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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Catholics honoured on Australia Day 2023

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From music to social work, building up local parishes and religious life, sustaining charitable organisations, healthcare and industry, Catholics are among those named in this year’s Australia Day honours list. They include:


Peter Ciani. Photo: Facebook

Maroubra Catholic and music industry veteran Peter Ciani brought his gift for song to Sydney from Sicily after falling in love with the country on a visit to his sister here decades ago. He has now been honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to music.

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Mr Ciani supported the late Capuchin Fr Atanasio Gonelli, co-founder of the Italian Association of Assistance (Co.As.It), when the Sydney-based friar who is regarded by many as a saint established a charitable fund for the needy.

He’s a director of the charity and performs for its fundraiser in March each year, and also organises and performs for other charity fundraisers including for Scalabrini Village aged care and the Victor Chang Foundation.

After winning the national TV talent show Showcase in the 1960s, Mr Ciani was elevated to national and international fame but says the highlight of his singing and song-writing career was performing for Pope Paul VI when the pontiff visited our shores in 1970.

He was also on the organising committee for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 and has sung for former Prime Minister John Howard.

“I’ve been making people happy with my singing and my music since I was a kid back in Sicily, but I’m just one of many others who devote themselves to the community,” Mr Ciani said.

“An award like this is something I never thought about, I don’t really know what to say. Music has been my life and I think it is one of the best things in life. It inspires you, it feeds your soul and your heart. I’ve written many songs about Australia, this country has inspired me.”


Josephite Sister Mary Comer

Sr Mary Comer RSJ received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community including in her role as the founding director of Centacare Bathurst and a former leader of her congregation.

Last year Sr Mary was named a Bathurst Living Legend by the Bathurst City Council for her contributions which also include being a member of the management committee of the
Central West Child Guidance Clinic in the regional city for 13 years.

A teacher before she became a psychologist, Sr Mary along with the late Sr Janice Ryder RSJ established a school counselling service across the diocese’s schools in 1979 and ran it for nine years. “We could see that some schools would do a lot better if they got some extra help and counselling services in Catholic schools were not common at that time at all in a city or the country,” she said.

“What was apparent to us was that while the Church so often spoke about the family being the important core of the Church, it offered little formal, pastoral or professional support to couples and families to strengthen them and offer remedial help when they were in trouble, especially in regional and rural areas.”

In 1988 Sr Mary established Centacare Bathurst with a staff of two – herself and a part time receptionist – with the support of her congregation, the diocese and its Catholic education office, and the advice and support of the Metropolitan Centacare directors.

“It was designed to provide professional and psychological services for children, individuals and families and to organise referrals where necessary, and opportunities to provide community education programs, such as parenting skills and marriage education.”

Sr Mary worked in and directed the service for its first 18 years, securing government grants which enabled staff numbers to increase and offices to be established in other regional towns.

Subsequent directors, Vivian Llewellyn, and currently Robert George, have grown the social welfare side of the service and it currently boasts a staff of well over 100 professionals and among numerous other services, including counselling and after school care. It provides school counsellors for each of the schools in the diocese as well as community programs where appropriate.

“What has made all that possible has been the supportive good, reliable staff, board members with vision and persistence, good mentors, and the support of communities,” said Sr Mary. “So from my perspective, this award is shared by all of those people.”


Phillip Coleman. Photo: supplied

Helping to grow a fledgling parish and building a highly successful Catholic club with mates literally from the ground up took a lot of time and effort that didn’t seem like work at all to Lurnea parishioner Phillip Coleman.

The father of three and grandfather of eight (including one on the way), was honoured for his lifetime’s service to the community through the Catholic Church, and to the club industry with a Medal of the Order of Australia.

“I felt very good and very humbled really,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to be recognised like this. I didn’t do all the work for an award or anything like that, I enjoyed what I did and it was my pleasure. It’s been a great journey.

“Helping with whatever was needed was just part of growing up in my parish. We came here in 1960 and there was very little, just an old presbytery and we had a hall that was used as a school room and the church.”

A fitter and turner by trade with a passion for sport, before his retirement Phillip worked as a senior technical officer for the Atomic Energy Commission (now ANSTO) at Lucas Heights.
Phillip was an acolyte at St Francis Xavier parish for more than 30 years, assisting six priests at the altar.

In the parish his favourite role in later years was visiting nursing homes to take communion to the frail elderly.

He also served as a parish councillor, committee member, counter and warden, and was a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Phillip helped to raise the funds and purchase the land at Prestons for the Liverpool Catholic Club and has been a director there since 1982. He was awarded a Dempsey Medal from the Archdiocese of Sydney in 2021 and named a Companion of the Order of Liverpool, 2017.

