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Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack, who died in Christchurch in December after a lengthy illness, was the director of Catholic Social Services for three decades, and became widely known and respected in the city and the wider diocese.

Described by many as ‘one of a kind,’ Anne was a deeply spiritual person with an infectious, joyful spirit, and seemingly inexhaustible energy. She was an active participant and loved member of the St Mary’s parish community, New Brighton, for all of her 84 years. She was born in the area, went to the local Catholic school, and continued to live there all of her life. She never married, but raised two related children, Elizabeth and Christine, whose mother was unable to care for them.

After graduating from high school, Anne joined the Catholic Youth Movement (CYM) in Christchurch and
in the early 1960s, became diocesan ‘girls’ president. In this position, she honed some of her organising, networking, and speaking skills. Her involvement with youth spilled over into the YCS student movement of the same era. Anne had a great gift for the development and maintenance of friendships, and in these movements, Anne made many lifelong friends.

In 1965, Anne was invited by Bishop Brian Ashby, then Bishop of Christchurch, to help develop and launch Catholic Social Services (CSS). Having trained as a social worker, she later went on to lead the organisation as director for more than 30 years.

It was in this work that Anne found her ‘dynamic purpose’ in life, as Teilhard de Chardin would say. She was a born social worker and ‘had a heart for the poor.’ She pioneered new outreach ministries to the wider community, making her a household name for several decades.

In the days when adoption in New Zealand was the main recourse for pregnant and unmarried young women, Anne placed hundreds of new-born infants with adoptive parents. She was a pioneer in the movement from secrecy to open adoption, and over decades, did incredible follow-up work with these parents. She also supported prison ministry, solo parents, women’s empowerment groups, and other progressive movements.

She also had a great heart for social justice, and hated discrimination.

Despite being an ardent Crusaders fan, she was an active opponent of anything smacking of racism, including the Springbok rugby tours of the 1970s and 1980s. Anne was a great gardener and lover of nature all her life. It was her passion for people and their wellbeing that made her such a standout.

As eulogist and old friend Mary Woods said at her funeral, “The words that have been coming consistently to describe Anne in this last week are loving, generous, visionary, creative, and faithful. Anne looked beyond the bare minimum that people required to survive, she delivered what they needed to be able to live. She saw people’s potential and created opportunities for them to shine and supported them to succeed.”

Anne was a holy woman and had a generous prophetic spirit. In social work circles, she was a legend both in the city and in the Church, and after a huge wake and funeral was buried from St Mary’s, New Brighton, in early December.
Jim Consedine