Meet Catholics honoured this Australia Day

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Good Samaritan Sister Rita Fitt was one of those honoured this Australia Day. PHOTO: Daniel Hopper

Giving comes naturally to the more than 1000 recipients of this year’s Australia Day Awards including many Catholics who have been honoured from across NSW.

The Catholic Weekly caught up with some of the recipients recognised for outstanding service to the community in diverse fields including education, justice, culture, healthcare, community work, social outreach, and to the Catholic Church in Australia.

Martha Jabour (OAM)

Martha Jabbour
Martha Jabbour said she trained to work with grieving parents who had lost their child to SIDS because she “wanted to help people who were heartbroken like me”. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Martha Jabour says she looks to St Mary of the Cross MacKillop as a constant aide in her work as head of the Homicide Victims’ Support Group Australia.

“I say ‘she’s my girl’, she’s just amazing” she laughs. “And I ask God for help all the time.” 

The not-for-profit support group is based in Parramatta and today serves more than 4000 family members. Martha was asked to help establish it in 1993 when the parents of Anita Cobby and Ebony Simpson met and recognised the need to set up an organisation to offer counselling, support and information to families and friends of homicide victims throughout NSW.

At that time Ms Jabour, who lost one of her three children to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was working with parents who suffered a similar loss.

“I thought what do I know about homicide?” she said. “They said I had good organisational skills and people skills, and I thought, that’s quite a compliment, and told them I’ll give it a try for a year while they find someone else.”

Receiving her award, a medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through support for victims of crime, was a “privilege” she said.

“Even just to have been nominated, I feel over-awed, and I used the word ‘blessed’ a lot but it’s true, I just feel like I’m blessed.”

She credited her family and the members of the group for enabling her to do her work.

“And prayer, that’s a big thing.”

Father Kevin Bates SM (OAM)

Marist Father Kevin Bates.
Marist Father Kevin Bates. PHOTO: Giovanni Porteli

Father Kevin Bates SM parish priest at Hunter’s Hill is a recognisable name in the Catholic community as the writer of hymns sung in Australian parishes and schools over many years.

He said he was “astonished and honoured” to hear he was to receive a medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Catholic Church.

“Music has been with me all my life,” he said.  “I started writing music in the late 1970s and it hasn’t been the main focus of my ministry, which has mostly been in education, but it has been a vehicle for my ministry.

“It’s a language we all share and a great means of communicating, particularly with young people. I am very grateful that I’ve been able to use it.”

See related story: Choosing the music for your wedding? Think Schubert not Swift

Father Bates has also served as the director of the Aquinas Academy and director of the Marist Centre and is a current member of the Inter-Church Council at Hunters Hill.

“In my role I represent our Marist, parish and church communities and am very aware that this award belongs to all of them, especially to the many people who serve the community faithfully and often in hidden and unknown ways,” he said.

“In a time when the Church must become more humble, honest and open to significant changes, it is worth acknowledging the good work that continues every day even in the midst of scandal and dislocation.

“In accepting this award, I do so as an act of thanks for all those who remain faithful to the Gospel and to the life-giving mission of the Church.”

Father Paul Pidcock SM (OAM)

Marist Father Paul Pidcock
Marist Father Paul Pidcock. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Fellow Marist Father Paul Pidcock SM was a vital part of the life of St John’s College Woodlawn in Lismore for 55 years until his retirement last year, fulfilling several roles over that time as its chaplain, member of the college executive council, bursar, teacher and social outreach organiser.

“The college has seen big changes over that period, with the Second Vatican Council and going from an all-boys boarding college to a co-ed systemic day school, and those changes have gone very well,” he said.

“I’ve really loved my work and I’ve been very happy to work with the students. I’ve found them to be very generous and responsive especially in their work with the St Vincent de Paul and also as Red Cross blood donors and other things I thought were important.”

Father Pidcock, who received his medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Catholic Church, also taught at Marist College in Burnie, Tasmania, and is currently a committee member of the Father Tony Glynn Australia-Japan Centre at Southern Cross University.

Mary Lee (OAM)

Mary Lee of Longueville in Sydney’s lower north shore received her award for service to the Irish community in Australia.

Mary Lee
Mary Lee in her home in Longueville. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

She emigrated here as a newlywed with her husband in 1964 and soon launched her career in travel, getting her start with a job in Sydney’s Qantas office.

Mrs Lee established a successful travel agency, Eblana Travel, in the CBD, running it for more than 40 years before a problem with her eyesight forced her to retire from the work she loved.

She was named the Irish Australian of the Year in 1987 and received The Landsdowne Club Individual Achievement Award in 2001 and Chairman’s Award in 2010.

“I am very flattered, I had great pleasure in my work,” she said. “I am a people person and loved meeting people and seeing the world.”

See related story: New project honours the Irish who built Australia

Mrs Lee used those people skills as a stellar volunteer fundraiser, including raising $1,700,000 to establish the Chair of Irish Studies at the University of NSW Wales.

Named Irish Australian of the Year in 1987, Mary also campaigned for a Chair of Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney and is the vice-president of the Aisling Society of Australia and a founding member of the Lansdowne Club among other accomplishments.

Giving comes naturally to Mary, who said “it all comes a thousand times back to you”. She said her father taught also her to “never forget a good deed” done by others.

Dr Youseff Taouk (OAM)

Dr Youseff Taouk, lecturer and researcher at the Australian Catholic University, said he was “a bit taken aback” at first on hearing about his award, a medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Lebanese community.

Dr Youseff Taouk. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The past president and current member of the Bscharri Association is also a member of the Australian Lebanese Historical Society, Member, Eparchial Assembly Preparatory Committee, Maronite Eparchy of Australia and of the stewardship committee at St Raymond’s Maronite parish in Auburn.

