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Dempsey medal winners celebrated for parish service

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Arthur Doumit, St Vincent de Paul's Society's acting regional president for the Liverpool conference, receives his medal for a lifetime of service through his pastoral outreach, particularly through Vinnies. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Arthur Doumit, St Vincent de Paul’s Society’s acting regional president for the Liverpool conference, receives his medal for a lifetime of service through his pastoral outreach, particularly through Vinnies. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

If you ask Arthur Doumit how many days a week he volunteers with the St Vincent de Paul Society, he laughs and says about nine.

Such is the need in his Auburn parish, the 76-year-old retired payroll manager “works” most days in the community and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

Known as the go-to for any family in crisis, the father of five and grandfather to eight has given a lifetime of service through his pastoral outreach, particularly through Vinnies and is currently the acting regional president for the Liverpool conference.

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After more than four decades of giving to others, last weekend it was Arthur’s turn to be on the receiving end.

He was one of 51 Catholics awarded a Dempsey medal for outstanding service in the Archdiocese of Sydney by Bishop Richard Umbers during a Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Among them were lay women and men who have rendered extraordinary leadership and service in sacramental programs, prayer groups, parish maintenance, fundraising, liturgical ministries, taking communion to the sick and more.

Known around the traps simply as Arthur, the parishioner of St John of God Catholic Church was introduced to Vinnies while at school and takes his vocation of representing God very seriously.

He said giving back to the community by giving the one thing money can’t buy has given him a lifetime of joy.

“To put it simply, Australians are very generous when it comes to material things but when it comes to giving of time sadly it’s very different,” he said.

“People just want to be heard and me offering a listening ear and showing people they matter is so very important.

“I learnt about Vinnies through a great teacher of mine, Br Leonard Smith, a Marist Brother who was in a wheelchair and was such a great inspiration.

The group of 51 Catholics were awarded a Dempsey medal for outstanding service in the Archdiocese of Sydney by Bishop Richard Umbers during a Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The group of 51 Catholics were awarded a Dempsey medal for outstanding service in the Archdiocese of Sydney by Bishop Richard Umbers during a Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“After hearing him talk about volunteering I decided to initially join in with the Legion of Mary, and we’d offer support to the young ladies on William St and the young men at the wall in Kings Cross who were waiting for clients, and it went from there.

“I honestly think that if you are able to help someone, you should.

“Over the years I have done a lot of different things but most recently we hold dinners for those who would otherwise be alone.

“Every third Friday dinner gets around 80 people attend who might otherwise be by themselves.

“We have solicitors, teachers, cleaners, taxi drivers, you name it, come along once a month and know they will not only be fed but be heard.

“It brings me so much joy to be able to not only connect people in the community but listen to them.

“I am very thankful for the Dempsey medal, but more thankful for my wife Therese who makes it all possible and who should be made a saint.

“While there’s people out there needing my help, I’ll keep going, nothing is too much trouble.”

Although the Dempsey medal is awarded for outstanding service or witness to the diocese or community, it is primarily intended to recognise those people who have made an outstanding contribution in the context of their local parish.

Bishop Umbers said the award celebrates significant contributions to building up the church in Sydney through their acts of service.

“James Dempsey trusted in God and worked away to build up this cathedral site in the absence of any real encouragement, bar the extraordinary presence of Fr Therry,” he said.

Dempsey medal for outstanding service in the Archdiocese of Sydney. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Dempsey medal for outstanding service in the Archdiocese of Sydney. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“In the face of government censure, he persevered as a leader in his parish and sought God in the face of disappointment.

“We also seek to make disciples in this nation in the midst of doubts about the likely reception of our witness.

“Contrast the reality of our society, which we love so much, with the current antipathy to all things Christian.

“A Catholic hospital that preserves human life at its most vulnerable stages can be seized and our schools placed in question in as much as they pass on Biblical teaching according to the wishes of the children’s parents.

“There is not much room at the inn for Jesus who came from Nazareth.”

Sydney archbishop Anthony Fisher OP instituted the Dempsey Medal in 2017 in honour of James Dempsey, an Irish convict who was transported to Sydney in 1802 and later pardoned.

A stonemason, he oversaw the building of Sydney’s first bridge, barracks, and hospital.

The Dempsey home was a pivotal gathering place for Catholics of the early colony during the years when there was no priest.

Then when Fr John Joseph Therry arrived in Sydney in 1820, Dempsey assisted him by helping plan, fundraise for, and build the first St Mary’s Cathedral.

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