He said he doesn’t remember any huge challenges in his decades of working, volunteering and pioneering community service.

“Everything just seemed to fall into place as I got older. I just enjoyed working together with everybody and everyone got along with me,” he said.


Peter Dougherty received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community of the Grafton region including as a volunteer for a raft of organisations including the St Vincent de Paul Society since the 1970s, Mercy Works and Jesuit Ministries.

He and his wife Pam have been devoted to serving their parish of Clarence Valley for their whole married life and donated land for the St James Primary School, Yamba and McAuley Catholic College, Grafton, in 1995 and the early 2000s.

“Faith and our family are the great gifts we’ve been given,” Mr Dougherty said. “We have a saying that instead of trying to age graciously we’re trying to age gratefully.

“The only challenge we have had turned into a blessing, our eldest daughter has an intellectual disability and that’s been a blessing to the family because all of us have a place in our heart for people who are struggling.”


Marist Brother Anthony Boyd.

Br Anthony Boyd FMS received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to secondary education as deputy principal, teacher and rugby union coach at St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill for more than 20 years.

Br Anthony is also a former rowing and athletics coach at the college, along with other sporting contributions, and was a former deputy headmaster at Parramatta Marist College and Marist College, Canberra.

As a rugby union coach Br Anthony coached junior, senior, Great Public Schools, State and Australian representative teams with almost a dozen current and former Wallabies claiming him as their formative coach. He retired from his role at St Joseph’s in 2019.

“Being involved with students whose fathers I was involved with, and whose grandparents I knew is wonderful and it’s a special privilege which a lot of teachers don’t get.

“A lot of boys are very much like their fathers, a lot of boys are very different to their fathers, and I often say to some fathers, you must have married a very, very fine woman!

“Those who taught me when I was a student at St Joseph’s influenced me to consider joining the brothers, which I did and I’ve just been so fortunate to have the life and the opportunities that I have.

“But there are so many other Brothers, teachers and coaches I have worked with who have done just as much as I have if not more, and made extraordinary contributions who don’t get recognised. So I feel very privileged and very humbled and I accepted this award on behalf of all of them I have known and worked with who have influenced me over the years.”


Deidre and Terry Carroll. Photo: supplied

The Grenfell couple received Medals of the Order of Australia for their extraordinarily varied service to the community of the region in central west New South Wales.

In October they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, on Christmas Day their parish priest presented them with a papal blessing, and so with each of them receiving this new honour it’s been a big few months of celebration.

Both dedicated members of their parish council and of their local Lions Club along with other volunteer commitments, Terry at 84 is also a former mayor. Along with a raft of volunteer roles and while raising their family the pair helped to set up the local Meals on Wheels service nearly 50 ago and are still delivering meals today.

Margaret Carey, former principal of The Henry Lawson High School in Grenfell, said the award was well deserved as the couple “are an inspiration to us all”.

“You are both inspirational in your generous and tireless giving of time and the hours and hours you have given to ensure our community is well connected, resourced and providing opportunities for so many different groups especially the young people,” she wrote.

The couple featured on the front page of their local newspaper this week, but they are characteristically humble about the latest accolades. “We haven’t stopped working and now I think we’ll have to keep going,” laughed Deirdre. “But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it.”

“Some people are just more fortunate than others,” added Terry. “They’re not dealt the right cards in life and I was very fortunate, I had an old Catholic priest pay my way through college and I’ve never forgotten that.”

Both mentioned that they would wish to see more people take up volunteering opportunities to enrich their communities and help young people who need support to get a good start in life.


Margaret Cunningham was named a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community through charitable organisations, particularly St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney through the JW & M Cunningham Foundation she established with John Cunningham to specifically support their areas of interest in mental health, cardiology, urology, neurosciences, hospital equipment and regional health initiatives.



Sydney Catholic Warren Hopley received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to education, particularly to the disadvantaged including as principal of several Sydney Catholic schools and acting principal of St Lucy’s School for Intellectual Disability, Wahroonga.

The author of Understanding Boys: Changing Attitudes and Catholic Schools Need Their Poor, has also advocated for the educational needs of Sudanese refugees.


Glenn Roff received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to education. The Canberra Catholic was the first lay principal of St John’s College, Woodlawn, a principal of St Mary’s Primary School in Toowoomba and the director of the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Cairns, from 1997-2000.

Along with other important appointments Mr Roff was chair of the Marist Charism and Culture Committee for Marist schools in Australia from 2017-2022.


Actor David Wenham was named a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the performing arts as an actor and producer including his work in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Pirates of the Caribbean films as well as last year’s Elvis.


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