Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2008
Betty Farrell walks the talk of social justice
Catholic advocate for society's marginalized awarded honorary doctorate of sacred letters
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"I had that desire to do whatever I could to help others.”
Kennedy works with Farrell on the Quality of Life Commission and gives her a ride home after meetings. “She is very active with the homeless and she makes friends with people in need.”
Dr. Charles Bidwell, chair of Academic Senate for St. Stephen’s College, said Farrell was chosen from among many because she embodies the college’s values.
“She embodies the values of faith, compassion and social justice, which the college endorses,” Bidwell said Nov. 17.
“A devoted, positive and active Christian woman, Betty Farrell is held in high regard by all with whom she has worked. Her contributions to her many works of charity are admirable, but she has always focused on trying to change the systems that keep people in poverty.”
Farrell was born in Regina in 1923, studied at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon and then moved to Manitoba to study social work. There were no trained social workers in the civil service and just a few Catholic social workers when she came to Edmonton to work in 1946.
She became the only Catholic family worker at the then Family Service Bureau and was given responsibility for all Catholic clients. In 1949 she gave up her career to marry the late Bus Farrell, a mechanical engineer, with whom she raised five girls and five boys.
“After my children came, I didn’t want to go out to work so I found opportunities to volunteer,” Farrell recalled. “As a Christian and social worker I had that desire to do whatever I could to help others.”
Farrell helped establish Pineview Home, a Catholic agency for unwed mothers in the late 1960s, was board member of the provincial council of the Alberta Association of Social Workers from 1969 to 1972 and for six years oversaw the development and support of urgently needed social services in the city as chair of the City of Edmonton’s preventive social services advisory committee.
She also served as a member of the city’s homecare advisory committee.
Farrell was a member of St. Joseph Basilica throughout the 1970s and was chair of the parish’s social action committee and a member of the Catholic Women’s League. Since 1990 she has been an active member of St. Patrick’s Parish, but keeps her CWL membership at the basilica because St. Patrick’s doesn’t have its own CWL council.
In the early 1970s, Farrell became involved with CCODP, which promotes solidarity between Canadians and people in the Third World.
She soon found her way onto the archdiocesan committee, becoming chairperson in 1978. From 1982 to 1987 she served on CCODP’s national council, where she participated in decisions about policy and funding of Third World projects as well as visiting development programs on site. Today Farrell is the CCODP representative at St. Patrick’s Parish.
She is also a member of the Alberta Quality of Life Commission, an ecumenical group that advocates for the poor, and is on the board of the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society, an organization concerned with affordable housing for individuals and families in inner city neighbourhoods.
For a while she has been involved with a Clareview organization that helps low-income families get out of poverty.
And on Mondays and Fridays she volunteers at Anawin Place, a food depot run by the Sisters of Providence in the inner city.
She recently helped hand out food hampers to 130 people in need, 27 of whom were children.
Her heart aches at the thought that so many people in the richest province in Canada are homeless and in need of handouts to survive.
“I think we are on the wrong track,” she said. “We pay too much attention to the market and not enough attention to people’s basic needs.
“We need more supportive housing because you just can’t take people who are homeless and put them in a house and forget about them. You’ve got to have a whole plan to work with them so they can begin to adjust to living in a house and in a community.”
In his citation for the conferring of the degree on Farrell Nov. 3, Bidwell said Farrell has taken up the torch of the Canadian bishops who in the past have taken the lead in criticizing the sinful structures of society that perpetuate poverty.
“Betty, as an active layperson in the Church, has ‘walked the talk’ and in countless situations has brought her indomitable spirit into dealings with the most difficult situations we face in society — whether children in poverty, affordable housing or health care issues,” Bidwell said.
“She gives concrete testimony to the fact that commitment to social justice is commitment to a long journey towards God’s shalom.”
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