by LYNDSAY FREER
A crowd of several hundred gathered on August 12 for the official opening and blessing of the new Marist Challenge Centre in Wanaka St, Johnsonville, Wellington. Among the dignitaries present were the Prime Minister, Bill English, local MPs, Cardinal John Dew, Wellington Mayor Justin Lester and Fr David Kennerley, SM, provincial of the Society of Mary.

Challenge 2000 is a professional youth development, community and family social work agency, working throughout the Wellington region and at times in other places. Their workers and volunteers provide a wide range of services and programmes to children, young people, families and community groups in a responsive, holistic and relational way, to empower young people, develop their strengths, enhance their well-being and making significant and positive lifestyle choices.

For many years, Challenge 2000 was located in a number of buildings in Johnsonville; one for administration, another for the alternative education centre and others serving as emergency housing for young people needing help or accommodation.

So when the Brigidine Sisters’ adjacent buildings (which included a chapel and a large home) were put up for sale, Challenge asked the Society of Mary to assist them by purchasing the old convent and leasing it to Challenge. The Society of Mary approved the purchase, increasing the already strong bond between them and Challenge 2000.

At the opening, Cardinal Dew gave thanks for the work of Challenge 2000 as it teaches, encourages and supports vulnerable youth and families and he prayed that Challenge 2000 would always be a light in the darkness. Mayor Lester acknowledged the love, respect and support given to young people by Challenge 2000.

In his address, Mr English recognised Kitty McKinley, the founder of Challenge 2000. “We have seen her fantastic ability to ride the wave of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next,” he said. “We have also seen the love that Kitty has poured into Challenge 2000, into those young people, many hundreds of whom know her personally.”

Fr Kennerley spoke of Challenge’s Marist connection. “Being a Marist,” he said “is first and foremost about imitating the mind and heart, thoughts, words and actions of Christ’s first and greatest disciple-follower, his mother, Mary.”

“Mary’s work,” he continued “is Christ’s work. Challenge and its people are the hands, the feet, the care and attention of Christ and of his greatest cheer-leader follower, Mary.”

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