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Father Bob brings us some soul

28 Feb 2012

Father Bob brings us some soul Image

Often regarded as “soulless”, Docklands got a mega-injection of soul last month, led by the enigmatic Father Bob Maguire.

The Father Bob Maguire Foundation is one of four groups which have come together with the single aim of assisting Melbourne’s disadvantaged and homeless.

The charities are taking advantage of a City of Melbourne offer to use Docklands’ Hub community centre as their headquarters rent-free for three months.

The 77-year-old priest has become a celebrity in Melbourne largely due to his public unwillingness to conform to the wishes of the Catholic Church hierarchy – culminating in February with his “forced retirement” from official duties at his South Melbourne parish.

With his “secular, humanist” views, the straight-talking priest has been a constant thorn in the side of the church authorities during his 38 years in charge of Saints Peter and Paul parish.

As a pioneer of out-reach work, Father Bob has long-advocated a practical demonstration of Christianity, as opposed to a conservative institutional approach.

He is joined in Docklands by The Big Umbrella (TBU), InterAction and Not My Choice – three like-minded organisations dedicated to charitable works.

TBU founder Justin Dickinson said the temporary home at the Hub would provide a central point for his organisation to concentrate on continuing its important work with street kids, both in Melbourne and in Nepal where it began.

“Our organisation is hands-on, and the Docklands Hub enables us to share administrative resources with other charities and unite our efforts towards the common cause of saving young lives,” Mr Dickinson said.

Father Bob says he is acutely aware that he doesn’t have a lot of time left but that he can help the other groups by leveraging his celebrity status.

Mr Dickinson is already planning a series of future activities under a banner of “Bob’s Place”.

“I think all we can add is some sort of social enhancement,” Father Bob said. “You see, I’m old.  I don’t have a minute to lose.”

“So I put on the cape, and it’s an awareness-raising exercise.”

“The core business is working with duds.  But I love a dud, you see.  I’m a dud myself.  But you can’t bring duds to Docklands.  So you go the next level up.  You’ve learned the techniques and if it works with duds it will work with anybody.  So you go up a level and engage young people who, for whatever reason, are not accessing employment or training.”

“That product is going to have to be sold the community anyway if the community is going to exist as a community.  Or does it want to sentence itself to be forever just a society? Just a whole heap of people?”

“But it’s hard to know these days because people seem frightened to be a community.”

Father Bob has long been a fan of Docklands and was involved in discussions early in the development which could have resulted in him forming a ministry here.

He said “headquarters” prevented him from delivering services to both Docklands and Southbank.

“I just felt that this place was an opportunity. If the Catholic Church couldn’t get off its arse on the corner of Dorcas and Montague and come over here in a mobile way or something and provide basic spiritual exercises, then I couldn’t see that it was fulfilling its bloody mission,” he said.

“I’ve got a soft spot for this joint because my father was a merchant sailor and I was a coopers assistant making barrels in one of those sheds when I was a student,” he said.

“So my interest is both personal and historical.  And there is also some sadness that religion is so reluctant to put itself at risk by going to where people actually are.”

Father Bob and Justin Dickinson wasted no time in getting along to their first Docklands Rotary Club meeting on February 21.

The pair discussed with the local Rotarians how their interests and projects aligned and how they could work together in the future.

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