The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Creative approach to restoring justice


Caritas ambassador Michael O’Donoghue draws upon nature and a love of global and cosmic geography when helping others in need.

Print article

The walls at Michael’s suburban Adelaide home display photographs of faraway places including fledgling penguins exploring island lagoons and a photo of a large iceberg atop which a large penguin colony is safe from marauding sea lions. He also treasures reminders of Egypt.

“My late wife Maria and myself were very fortunate to have a two-year teaching contract at Prince Hassan’s Amman Baccalaureate School in Amman, Jordan,” Michael says.

“Towards the end of our time there, we spent five days in Egypt. The experience expanded our brains and I have three large papyrus to remind me of that time.”

Michael is fascinated by geography and finds solace and inspiration in the wonder of nature, whether it’s exploring the globe or turning native woods on a Symtec lathe in his home studio.

It takes patience and courage to craft items of beauty from Western Australian jade (or green soapstone) and 140-year-old jarrah originally sourced from the veranda posts of Sacred Heart College’s Paringa Hall.

Inspiration often hits when he least expects it. One day, having created three intersecting wooden rings, Michael saw a clear image of the Blessed Trinity and crafted a revolving model complete with lights representing the Big Bang and the birth of the universe as an expression of the Trinity. Another set of coloured lights represent the Incarnation, while additional flashing coloured lights represent stardust being taken into the embrace of the eternal dance of the Trinity through the Resurrection.

When the St John the Baptist Church needed a place in which to house their beautiful but large nativity figurines, he was thrilled to construct a large, demountable manger.

“It brings much pleasure each Advent and Christmas,” Michael says.

Occasionally, he also creates large crosses and liturgical displays, including the colourful installation for the recent Caritas Australia’s 60th anniversary Mass at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.

The grandfather of six has volunteered as a Caritas Ambassador for three years, encouraging parishioners to be generous. He draws on his knowledge of development geography to explain how colonial powers devastated the economies of millions of people.

“The good news is, we can do the work of Christ in restoring justice to these people through the work of Caritas,” he says.

“They have representatives in every country so when there is a natural disaster, there are people already on the ground. When the head office contacts them, they can say, ‘we need tents, we need safe drinking water, water purification’…whatever it is they need so donations and aid arrives quickly and securely.”

Michael is also passionate about warm welcomes.

Michael with Plympton parishioners.

“Australians are very sociable but we’re not always team players,” he says.

“Our parishes can be remiss sometimes in that strangers can go to a parish for two Sundays in a row and not a single other parishioner will say hello. That needs to change.”

He encourages others to consider volunteering for Caritas.

“Especially those with the confidence to do some public speaking,” he says.

“Anyone passionate about meeting the needs of desperately poor and disadvantaged people.

“In the cost-of-living crisis that’s going on now we might think we’re doing it tough but it’s nothing compared to these people who have been struggling for years. The assistance given now will carry on forever.

“We build the realm of the Trinity at home and around the globe as we engage in the eternal dance.”


More People stories

Loading next article