The Sisters of the Good Samaritan gathered with staff, supporters and friends of the Good Samaritan Foundation at Government House in Sydney this month to celebrate the Congregation’s 165th anniversary with Patron of the Foundation, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of New South Wales.
The occasion was a belated celebration, with the 165th anniversary of Foundation Day having fallen on February 2, 2022.
Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner said the gathering was a joyful occasion. “I loved seeing so many supporters of the Congregation and the Foundation gathered at beautiful Government House, hearing the work of the Sisters and the Foundation commended,” she said. “It was a way of thanking our generous donors and supporters of the Foundation.”
In her remarks at the reception, Governor Beazley referred to her own education with the Sisters of St Joseph, graduating from Mount St Joseph at Milperra in Sydney.
“To those of us in the room educated by Sisters of various Catholic orders in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s, we knew then – and we are proof today – the nuns were feminists, well before Germaine Greer thought of the title The Female Eunuch, let alone the first chapter of her book that cut across the boundaries that impeded women’s full participation in society,” she said. “By doing a little more research into that topic, I understood why: Germaine Greer is recognised for her work in what is known as the second wave of feminist thought.
“However, to merely label the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict as participants in what was presumably the first wave of feminism – a word which first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 1852 – would diminish their work and their charism.
“But there is one word that does appropriately describe this wonderful order of religious women: pioneers. They were true pioneers … the Good Sams have educated, cared for and pastorally supported the women and children of Australia, and particularly the vulnerable amongst them, since the founding of the Order 165 years ago. And, from the outset, lay people worked alongside them, supporting them in their work.”
In a later interview, Governor Beazley said that having concluded her education with the Josephites in 1968 and 69, she had personal experience of the way religious women in that era supported young women’s ambitions.
“We were really given the strong message that we could do and pursue whatever career we wanted to,” she said. “That was still very unusual then, particularly because the Sisters of St Joseph had schools in the more working class areas. But it was certainly expected that we were heading towards tertiary education and a career.”
Her Excellency fulfilled those expectations, enjoying a long and distinguished law career spanning 43 years, during which time she served as a role model for women in law at both the state and national level.
Appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1989, in 1993 she was made a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, the first woman to sit exclusively in that Court. In 1996, she achieved the distinction of being the first woman appointed to the NSW Court of Appeal and, subsequently, as the first woman to be appointed as its President. She was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2020 Australia Day Honours List for “eminent service to the people of NSW, particularly through leadership roles in the judiciary, and as a mentor of young women lawyers”.
Governor Beazley said her formation by religious sisters had underpinned her desire to enter the legal profession and, through the years, to become a strong supporter of community life.
“I think for many of those orders there was a sense of social justice, of going out and helping those who needed help,” she said.
“Over the years, I’ve developed my own very strong philosophy in terms of what community means. I have a strong sense that every person is to be valued and I must say that in this job, that really allows me to work on that.”
Governor Beazley said her role as Patron of the Good Samaritan Foundation was an expression of support and appreciation for the work they do in the community.
“When organisations that have these backgrounds, like the Good Samaritan Foundation, of working with the community and supporting vulnerable members of the community, then one of the ways you can support them, as Patron, is to have receptions for their important occasions which provide an opportunity to thank their staff and volunteers.
“People really do appreciate being appreciated. It’s a recognition of what they do.”
Speaking in response to the Governor’s remarks at the reception, Patty thanked Her Excellency for hosting the reception and recalled the mandate given to the Sisters by their Founder, the first Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding OSB, to be: “Ministers of Christ’s mercy and messengers of Christ’s compassion”.
“What could be more needed in our world today than the work of compassion and justice, kindness and mercy? But it’s not enough to feel compassion. We have to do compassion,” she said.
Patty thanked the donors and supporters of the Good Samaritan Foundation who enable the Good Samaritan tradition and commitment to active neighbourly love to continue and flourish.
“Our Foundation is responsive to the present, always with an eye on the future,” she said.
“Just this year, we’ve been able to give immediate relief to dozens of our squatter friends in Bacolod in the Philippines, friends who had everything they owned destroyed by fire. As an investment in the future, we continue to do as much as we can to bring the priceless gift of education to needy students in Australia, the Philippines and Kiribati. We have just completed two of three new classrooms in our kinder school in Kiribati.
The Good Samaritan Foundation will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. For information about the work of the Foundation, visit www.goodsams.foundation.org.au.