By Marilyn Rodrigues and Adam Wesselinoff
Catholics have been honoured for their service to education, charity, professional life and the Church in this year’s Australia Day honours.
Sydney architect and Maronite Catholic George El Khouri said it was a great honour and privilege to receive a Medal of the Order of the Australia (OAM), for service to architecture and the community.
For 30 years he has donated architectural services to literally help build the faith in Sydney and elsewhere across the Maronite Diocese of Australia, including at St Charbel’s Parish in Punchbowl and Our Lady of Lebanon in Harris Park.
“Architecture brings people together; think of the old piazzas outside churches which allowed people to gather in a relaxed way after Mass, young people to meet each other and marry in the faith,” El Khouri said.
“Nice buildings in the Church have a very important social role throughout history and are particularly important in helping migrants to maintain their communities here and in turn to contribute to the wider society.”
Parramatta priest honoured
Fr Peter Williams, vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Diocese of Parramatta said news he had been named a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) came as a complete surprise.
“I feel very honoured but it was the last thing I expected, particularly when I consider that a lot of priests I know very generously spend all of their ministry pastoring in parishes and that’s all they ever do which is really the heart of what priestly ministry is,” he said.
“I see this award not so much as a personal achievement for me but on behalf of the many committed people who belong and work in ministries in the Catholic Church despite the bad press it can get.
“There are lay members, and religious and clergy doing remarkable things day to day in the Church and the community which go unheralded and unnoticed.” Fr Williams received his honour for his significant service to the Catholic Church and to education.
He serves as Parramatta’s diocesan director of liturgy, was the director of liturgy for World Youth Day Sydney in 2008, executive secretary of the National Liturgical Commission from 2000–2011 and oversaw the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. He was elected a Fellow of St John’s College, Sydney in 2009, a Member of the NSW Chapter of Australian Catholic University in 2010, and is also a member of the National Liturgical Art and Architecture Board.
Sister’s service recognised
Mercy Sister Barbara McDonough was awarded the OAM for her services to education and the church, but the honour has hardly gone to her head.
“I can’t imagine why they think I should have one!” she told The Catholic Weekly. “When I got the email, I thought it was spam! They had to send the email twice because I didn’t answer the first one.”
Sr Barbara served as a school teacher and principal for more than four decades in Mercy Sisters secondary girls’ schools.
Like many religious, she taught a variety of subjects but spent most of her career as a science teacher following the 1962 reform of secondary education in response to the Wyndham Report.
“When I went to school you could be a nurse, or a secretary or something like that, or go into pharmacy,” Sr Barbara said.
After the Wyndham Report “general education across everything became for both boys and girls”, and Sr Barbara was among the first teachers in NSW to teach chemistry to young women – bunsen burners and all.
“The most important thing of course was that they believed they had something to offer to society, to believe in themselves, to bring out their own special gift,” she said.
Sr Barbara said the award was for the Sisters of Mercy and not for her alone.
“I would never have been in this situation if I hadn’t been a Sister of Mercy.”
Local Citizen of the Year awards
John and Jean Zammit and Sister Khanh Cao from Sacred Heart Parish in Cabramatta received Local Citizen of the Year Awards.
Mr and Mrs Zammit have worked tirelessly for the parish and the St Vincent de Paul Society, for more than 30 years.
Parish secretary Mary Pankiw said the couple is known for always being available to make up hampers and deliver to those most in need any time of the day or night, or assist people where they can especially with government assistance paper work or finding accommodation.
Sister Khanh Cao, along with three other sisters in her community, also serves families who need assistance, providing tutoring for students, a listening ear, a meal, or anything else they need, she said. “It’s a pleasure to have such dedicated, caring people in our parish who just keep on giving,” she said.