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Papal honour for Sancta Sophia’s Sister Shanahan

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Former principal of Sancta Sophia College Sr Mary Margaret Shanahan RSCJ OAM with current principal and nominator, Fiona Hastings. Photo: Talin Roche – SubZero Photography
Former principal of Sancta Sophia College Sr Mary Margaret Shanahan RSCJ OAM with current principal and nominator, Fiona Hastings. Photo: Talin Roche – SubZero Photography

Sr Mary Margaret Shanahan RSCJ OAM, the former principal of Sancta Sophia College at the University of Sydney, has been awarded the papal honour of Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pro Pontifice for her seven decades of service to education and social research.

Sr Shanahan, born in 1927, made her final profession in the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1954 and was awarded a Bachelor and Master of Arts from the University of Sydney.

She also completed further studies at Yale and Oxford University, and in 1992 was awarded with a Master of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) from the University of Sydney.

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From 1983-1992 she was principal of Sancta Sophia, a residential college for women.

“Her primary aim in that role was to build a community of faith, and her tireless efforts in that regard earnt her the respect of the academic and professional staff of the university,” the citation for Sr Shanahan’s award said.

“The two-volume history of the University of Sydney uniquely mentions Sr Shanahan as ‘a charismatic figure marked by an intense interest in, and a capacity to encourage, the personal and intellectual development of other people.’

“To no other college principal is such an accolade given.

“Throughout her time at Sancta Sophia, which now extends over more than sixty years, she has continued to bring Christ into the secular context in a way that has now inspired generations of young people.

“It was for this extraordinary effort that she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019, with the citation reading, ‘For service to tertiary education, and as a mentor of young students.’”

At the conclusion of her time as principal in 1992, then-vice chancellor Professor Donald McNicol said, “Sr Shanahan’s own close interest in academic pursuits and her studies at Yale and Oxford have been instrumental in actively fostering the academic potential of her students and offering them a genuine means of integrating intellectual and spiritual values.”

Fiona Hastings, the current principal of the college, was the nominator for the award, which was refereed by Fr Edmund Campion SJ, Maureen Ryan and Sr Lynette Toohey RSCJ.

Mrs Hastings told The Catholic Weekly that she thought Sr Shanahan was “just marvellous.”

“It’s actually quite hard to describe her contribution to Sancta. It’s spanned many decades and has been so deep,” she said.

“She’s remembered as a much-loved principal, but since then she’s continued to have a very deep spiritual influence on the college.

“Really she’s kept the heart of the college beating, and maintained that really strong connection not just with the RSCJs but with the heart of Christ.

“She’s an amazing woman.”

The papal honour was conferred on Sr Shanahan by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at a ceremony on 26 May.

Archdiocesan Chancellor Chris Meney, former students of the college and other dignitaries also joined Archbishop Fisher in recognising Sr Shanahan’s contribution.

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