‘A friend said to me “If you had a heart attack, they’d find a replacement for St Mary’s by the next day but they wouldn’t be able to replace you at Lifeboat”. That got me thinking and eventually I came to the decision to move from Geelong. I have been asked to go to the (just slightly) smaller parish of St Simon the Apostle at Rowville, and I should have a little more time to continue my important role with Lifeboat. I believe it is vital that the people using this support group are given support from someone who is in the Church.’ I was very privileged to meet and interview Father Kevin Dillon. A name that keeps coming up as he has made extensive contributions to our community including working with Anam Cara House Geelong to establish a palliative care and respite centre in the former Presbytery (priests’ home) at St. Mary’s and helping to initiate the crisis accommodation centre for homeless men , Samaritan House.
Lifeboat Geelong was founded by Fr Dillon in 2013, with a strong committee including survivors of abuse and a variety of professionals and wonderful volunteers from Geelong. It provides support to survivors of child sex abuse, mainly from a Catholic background, but by no means exclusively, through pastoral care, welfare and social aid from a base of community donations.
‘I believe in being involved in the wider community and one thing leads to another.
‘As far as talking with victims of abuse, I never considered myself a counsellor. I’m hopefully a supportive person from within the organisation that offended them so terribly, someone to reach out to. They often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and they’ll ring to say hello. I’m in touch with about 130 victims to date. They don’t contact me for money or hand-outs. What they seek is recognition of the harm done them, and I believe, if that is not given it can turn to bitterness. With Lifeboat we’ve been able to harness an enormous amount of good service and good will from Geelong. Lifeboat’s work reaches out to people from all over Australia.
‘Someone sent me a photocopy of a parish bulletin I’d written in 1996. It was about child abuse within the church, and as I read it I initially thought ‘Oh my God, what did I write back then?’ but I was happy to see that what I wrote then I could have written yesterday.
‘On July 11th, Lifeboat Geelong is holding a fundraiser at the @Royal Geelong Yacht Club, who have been of great help to us. The Club are also helping the survivors work together to build a St Ayles Skiff, a five-person rowing boat, as a common project . It reminds me of what one abuse victim told me. ‘Lifeboat” is well named. When you get on a boat and see all the lifeboats, you hope you don’t have to use them, but it’s always good to know they’re there.’
‘I’m used to my job being on call at all hours. When you get a hospital call at 2am it can be for a peak moment in a family’s life. It is something very important.
‘After 17 years here, it is going to be terribly difficult to leave Geelong. I wonder if the people of Geelong realise what a fabulous town and community they have. You couldn’t get a better standard of medical care anywhere, education facilities are first-class, and it is so easy to get around. I love the footy, the Geelong Cats, and marvel at the amazing new world-standard grandstand. I’m two years off being 50 years ordained, and of that I’ve spent one third of my time in Geelong. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m pleased to say the parish will be in the safe hands of Father Jim Clarke, now Parish Priest of Rowville (where I’m going) and he’s returning to Geelong, where he was brought up.’