“I’ve done some volunteering here and there but there are people out there working a lot harder than I am who would deserve this,” he said.

See related story: The fiery Maronites, people of faith and generosity

Dr Taouk wanted to pay special tribute to his mother for instilling in him a “passion to change society for the better”, his former academic supervisor Christian Br Jude Butcher and other priests and the team at the Institute for Advancing Community Engagement at ACU of which he was a member for 10 “wonderful” years.

He said his faith was instilled in him by his parents and deepened further as he prepared his doctorate on the history of the Church in Britain.

“It has been a huge part in influencing what I do and how I do it,” he said.

Sister Rita Fitt SGS (OAM)

Good Samaritan Sister Rita Fitt was “excited but also humbled” to receive her medal of the Order of Australia for service to secondary education.

Sister Rita Fitt SGS.
Sister Rita Fitt SGS. PHOTO: Diocese of Wollongong/Daniel Hopper

“There are colleagues I work with who could have received it,” she said.

The family liaison coordinator at St Mary Star of the Sea College in Wollongong has always appreciated that the college initiated her ministry of compassion. It involves being available to students and their families in times of need, working alongside school counsellors and psychologists as well as with the parents and friends group.

“It’s been a real joy to be a bearer of hope for people in the name of the college,” she said.

“I see this as an award for the college which allows and encourages me in this role which benefits all of us. The principal Dr Frank Pitt has honoured me with the freedom to do the ministry in whichever way I feel called to do it.”

One of those ways is popping in to visit the HSC students at home during the weeks before their final exams simply to encourage them.

“It’s something people look forward to,” Sister Rita said.

Richard Haddock (AO)

Richard Haddock AM
Richard Haddock said he feels a responsibility to help others in need. PHOTO: Supplied

Chair of St Vincent’s Curran Foundation Richard Haddock said he thought “being rewarded for the work you’re enjoying seems a bit unfair”.

Mr Haddock received an ‘upgrade’ from his previously held title of member of the Order of Australia. He is now named an officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the community, to charitable groups, to the Catholic Church and to the finance sector.

See related story: Melbourne ethicist and CWL leading light in Australia Day honours list

I know because of the work I do of so many other people who do so many other good things, and you feel embarrassed when you are recognised and others haven’t been,” said Mr Haddock who is a current board member of Aid to the Church in Need, chair of the advisory board for CatholicCare Sydney and director and governor of the University of Notre Dame Australia among many other roles.

“On the other hand, I’m very grateful to be recognised in such a way. Hopefully, it’s a small example for others of what I consider to be our responsibility when many of us are in a somewhat privileged situation to try to assist other people wherever we can.

“When people do that they quickly see how gratifying and satisfying it is.”

Rex Harding (OAM)

Rex Harding, president of the St Vincent de Paul conference at St Rose Parish in Collaroy Heights has devoted much of life to volunteer community service and received his medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community of Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Rex Harding
Rex Harding said volunteering with homeless men in Sydney left an “indelible mark on me”. PHOTO: Supplied

A member of Vinnies since 1961, he has served as a conference president five times, and been a spiritual facilitator for the Broken Bay regional council and the diocesan central council.

A Chieftain and publicity officer of the Warringah Scottish Society Mr Harding has broad interests reflected in the variety of community and charitable organisations he has served or currently serves, including Community Connect Northern Beaches, Surf Lifesaving Australia, Matt Talbot’s Hostel for Homeless Men, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, and other Celtic cultural societies.

A lay Dominican and former catechist, he said he has enjoyed all his volunteer work, but the highlight was serving at the Matt Talbot Hostel.

“The guys were poor but a lot of them still maintained their dignity and they were very humble and thankful for what you were doing and it was just a pleasure to look after them,” Mr Harding said.

“I was there for two or three years and I had to give it away because it was taking too long for me to get there and back again, otherwise I’d still be there. It left an indelible mark on me.”

Professor Matthew Peters (OAM)

The head of the department of thoracic medicine at Concord Repatriation General Hospital is now a member of the Order of Australia for significant service to thoracic medicine, to medical education, and to professional organisations.

Bishop Eugene Hurley (AM)

A little further afield, Darwin’s Bishop Emeritus Eugene Hurley was named a member of the Order of Australia for service to the Catholic Church and the community of the Northern Territory.

Bishop Eugene Hurley
Bishop Eugene Hurley with (left) Bishop Richard Umbers and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the 2017 Australian Catholic Youth Festival. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The bishop of Darwin from 2007 to 2018, who also led Port Pirie, Bishop Hurley was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

“I’ve always loved being a priest,” he said. “I can’t believe my luck that I’ve been able to be a priest, and while I was surprised and shattered when I was asked to become a bishop I have loved being a bishop as well.”

Bishop Hurley was the founder of the Catholic pastoral care team at the Woomera Detention Centre, member of the Ministerial Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and is a patron of the Melaleuca Refugee Centre.

He’s also a past deputy chair of Caritas Australia.

“It’s been an enormous privilege to be part of the stories of people’s lives from a variety of backgrounds and cultures,” he said, including families, young people, refugees and asylum seekers, people in prison, and Indigenous Australians.

Bishop Hurley said he was blessed to have come from a very good, humble family and that his father taught him to “love Australia with a passion”.

But he was disappointed “almost to the point of anger” at the treatment of Vietnam War veterans on their return home from conscripted service.

“I have friends who still suffer from that,” he said.

Karl Morris (AO)

Karl Morris was named an officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the financial and stockbroking sectors, and to the community through a range of organisations.

These include a number of roles in the Archdiocese of Sydney and Brisbane including chairing the Mary McKillop Brisbane Catholic School Access Fund and being a member of the investment committee for the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Click for the complete official Australia Day 2019 Honours List