw this desire to respond to this need as part of my Catholic faith.”
Homelessness, mental health issues and membership numbers are major ongoing challenges he will deal with as state society president.
“A large number of the people the society supports have mental health issues to greater or lesser extent,” Mr Forrest said. “As a result, in the past year or so, mental health committees have been set up to train members in dealing with these issues.”
Membership is healthy but the intention is to see it much healthier as community needs grow.
“We have 8500 members and volunteers across the state,” he said.
“We now have about 2850 younger members.
“Those interested in joining and helping to make a difference to the welfare of their brothers and sisters are welcome to come along to conference meetings.
“We are a very grassroots-driven organisation and members thus have the chance to put forward any works of charity they think are important.”