Speaking the truth to power dangerous but important

Ursula Stephens delivers the 2020 Mary MacKillop Oration in Melbourne (Fiona Basile/CSSV)

Holding firm to faith and having the courage to speak truth to power are among the distinguishing characteristics of Catholic organisations, Ursula Stephens told a national conference in Melbourne last week. Source: CSSV.

Ms Stephens, the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, was delivering the Mary MacKillop Oration at the 2020 national Catholic Social Services conference dinner.

In the oration, titled 'Mary MacKillop; the authenticity of speaking truth to power', she spoke of Mary MacKillop’s courage, faith and strength in serving both the oppressed and the oppressors.

“Speaking truth to power is dangerous and usually has consequences for the speaker,” Ms Stephens said. “Such danger didn’t stop Mary MacKillop – throughout her life she recognised truth-telling as a duty. What can we learn from her courage and determination? How can we too have the courage to speak truth to power and accept the consequences?”

Ms Stephens said the first lesson from St Mary of the Cross was to hold on to your faith.

“Faith in God’s will and his love for us is what empowered Mary MacKillop. It gave her, as it can give us, the ability to lift our eyes above the drab landscape of what is, and imagine what could be. Her faith was constant at the beginning and the end of her life’s journey, as it should be for all of us.

“As organisations, if we were without faith - what would make us any different to any other organisation? Without the principles of Catholic Social Teaching underpinning our very existence, many of us might never do anything of consequence, because we’d lack any reason to dare the uncertainty that always comes when we seek change from the way things have always been.”

Ms Stephens said the second lesson from Mary MacKillop’s life was the “importance of choosing your own course” and not being distracted by the many voices trying to divert you. And the third lesson was to “rise above the limitations of others”.

“Her experience was of others constantly trying to place limitations on her. This is just as much an inevitability for us today – we operate in an environment where guidelines, standards, regulations, rules and practices abound – in public administration, in church practices, in society. We need to respect authority and trust in institutional arrangements, but not to be blind to the interests being served by them.”


Speaking truth to power - 2020 Mary MacKillop oration delivered by Ursula Stephens (Catholic Social Services Victoria)

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