It is with a fond farewell that we wave goodbye to Shanelle Bennett, General Manager – Mission Integration, who, after seven years with Mercy Community, is starting her next adventure into retirement. Shanelle has been an integral part of the Mercy Community Executive team, so we thought we’d find out more about her exciting journey, learnings, and what role her faith has played in her success.
Can you share any career highlights before you started with Mercy Community?
My life before this role is one of mission and working with young people especially those struggling to survive trauma. Every moment I spent with those young people, be it here in Australia, Africa or Asia, has been an incredible experience. Helping them to heal and seeing their transformation was an absolute highlight for me. I think that was what I was born to do.
What led you to your role in Mercy Community?
Actually, it was accidental. My predecessor was completing a task at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), where I was working as Pastoral Care to the Academic staff. She invited me to a Romero Centre function where I heard there was a role being offered in Aged Care at Mercy Community. As my mother was residing in the Mercy Community Bethesda Aged Care home at the time, I jumped at the offer, so I could be closer to her every day.
Can you remember your first day within Mercy Community?
I certainly can, I felt so peaceful, and it was so welcoming at Aged Care. The team members, the Sisters and the residents were just wonderful, and it was easy to slip into the flow of the lifestyle in Emmaus Aged Care.
Please talk us through your career progression
Many moons ago, I began in the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement in the Queensland Government, I then completed my Counselling and Theology Degree at ACU. Travelling with my husband, living in Malaysia and establishing a Christian community there amongst the people. Shortly after, we took our three children to America to learn a Catholic youth program called NET Ministries, which we brought back here to Australia and New Zealand. After returning to Australia, I became a Probation Officer and counsellor for Queensland Corrections for a few years, returning to fulltime work with NET Ministries, training, counselling, and supervising the supervisors for this ministry. Soon after we were invited to train others in the youth program in Ireland and Africa. My husband was the CEO of NET Ministries for many years, where I took his place from 2005 to 2013. After which I moved to DV Counselling, Pastoral Care with Academic Staff ACU, and on to Pastoral Care, Aged Care, Mercy Community and, finally to General Manager Mission Integration.
What has been the most challenging part of your career?
Africa was difficult, as there was no infrastructure to support the ministry, and the young people who were being led to receive help. Due to this need, we began travelling to fundraise for Africa and we were able to build a huge meeting hall in which to meet. Including accommodation for people whose only mode of travelling is walking for days on end, established schools, farms to support the work, beekeeping, pineapple plantations and more. I was counselling those who needed healing, and the need was massive. We also began a youth leadership program in Uganda which continues to this day. Training young people in leadership, and life skills from all over Uganda and beyond. It was an amazing adventure which comes with many irreplaceable memories. We then returned to Australia to the youth ministry here which was being staffed by others who had joined us, and the ministry continues today.
Reflecting on the last seven years with Mercy Community, what was your proudest achievement?
Establishing the Reconciliation Action Plan and working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over a number of years to create a document and continuing to embed the tenets therein, into our Mercy Culture and practice.
What role do you feel your faith has played in your career?
My faith is my life, and is the centre of all that I do, I believe we are here to be in relationship with an amazingly wonderful, loving Creator which is my daily experience. That is my life’s purpose!
How do you feel you’ve made the biggest impact in your current role?
I think simply living the mission and values daily, through my actions and relationships with those I work with and those we support. I hope I have made an impact with as many people as possible. I constantly remind people of the mission of Mercy that we live by; this is not a business; it is a mission of Mercy supported by a strong business.
What brought you joy in the role?
The relationships and being able to help anywhere I was called. This has involved working with the people we support, laughing with them, weeping with them and supporting the team members when our older people passed away. Working with the Romero Centre and the amazing team members there, as they have struggled to keep supplying the services they offer. Establishing the Organisational Pastoral Care Project which hopefully will supply Pastoral Care to all our team members across the organisation into the future. Offering formation days and programs for team members, working with the dying in Aged Care and befriending many. This role has been a pure blessing.
What do you feel you have learnt from your time here?
Patience, endurance through some difficult times of change, and greater love. Openness and welcoming of those who are very different to me in their beliefs and ways.
Do you have any advice for the next GM of Mission Integration?
Yes, make this role your own, freely offer the God given gifts you have been given, and be bold in your reminders that this is a Catholic Ministry, one living the mission of God’s Mercy to all, make that happen the best you can.
How do you plan to spend your retirement?
I will rest for some time, and then I will seek God’s Will for how I am to use my gifts for the rest of the time I have on this planet. I am open to whatever the Will of my God is for me, through counselling or working with the homeless through Emmanuel City Mission (part of our Church community). I believe I will know in my heart through prayer what I am to do, as I have always known throughout my life. I will just say yes. Blessings.
Please join us in wishing Shanelle all the best in whichever path she chooses to take. From all of us at Mercy Community, we would like to thank Shanelle for her extraordinary contribution to the team and the people we care for.