BRISBANE’S homeless will have to live with seeing Deacon Andrew O’Brien less on the streets as he takes up a new role to support Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s office.
The former Queensland general manager for Rosies, a ministry established by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to bring friendship to the homeless, is the new director of the Archbishop of Brisbane’s office.
Deacon O’Brien’s role will include advising and informing Archbishop Coleridge as he continues to lead an ever-evolving Church, which this year welcomes the historic Plenary Council 2020.
But the appointment sadly marks the end of a “fantastic” five years with Rosies, including enormous pastoral support and formation from the Oblates.
“In a word it’s been fantastic, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Deacon O’Brien (pictured) said. “It’s been extremely formative for me, just to experience and understand that the beauty of life comes in encounters with other people, and it’s always surprising.”
He not only leaves the role as general manager, but interactions with humanity that he says you just can’t make up, like what he experienced on Christmas Eve.
“A guy rang on Christmas Eve, he said he’s about to be evicted from his caravan park, could he get a swag?
“I told him to go to an outreach, and I’ll find out if we’ve got a swag.
“The guy turned up with a present, a little handmade cardboard photo frame with a photo that obviously meant something to him.
“He had a great time with our volunteers, but he was just happy there was something to share it (Christmas Eve) with.
“You can’t create those encounters.
“It’s just people enjoying being with each other even when they don’t expect it.”
Despite the heart-warming moments with Rosies, Deacon O’Brien said it was the right time to leave.
“If you stay too long in one place, there’s a danger that you’ll think you’re important,” he said. “Aligned with that is, in my view, Rosies is in a really good place and position as an organisation … and I feel very comfortable about saying I think I’ve done what I can and it’s time for other people to take it forward.”
While his new role with Archbishop Coleridge might include the odd sifting through the “million things that will come across his desk”, Deacon O’Brien described it as “another set of ears”.
“I think his role is extraordinarily diverse in the issues that he needs to be abreast of, and the variety of decisions he needs to make,” he said.
“I suppose, it’s helping him be aware of what’s happening, helping him organise his priorities, determine what he wants, what else is happening that might influence that.
“It’s another set of ears but a fairly experienced one in a range of things.”
With Rosies under his belt, Deacon O’Brien’s resume makes him an ideal man to support the shepherd of a large and diverse archdiocese – an accountant by trade, he was the chief executive officer of Mount Isa City Council for six years, worked as a director for the Queensland Government, and oversaw Centacare Employment between 2011 and 2014.
He’s also a married cleric, entering his third year as a deacon, and proud father who has lived in Brisbane for the past 16 years.
“I’ve had children through Catholic education, worked for Centacare, been a customer and client, been a parishioner,” he said.
“I think I have a pretty good knowledge of who to ask if there’s a particular issue.
“It’s not that I’ve got all the knowledge, but it’s helpful to have people around who you can chew the fat.”
As he prepared to hand over Rosies to a new leader, Deacon O’Brien praised the leadership style of his future boss.
“One of the things that does appeal to me with the Archbishop, is he takes a very broad church view, that he’s facilitated, promoted, accepted a whole range of initiatives, which are fairly distinctive but very varied,” he said.
“He accepts that we’ve got a broad church and you need to enable a range of styles in order to exist. It’s not, ‘Here’s the model of Church we’ve got to have’.
“We’re a Church and there’s a whole lot of things that are going to happen, a whole lot of differences, from different cultures, to ways of praying … I think that’s really positive.”
Deacon O’Brien will take up his new appointment on January 30. He replaces Deacon Peter Pellicaan, who is now executive director of Evangelisation Brisbane.