All of Sydney reaps the rewards of their faith and service
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has awarded 47 Catholics a Dempsey Medal from more than 30 parishes and agencies across Sydney for their outstanding contributions to parish life.
Among them were Tony and Patricia Ficarra, a “caring, compassionate and charitable” couple who have long guided the parish of St Mark’s in Drummoyne in a variety of ways.
“Tony and Pat have been active and associated with programs of renewal, outreach and evangelisation in the parish,” said Fr Michael McLean.
Tony also has a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to education and is a catechist for Drummoyne Public School.
During the early 1960s he was part of a ground-breaking group of teachers of Economics in Catholic and state high schools who formed an Association of Economics Teachers. It has since grown to include Business and Legal Studies teachers and Commerce to Year 10.
Joyce McDonald received her award at her parish St Joseph’s in Berala earlier this year from her parish priest Fr Thomas Kurunthanam. Also honoured on the night was one of the parish’s original acolytes, Sergio Eamiguel, who has served in that capacity and in music ministry since the 1970s.
Mrs McDonald’s daughter Patricia Giammarco said her mother, who among her many virtues is devoted to Eucharistic ministry and described by Fr Thomas as “so very compassionate”, was a well-deserving recipient.
“She is most proud of the award, as we are of all the effort and time she gives to the church,” she said. “I believe there is not one person that could say that it was not deserved.
“I think she has been carrying out her duties many as they may be for a total of 39 years. And she is still only 93 years young.”
Mrs McDonald has already received an Australia Day honour for decades of work visiting and caring for the sick in the parish and the wider community along with fulfilling many duties at her beloved church.
“During this COVID period when she was not able to visit her regulars, I took her around to see them all and she made some fresh cakes for each family that she visited,” said Patricia.
“I would knock on the door and stand back tell the person there is a cake from Mrs Mac and they would come out and collect it, all was received with great surprise. This is mum, always giving.”
At St John Vianney and St Thomas More in Greenacre another parish gem, Richard Gabriel, was recognised for three decades of service including as an acolyte, Eucharistic minister and Vinnies member.
Eleanor Emmerson, parishioner at Holy Family in Menai, echoed the common reaction of medal recipients when she received her honour. “It was wholly unexpected and such a privilege to receive this prestigious medal,” she said.
Carol Miller of St Brigid’s parish in Coogee said she was fortunate to belong to a “richly blessed” parish.
“The Dempsey Medal is a great honour granted to one person, but it is shared with the team of volunteers who generously give of their time and efforts, united through prayer and action to build community reaching out to those in need,” she said.
“I hope to continue in dedicated service for the Church which was so evident in James Dempsey’s life. May his spirit continue to live on over the years in the lives of many others.”
The annual medal presentation usually takes place at a Mass presided by Archbishop Fisher in St Mary’s Cathedral. This year due to the pandemic the archbishop sent the medals and letters of commendation to recipients’ parishes or agency who presented them on his behalf.
Archbishop Fisher said it was a “great joy” for him to recognise valued members of the archdiocese each year and apologised that he was unable to meet them in person.
“Our Dempsey medal recipients have served in our parishes, schools, diocesan agencies or associations of the faithful in an extraordinary range of prayer and leadership activities, ministries and community outreach,” he said.
“I join with you in thanking God for the many blessings and graces he has bestowed on our Dempsey Medal awardees, and which their work has bestowed on Australian communities.”
An extraordinary life of service
At 101 years young Gayus Donoghue is one of Sydney’s truly inspiring Good Samaritans.
As a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society for more than 60 years, he not only provided for his own family but was also concerned for countless others, mostly strangers whom he helped to feed, shelter and comfort in sometimes desperate situations.
Awarded a Dempsey Medal by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the long-time stalwart of St Francis Xavier’s church St Mary MacKillop’s Parish, Rockdale, only retired from volunteering in his mid-90s. He says he “never dreamt” of being honoured for all his labours.
“He has been a wonderful role model for everyone who knows him.”
His stand-out memories include a late-night call to help a struggling mother feed her starving children, arranging a funeral to fulfil the last wish of a dying man, and inviting an orphaned boy to the family’s Christmas lunch – all incredibly rewarding.
“I’ve made many strong friends, young and old over the years,” Mr Donoghue said at a morning tea held in his honour at St Vincent’s Care Services, Edgecliff, where he currently lives. “I never expected to be made such a fuss of.”
Granddaughter Cathy Smeeton said the devoted husband to his late wife Billie, father of three and great-great grandfather of 11 was a “very humble man” with great faith who had always lived for others.
“He approached his volunteer work with such sincerity, he used to go home at night and worry about the families he had helped,” she said. “He has been a wonderful role model for everyone who knows him.”
Rockdale parishioner Lucy Smith, who nominated Mr Donoghue for the award, said he is “a person of true character, with a wonderful sense of humour”.
“Gayus is a person of strong faith and I am sure he would agree that his faith has carried him through many difficult times in his life and has also brought him a lot of joy and hope in his life,” she said. “Gayus is an inspiration to us all.”
2020 Dempsey Medal recipients
Kevin Lupton OAM
Anthony Ficarra OAM
Joseph Nguyen Kim Ngan
- Dempsey Medals honour Sydney Catholics outstanding service
- Sydney parish responds to hate-crime with love
- Praise for parish after confirmed COVID case