“We need good, smart, committed, hard-working, ethical people. Spiritually well-rooted people, who know who you are, and will care for others,” Archbishop Fisher said.
The Auntie Elsie scholarships were established in 2020 to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame.
Nine students received a scholarship this year, growing substantially from two inaugural recipients thanks to high-level support from the Archdiocese of Sydney and UNDA.
Nursing students Katie Lee-King, Destiny Peris, Rose-Maree Maynard, Shayarnee Burns, Shelby Cave and Kiarna Turaga-Phillips all received scholarships and a special mention from the Archbishop, who said in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Aged Care Royal Commission good, ethical nurses were in high demand.
Also receiving scholarships were Taylor Mara and Kaitlyn Ward, both studying Primary Education, and Ruby Mikolaitis, studying a Bachelor of Communications and Media. “I can’t express how grateful I am to the university,” Ms Mikolaitis said.
After a family tragedy, Ms Mikolaitis found herself struggling with grief and balancing study with employment and self-care.
“Because of the scholarship I was able to quit my job, so I could focus on grieving and moving on with my studies. I’m incredibly grateful for that, because some students don’t have that opportunity,” she said.
Ms Mikolaitis is a Palawar woman from Tasmania, and spoke some words in palawa kani for the recipients and guests meaning “we are this country, and this country is us”.
Rose-Marie Maynard, a Gamilaroi woman studying nursing, said the scholarship will “make a huge difference”.
She works as an assistant in nursing in an aged care home and lives independently, and said the scholarship means “I’ve got more money I can put away to the side for bills”.
She hopes to work in the Emergency Department or in mental healthcare, but is also considering aged care, geriatrics or midwifery, and chose Notre Dame because “it said it was one of the best for jobs at the end, that’s one of the main things”.
Dr Lisa Buxton, Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Sydney, paid tribute to Auntie Elsie Heiss, in whose name the scholarships are granted.
“If it wasn’t for Auntie Elsie’s vision 30 odd years ago we may not have the Reconciliation Church at La Perouse,” she said.
“She worked tirelessly for the Aboriginal Catholic ministry.”
Dr Buxton noted that Auntie Elsie participated in the official smoking ceremony for St Pope John Paul II’s 1995 visit to Australia, was the only Aboriginal representative at the 1998 Synod for Oceania, played a leading role in the organisation of 2008 World Youth Day Sydney, and welcomed Pope Benedict XVI in the official welcoming ceremony.
“[Pope Benedict] was amazed because she introduced herself in German. An Aboriginal who spoke German? I don’t think he would have forgotten that for a long while,” Dr Buxton said.
Aunty Elsie was also made a Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2018 for her work promoting Indigenous spirituality within the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Fisher described Auntie Elsie as “a dear friend” and was proud to have been a nominee for her honorary Doctor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame in 2010.
Alongside the Archbishop at the scholarship ceremony were Archdiocesan Chancellor Chris Meney, and Executive Director, Administration and Finance, Michael Digges, as well as Archdiocesan trustees.
The Chancellor of Notre Dame, The Hon. Chris Ellison, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Communications and Engagement, David Harrison, and other dignitaries were also present; Vice-Chancellor Francis Campbell was prevented from attending by COVID-19 precautions.