1 September 2023

New chapter of care for veterans and first responders as Pro Patria Centre secures Carmelite Monastery

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Three people at a table with documents in front of them.

Carmelite nun Sister Maria Hughes officially hands over the Carmelite Monastery to Pro Patria Property Trust chair Dr Gordon Saggers with Walsh and Blair director Lincoln Kennedy looking on. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Riverina veterans and first responders are set to have permanent access to holistic health care with the Pro Patria Centre (PPC) officially taking over the Carmelite Monastery.

Pro Patria Property Trust (PPPT) is transforming the monastery into an innovative multidisciplinary facility to provide clinical treatment support for veterans and first responders.

Last year, PPC set out to raise $1.5 million within six months to continue its operation under community ownership.

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“[The purchase] has been possible without government support,” said Pro Patria Property Trust trustee secretary Alan Lean.

“The responsibility of this place belongs entirely to the local community, and it’s up to us to ensure it’s sustainable.

“We will try to fulfil the goal of the PPPT and PPC in creating what will become a national centre of excellence.”

The formal settlement of the Carmelite Monastery was held on Thursday with a host of local supporters and dignitaries on hand for the signing.

For Carmelite nun, Sister Maria Hughes, it was an emotional moment as they handed the monastery over.

“Very mixed emotions because it means we are physically leaving the scene,” Sister Maria said.

Afghanistan veteran and PPC board director Jason Frost spearheaded the centre’s formation and said he felt overwhelmed and humbled to witness what the community had done for the veterans’ centre.

“A lot of us were hoping to get heard, and today is surreal in that we’ve had the support finally come to the table,” Mr Frost said.

“Today marks the start of a new chapter where we can discuss bringing in the needed services.

“As we introduce some of the new services, I have no doubt it will end up going nationally to some extent.”

PPC chairman, Dr Gordon Saggers said the veterans and first responders community wouldn’t have to leave Wagga to receive help.

“This place will be buzzing with opportunities, treatments and counselling. At the moment, it’s in its infancy, but as time goes on, it will get bigger and better,” Dr Saggers said.

“It will be a great advocate for Wagga as the centre of excellent care for our veterans and first responders.”

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Dr Jim Read is currently the sole medical practitioner for PPC and described the centre as a “national first”.

“This is the first place where we have multidisciplinary clinical services alongside community organisations, education, vocational training and community groups working together to help heal people,” Dr Read said.

“I’d love to see this become a national trauma centre.”

Dr Read said PPC had emerged as the solution for those slipping through the cracks because, despite the best intentions, the current system was not addressing the needs of veterans and first responders.

He said PPC focused on the whole person, including their family and community, and their physical, mental, cognitive, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

“Rather than complain and expect the Government to step in, we’ve chosen to act. We cannot wait,” Dr Read said.

“People are dying.”

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