‘So privileged and grateful’
Dozens of Catholics in Sydney and further afield have been recognised in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list for their outstanding contributions in areas as diverse as the law, education, health, research, and the Church’s sacramental life.
Here are just some of the inspiring Catholics to receive a Queen’s Birthday Honour in 2019:
Parish priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Blackheath Father Robert (Bob) Sheridan was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the Catholic Church. The 86-year-old priest has served the Katoomba and Blackheath parishes for more than a decade after his ordination at the age of 71.
In his former life he was married for 33 years until his wife Dawn, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in 1997.
“I am so privileged and grateful and humbled [about the award],” Fr Bob told The Catholic Weekly. “I had no idea, I thought the grapevine in the parish was working well for me, and then found out everyone kept this from me since last October.
“It’s a small parish and I’ve got a really good team. We’ve got a very informal relationship and it works.”
Fr Bob said he is happiest when he’s giving to others. “Love God and love neighbour, that’s what I do and that sums me up,” he said. “If my health continues to hold up and my mental sharpness is able to carry to load I will continue on to the next three or four years when I will be 90 by then.”
The last 22 years since his wife’s death have unfolded in an “extraordinary way”, he said. “I think the Lord knew exactly what he wanted to happen to me, although [at the time] I didn’t.”
Dominican Sister Patricia Bailey was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to education, particularly for deaf and hearing impaired children. The Belfield-based sister told local media she was shocked at news of her honour and “thought it was a joke”.
“I wasn’t sure whether to accept this because there are more deserving people,” she said. “However, if the OAM can give deaf children a bit of a profile, then it will be good.”
Speaking to The Catholic Weekly she said she was passionate about teaching and that “all children who are hearing impaired should be able to have a Catholic education [if their parents’ wish] and be adequately supported by teachers for the deaf”.
Sr Patricia has worked in education for 47 years including 44 devoted to hearing-impaired children. She was a director at Catholic Hearing Impaired Children in Strathfield, and principal at the Catholic Centre for Hearing Impaired at Waratah. Today she teaches hearing impaired children across five Sydney schools including St Brendan’s Catholic Primary School at Bankstown and hopes her award will highlight the need for increased government funding for specialist teaching help.
Sydney’s Sr Mary Shanahan RSCJ also was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) for service to tertiary education and as a mentor of young students. The chaplain of Sancta Sophia College at the University of Sydney has served the college in various capacities for more than 60 years.
Professor Neville Owen was appointed to the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the law, and to the judiciary, to legal education and to the community of Western Australia. Prof Owen was the chair of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council. Today he is a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Implementation Advisory Group and is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
He told The Catholic Weekly that receiving news of his award was as a “sobering experience” but that it was also a great honour and privilege.
“It calls me to reflect on what I’ve done, where I’ve got and perhaps what else I could have done.”
Prof Owen said a highlight of his career was heading the HIH Insurance Royal Commission from 2001-2003. “It was an opportunity which very few judges get which was not only to minister justice but to have an influence in the development of policy, in the area of how business and commerce should operate,” he said.
“And it was an opportunity to talk about the moral underpinning and the necessity of values to be brought to bear in the decision-making process.” The other highlight was chairing the Truth, Justice and Healing Council until its closure in 2018 and his work with the Pontifical Commission, he said.
“I appreciate being able to make a contribution, small though it may be, to the welfare of people harmed greatly by that tragedy, but also to pave the way for making our institution as safe a place as possibly it can be for children and vulnerable adults,” Prof Owen said.
Professor of law at the University of Notre Dame in the United States Professor John Finnis, the author of Natural Law and Natural Rights is now a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). He received his award for eminent service to the law and to education, to legal theory and philosophical enquiry, and as a leading jurist, academic and author. Professor Finnis is the university’s Permanent Senior Distinguished Research Fellow of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.
Associate Professor Anthony Schembri, CEO of St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his significant service to hospital administration and to medical research.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with so many talented and caring health workers, researchers and support staff during my career and it’s a wonderful privilege to work with patients and their families each day,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t have ever been able to do what I love without the support and love of family and friends, I am very grateful.
“What’s served my career well has been the dual exposure I’ve been fortunate to have at St Vincent’s and with the Sisters. Firstly to have been here in the early 1990’s as a young social worker, and then to return 20 years later as CEO – this has certainly helped provide me with a unique perspective of how we can genuinely serve our mission of supporting the poor and vulnerable.”
Associate Professor William Sultmann, Deputy Dean of Australian Catholic University’s La Salle Academy has been made a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia. Receiving his award for significant service to education, and to the community, he said it was an “honour beyond expectation and received with deep and humble appreciation”.
“It’s a confirmation of many opportunities across four decades of public, private, professional and community service,” said Dr Sultmann.
“It is for service made possible through the grace of God and because others have laid foundations, provided possibilities, been generous with modelling, empowered with trust and provided continuing support.”
NSW Detective Superintendent Gregory Moore from Bourke parish in north-west NSW received an Australian Police Medal (APM) for dedicated service to the people of the state for more than 32 years.
As Commander of the Central North Police District, Detective Moore has implemented programs and strategies which have resulted in improvements in crime reduction and enhanced community engagement in the Indigenous community.
Denise Lawrence, parishioner and choir member at Our Lady Star of the Sea, Terrigal, received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to music education.
The former international cellist became a senior strings examiner and chief examiner (strings) for the Australian Music Examination Board.
She described the job as very rewarding, not only examining children but writing syllabus. “I have always been keen to make sure children get a good chance at learning an instrument,” she told media.
“I love the connection and the fact that you can help a child develop their concentration and self-image by getting them to learn an instrument. I have a policy that every child learns at their own pace and every child deserves to learn.
Fellow parishioner Steve Lynch said “Denise is one of those special gifted people who quietly give of their time and talent to Mass each Sunday”.
“We are all so proud of her career achievements and her enduring and significant contribution to teaching and mentoring students in music.”
Meanwhile, Notre Dame University Australia was celebrating the seven Australians with connections to the university being named on the list, including Prof Owen and Prof Finnis.
They other five are Adjunct Professor Gabriel Moens (AM) and Bruce Levet (OAM) from the Sydney campus’ School of Law, Dr Clare O’Callaghan (AM) of the Institute for Ethics and Society, Associate Professor Leo Pincsewski (AM) and Dr Geraldine Duncan (OAM) of the School of Medicine in Sydney.
Announcing the inspirational Australians last week, Australian Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove said the “greatest part” of the awards system is that it is open to all.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from or whether you’re known to millions or just a few,” he said. “If you have constantly put others ahead of yourself, served tirelessly and made a difference you can be nominated and recognised by a grateful nation.”
To nominate someone special for next year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List visit www.gg.gov.au.