Readers are advised the following story contains mention of suicide that may be distressing to some people.
Ask Ray Donaldson what his role entails as Site Manager on the grounds of the Holy Family, and he’ll simply tell you that he “looks after the grounds”. And it’s true – Ray does a fantastic job maintaining our premises. But what this humble worker offers is so much more. Over the years, Ray has become highly respected within the Catholic Care community. He listens – truly listens – and provides a non-judgemental shoulder for those in their greatest time of need.
Ray is a familiar, friendly face at a local parish. You’ll see him bustling around the grounds of the Holy Family each day or getting his hands dirty in the gardens. If there’s an event on, he’ll be there, too – setting up equipment and manning the barbecue. And through his work with Catholic Care, Ray lends a hand to serve our Indigenous community.
Ray also helps Catholic Care distribute OzHarvest hampers to community members, going above and beyond to source extra items for families.
In between all these tasks, Ray is always open to a chat. Approachable and down to earth, he’s passionate about supporting the Indigenous community and those who are doing it tough. Ray treats everyone equally and with respect. And for us at Catholic Care, Ray isn’t just a Site Manager – he’s a trusted mentor and friend.
“Here at Catholic Care, everyone is accepted,” Ray says. “That’s Catholic Care policy. And that’s my policy, too. Everyone in the community deserves respect. And they deserve someone to listen to them. I’m passionate about what I do here – I’m always up for anyone to come and have a yarn!”
The importance of human connection is something Ray knows well. Before joining us at Catholic Care 14 years ago, Ray worked as a boilermaker for many years. He then left his job to become a stay-at-home parent. Always a hard worker, Ray eventually became restless, and decided he needed a change of pace.
“Each day, I’d take the kids to school. I’d spend all day cleaning the house, and then I’d get the kids again. I wasn’t going out or communicating with anyone – I was going crazy. I knew something had to change, so I decided to start working in the community.”
At first, volunteer work was a big step outside Ray’s comfort zone. As a naturally reserved person, he suddenly found himself in a busy world of people. But during his time at a community nursery, Ray became more confident. He formed friendships, learned new skills, and felt a sense of achievement. Overseeing a garden project at the Holy Family premises meant liaising with stakeholders and taking on more responsibility, and Ray thrived. He felt as though he’d found a rewarding career and second home – and it’s one he hasn’t left.
“It’s one big family here. Everyone at Catholic Care respects each other. I feel accepted for who I am and what I do. Serving our community is a rewarding feeling.”
Ray has a remarkable ability to make people feel at ease. Over the years, he’s learned how to listen – without judgement, only the desire to understand.
“We have people of all nationalities and backgrounds here,” Ray reflects. “Everyone is dealing with their own challenges and issues. People often come in a bit distressed. Maybe they don’t have food or a place to stay. Maybe they’ve just had a hard life. I sit with them and listen. I try to understand what they’re dealing with and help them feel calm. Then, I try to find a solution. Dealing with people when they’re feeling low can be challenging, but it’s worth it when you see the results.”
And although Ray may not put it in such terms, his willingness to listen has truly saved lives.
“I once had a man say to me, ‘Ray, I might not be here tomorrow.’ I asked him, ‘Why’s that?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to be on this Earth anymore.’ I sat with this man for days, listening to him and understanding him. He just needed an ear. Eventually, he made it through this difficult time. I still talk with this man today – he’s doing fine now. But to think he was on the edge of taking his life, it gets to you.”
Ray says he’s got a few years in him yet, but he hopes that more young people will step in and volunteer their time to the community.
“Us old folk won’t be around forever! We need the younger generation to give back and carry this community on.”
And it’s a community all the richer for having Ray in it. For us at Catholic Care, we are so thankful for Ray’s calming and compassionate presence at Holy Family.
“I have loved every day out here. I enjoy going to work each morning – not many people can say that! Out here, we laugh and joke; it’s a happy place. And when others see you’re happy, it helps them feel better, too.”
If you need mental health support, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636.