Sr. Clare FMDM, AM is a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, an order involved in hospitals and teaching around the world. The Motherhouse, Ladywell is based in England and Sr. Clare moved to Australia to be a radiographer at the Mt. Alvernia Hospital in Bendigo, many years ago.
Her first experience of visiting prisoners was when a client’s son ended up in Bendigo Prison, so she started visiting him. She met Stan McCormack, during one of these visits, he was giving a talk about the Epistle Centre and she was very impressed with his vision and kept in contact with him.
In 1986 she advised Stan that her Order was establishing a house in Melbourne and that she had obtained permission to organise the setting up of this house. She was also given permission to conduct a 6 months trial of working for the Epistle Centre, visiting prisoners; which was a profound gesture by the order. The six month trial turned into 22 years!
Good foundations and credibility had been established through Sr. Clare’s visits, which now allowed volunteers to visit prison. Sr. Clare, officially established the Post Release Outreach Program in 1986. She visited every prison in the State on a regular basis, taking referrals and supporting prisoners. She had a wonderful rapport with prisoners, prison officers and prison staff and for years was the only inter-face between ACSO’s service and the prison system.
Her reputation grew and everyone knew the “little Yorkshire nun” who visited and supported prisoners, who liaised with the Parole Board in relation to their release and provided ongoing support to them and their families after release.
Sr. Clare briefly worked at managing Francis House (our first accommodation house for clients with an intellectual disability), but returned to what she liked best, visiting prisoners in prison. She also did shifts at our first accommodation house in Carlton, supporting clients staying there who she had visited in prison.
Whilst supporting a sex-offender during his court case, the victim’s mother confronted her and said angrily “how can you, a nun support this monster after the damage he has done”. Sr. Clare replied
“ if by supporting him I can give him insight and hope to change there will be less victims like your little girl”
She then began to visit sex-offenders in prison, she felt very strongly that if this group received no support, there was no possibility of change, hence more victims. Many of these men had no support due to family breakdown and loss of friends due to their offences. At that time there were no services or accommodation programs for these clients, so the Sex-Offender Program was established. She visited Ararat Prison regularly and organised accommodation and support for sex-offenders upon their release.
Sr. Clare received the Order of Australia in 2007 for her work with prisoners over 21 years. She retired in 2008 and moved back to England at the end of 2009.
“During her time working with us, I never heard her talk religion to anyone except to say maybe ‘a little prayer may help you feel better’; or to make judgements. She saw the best of and potential in everyone she met. She was a passionate and determined advocate for all our clients and she often used to say
“everyone deserves another chance”