Australian Catholic University Chancellor John Fahey and lawyer and board director Rebecca Davies have been honoured by Pope Francis for their service to the people of NSW and the country and their commitment to the Church.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP presented Mr Fahey, who was Premier of NSW during the years 1992-95, with the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great in recognition of his long-standing commitment to political life in both the NSW and Federal parliaments.
He has also served as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and as patron and director of the Men of League Foundation, which provides assistance to ageing rugby league players.
Ms Davies was made a Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great for her service through not-for-profit organisations, including as a director of Catholic Healthcare and a board member of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and the National Heart Foundation.
Both accepted their honours at a ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral House on 8 November in the presence of family members and friends.
Mr Fahey said the honour came as a “huge shock” that left him speechless and thanked his wife Colleen and rest of his family for their “unwavering support”.
“My moral compass was driven by the teachings of the Catholic Church from a young age and throughout my life and in my tough moments my hand always went into my right pocket to put my fingers around my soldiers’ rosary beads, I know at key times in parliament I couldn’t even begin to tell you the number,” he said.
“Looking for strength, looking for guidance looking for direction, looking for wisdom.
“To have been given the opportunities that I have been given I count myself extraordinarily blessed.”
He told The Catholic Weekly his faith was always “extraordinarily private”. “To get public recognition of it like this, I just feel terribly unworthy,” Mr Fahey said.
“I kind of hope that some of the good things I did were because of that guidance and support I received from my faith.”
He said a highlight of his career was the role he had in “democratising work places” in the country while he was the NSW minister for Industrial Relations.
“I know that we have more productive work places today and I believe is that contributing significantly to our economic progress,” he said. “A stronger economy increases our ability to be generous towards those who are not so fortunate and I’m happy to have been able to have had a fairly significant role in achieving that.”
His said most “euphoric moment” was hearing that Sydney had won rights to host the Olympic Games in 2000.
Ms Davies said that when she received notice of her award she thought it was a mistake. “My role has been very significantly in governance rather than actual hands on doing and I’d really like to say that I feel that my role has been really enabling those people to do what they do,” she said.
She paid tribute to the “very special” people working in aged care who are facing public criticism as news emerges about abuses in the sector through the Royal Commission into Aged Care. “They deserve the recognition,” she said.
She also thanked her children Alex and Emily for being “always my inspiration”.
Archbishop Fisher said that the two recipients inspire him “as they have many others”. “They show that the Christian life is not for some ‘holiness elite’ of those in Roman collars of religious habits, but for all members of our Church,” he said.
“As State Premier and later as a Federal Minister, Mr Fahey took a very pro-life position on matters such as abortion, birth control and euthanasia.
“Ms Davies has made a significant contribution to helping the homeless and the disadvantaged, through the Order of Malta and through financing a unit at St Vincent’s Hospital to alleviate mental illness among the underprivileged.
“They are both very worthy award recipients who have put the Catholic faith into action in serving the Church and serving the broader community.”