Preferential option for the poor

Love Justice Compassion Hope
When Mary Aikenhead founded the Sisters of Charity in 1815 she included a fourth vow – that of service of the poor.

This vow, which was to distinguish her Sisters and their work in the world, also provides a distinctive focus for a Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ college. Understanding that the love of Christ impels us to be of service to the poor through recognising and responding to the human vulnerability of all whom we meet is at the core of our work in education.

Today our colleges understand this imperative as a call to awareness of, and a practical and active responsiveness to, the vulnerability in all of humanity and the world. It places us in relationship with those who lack, or are barred from access to what is fundamental to the development of full human potential and the recognition of individual dignity. In honouring service of the disadvantaged our colleges seek at all times to exercise a preferential option for the poor; we walk with and befriend those who find themselves denied and vulnerable, offering practical and tangible relief and support.

A Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ college reads the signs of the times in the design, delivery and review of programs of learning and teaching to ensure that they identify the vulnerable; explore the reasons for, and the factors contributing to, poverty in all its forms; and encourage in students and staff the willingness and ability to address proactively the existence of poverty in all manifestations, in all settings in all times.

In the spirit of Venerable Mary Aikenhead, and in line with the values of Mary Aikenhead Ministries, our commitment to preferential option for the poor summons all in our colleges to right action to address disadvantage, including vigorous and rigorous advocacy – to provide a voice for those who have been silenced and oppressed; to seek solutions which embed justice and mercy in social structures and relationships; and to pursue change which creates opportunity and encourages engagement.

Effective advocacy requires the ability to listen carefully and with an open heart to what is needed rather than deciding what is wanted. Through this advocacy Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ colleges call for social action that addresses not just the expression of disadvantage and the existence of vulnerability, but their fundamental causes.

In the development of learning, teaching and extracurricular programs, in the structures they operate, in the processes they implement, and in the relationships they form and the actions they take, Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ colleges are constant in their consideration of the following questions:

  • Who are the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our time?
  • Where are the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our time?
  • Who has led to this disadvantage?
  • Who is needed for this disadvantage to be alleviated?
  • What am I being called to do to bring this about?

This process of social awareness, critique and transformation provides the framework for the way in which Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ colleges live service of the disadvantaged, though a preferential option for the vulnerable in every aspect of the college’s learning and teaching program and across all aspects of its community.

In giving attention to the often small and almost silent voices of the vulnerable, all in a Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ college are impelled through the love of Christ to seek those places of exclusion and deprivation of opportunity. We are called to have gratitude for what we have and the humility to act justly, resolutely and bravely to challenge the existence of disadvantage and vulnerability and to act purposefully and courageously for personal and social transformation.

Our colleges are communities:
driven by a sense of moral purpose exemplified by a strong commitment to the preferential option for the poor and a deep respect for all creation;
steadfast in their advocacy for justice on behalf of the vulnerable, the marginalised and the voiceless; and,
searching always for opportunities for hope directed towards justice, equity and the common good for all.

Catholic colleges under the stewardship of Mary Aikenhead Ministries will be known through:

Cultural Characteristics

  • a strong and sustained commitment to the vulnerable through the deliberate and consistent application of a preferential option for the disadvantaged in all that they do;
  • processes of discourse and discernment that constantly seek to identify those in need wherever they might be and however they may present;
  • their pursuit of justice in recognising and alleviating the sources and causes of disadvantage in their community and their world;
  • a visible and tangible commitment to the principles of relationship and reciprocity in all that they do in service of the disadvantaged and vulnerable; and
  • strong and rigorous advocacy in addressing ideas, structures, processes and actions which marginalise the vulnerable and those in need.


Catholic colleges under the stewardship of Mary Aikenhead Ministries may evidence this by:

Evidential Indicators

  • active and comprehensive involvement of key leaders and teams in processes of discernment and dialogue focussed on enacting a preferential option for the poor to address disadvantage within and beyond the college community;
  • programs of learning and social action that have at their centre a commitment to the recognition and alleviation of the causes of inequality, disadvantage and injustice;
  • policies and processes that identify and address disadvantage expressed through a school culture of sensitivity and confidentiality that respects the dignity of the individual and actively promotes access and opportunity;
  • the visible and tangible presence of an understanding and application of the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as expressed in Catholic social teaching;
  • decision-making processes that seek alignment between the college mission and values and outcomes that promote a preferential option for the poor and a commitment to addressing disadvantage;
  • programs that have as their focus the empowerment of students and staff as advocates for social change and renewal leading to the creation of opportunities for engagement in rigorous social advocacy on behalf of the disadvantaged;
  • across the community positive social action for justice that focuses on the promotion of a preferential option for the poor and the alleviation of disadvantage.