Aunty Elsie Heiss Indigenous Support Scholarship for Notre Dame

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Proud scholarship recipients Sienna Thomas and Katie-Lee King with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and University of Notre Dame Vice Chancellor Professor Francis Campbell PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

The first in their family to attend university

Two Indigenous women attending the University of Notre Dame -Sienna Thomas and Katie-Lee King- received the first ever annual Aunty Elsie Indigenous Support Scholarships on Tuesday 1 December.

The Scholarship supports and recognises Indigenous students for their outstanding commitment to learning. 

In the presence of family, community elders, university faculty, and the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP, the two young women were granted the award at a ceremony in Cathedral House – Gadigal land.

Help young Indigenous children achieve their potential

Notre Dame student Sienna Thomas 22, a Dhungatti woman whose family attends the St Aloysius parish in Cronulla, spoke of her aspirations in education to help young Indigenous children achieve their potential. 

“Growing up I have been able to help young cousins and family members reach their potential with education. I would love to help more children achieve this,” said Sienna. 

“I would like to go into Indigenous education to give these kids as many opportunities as I have received. I want to show my indigenous and Catholic family how invested I am and that I am doing them proud.” 

“I want to help those who have supported me”

Katie-Lee King, 18, a Dharug woman, spoke of her inspiration into studying nursing to help those in need in her community in reciprocation when she received hospital care growing up.

“I want to help those who have supported me when I was in hospital,” said Katie-Lee 

Both women were also recognised as the first in their family to attend university- something that would be difficult to achieve without the support of the Aunty Elsie Heiss Scholarship

UNDA student and Aunty Elsie Indigenous Support Scholarship Recipient Katie-Lee King talking with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP Photo: Patrick J Lee

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, congratulated the women on their achievement. 

“We welcome and congratulate today the first recipients of our inaugural Aunty Elsie Indigenous Support Scholarship, Sienna Thomas and Katie-Lee King,” said Archbishop Fisher. 

“Your families and your extended families that are the First Australians, the Church and the University are all very proud of you.”

The Church and the University are all very proud of you

University of Notre Dame Vice Chancellor Professor Francis Campbell also gave congratulations to the women. 

“We are very proud to have you in our Notre Dame community and this is such a wonderful opportunity for you. And we also honour Aunty Elsie Heiss,” said Professor Campbell.  

Aunty Elsie Heiss, who could not be present due to an illness, nevertheless communicated her congratulations to the scholarship recipients. 

Members of the Aboriginal Catholic community at La Perouse; a community that would not be possible without the work of elder Aunty Elsie Heiss. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“I am sure the aboriginal matriarchs are incredibly proud of you today not only to be awarded a scholarship but also to be the first people in your families,” wrote Aunty Elsie.

Other students will be encouraged

“I hope it helps support you at Notre Dame and that other students will be encouraged by you.”

Aunty Elsie is an Indigenous Catholic elder of the Wiradjuri nation and a pioneer of Aboriginal Catholic community and education in Sydney – especially within the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. 

Lisa Buxton, the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate with education from the University of Notre Dame, and the current Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, spoke the Welcome to Country and mentioned the influence of Aunty Elsie on her own life. 

“I am truly grateful for her ongoing cultural and spiritual guidance,” said Lisa.