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Pope Francis honours Sydney Catholics

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First woman to study canon law among recipients

As the first non-seminarian to 
study canon law at St Patrick’s College, Manly, during the 1960s, Janet Coombs once offered to wear a black dress to classes to blend with her soutane-wearing classmates.
The trailblazer who later became the first laywoman to be qualified as a canon lawyerwas in 1959 also the first woman to be appointed to the Bar in New South Wales. Her secret to success? Apart from her obvious hard work and deep faith “a little bit of comedy will get you through”, she said last week.

Miss Janet Coombs receives her Papal award from Archbishop Fisher OP. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

Miss Coombs was one of four Sydney Catholics honoured by Pope Francis last week for exemplary service to the Church and the wider society.  She was made a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great for her dedication to the pursuit of justice and the proclamation of the Gospel through her work as a barrister, canon lawyer and pro-life campaigner.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP also presented papal honours in St Mary’s Cathedral Chapter Hall on 26 February to former Supreme Court judge George Palmer QC, former state coroner Gregory Glass, and National Convenor of the Society for Eucharistic Adoration Christine McCarthy.

Mr Palmer was made a Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great, in recognition of his efforts as a committed Catholic in the fields of law and music. The former Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, classical music composer and philanthropist said he was “very deeply honoured” and paid tribute to the Jesuits who educated him.
“They taught me to Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam Strive for the greater glory of God’, and in my own way I hope I have done that especially through my music,” he said. “For me, music is always a spiritual exercise.” 


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Among other liturgical works, Mr Palmer wrote the Mass setting Benedictus Qui Venit, which was played in the presence of then-Pope Benedict XVI and a 400,000-strong congregation at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. Mr Glass said his reaction to news he would receive a Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice was “astonishment and disbelief”. 

“As a Catholic I’ve just tried to do my best to assist the parish priest wherever I’ve lived,” he said. That work has “not only been rewarding but certainly a privilege”, he added. The New South Wales state coroner from 1992-1995, Mr Glass was responsible for handling many of the nation’s most distressing cases and took solace in his faith and family life.

The founder of the Serra Club at Strathfield said that St Martha’s Parish is his “spiritual home”.  He paid tribute to his parents as well as the religious who educated him when growing up in Marrickville, and his late wife, Anne, who served in St Martha’s parish choir for many years. 

Christine McCarthy was “very grateful and still very overwhelmed” at being honoured for her devotion to promoting Eucharist Adoration throughout the country and internationally, 
and for her service to liturgy, catechesis, charity work and leadership roles in the Church. 

Married to former Ambassador to the Vatican John McCarthy QC,
 the mother of six living children and grandmother of eight with another grandchild due to be born this year, was made a Dame of the Order of St Sylvester by Pope Francis for her lifelong service to the Church as a wife and mother. 

Archbishop Fisher said that the recipients had modelled themselves on Jesus Christ
 in diverse ways. “Each have remained faithful to the image of Christ”, he said. 

George Palmer QC speaks of music and spirituality in his life. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee


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