Good Samaritan Sister Rita Fitt of Wollongong has been recognised in this year’s Australia Day honours list. The family liaison coordinator at St Mary Star of the Sea College was awarded an Order of the Australia Medal (OAM) for her “service to secondary education.”
Rita said the award came as a “complete surprise.” However with time to reflect she now views the award as the latest in a succession of “blessings” that have filled her life.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to be nominated,” she said. “Principal Dr Frank Pitt encouraged four others, including parents, to submit my name.”
The medal is in recognition of her 15 years of pastoral care to the students and families at St Mary Star of the Sea College. “My role is to reach out from the college to the home; wherever there is a need,” she said.
“In my ministry, I give to others my time, listening, care, support and compassion but I receive so much more. It’s a two-way ministry. I am not doing anything extraordinary but I hope and pray that I do the ordinary well.”
A defining characteristic of her pastoral approach is to see students within the context of their families. “The student is not just a student in a classroom; the student is part of a family,” she said.
“The more we can connect with the family and get to know the student in their family, and the more the family can get to know the college, the richer the experience will be for the student.”
The pastoral care of students is a central concern for Rita. “My role isn’t about exams. It’s about helping the students to be happy and able to come to the college happy,” she said.
“If there is anything that is a barrier to that, we try to nip it in the bud and help them find their happiness and be at peace in coming to the college.
“This means being aware to support the needs of parents as well as students in times of sickness, operations, death, funerals, grief and many other situations.”
Rita became acutely aware of the importance of reaching out to families during her time as a pastoral associate. For 38 years she worked in parishes across Australia, which explains the deluge of congratulatory messages she has received from all over the country.
“I have been inundated by so many [well wishes] from the four states and ACT where I have ministered. They have brought back so many wonderful and precious memories of the great times we had,” she said.
While Rita has a lifetime of good memories, the task of walking alongside students and their families in their time of need is not always easy.
“College students who have died stay in my mind and heart. They impact my life and influence me daily,” she said.
During these challenging moments Rita looks to the parable of the Good Samaritan for inspiration.
“I find as I go out to families what they really want is someone to really understand what’s happening in their lives. They want someone to be there with them and to sit quietly and listen to them, so that they feel supported and cared for.”
In 2014 a Year 11 student named Emma died while at St Mary Star of the Sea. An inscription was added to the school grounds that finishes with the line: “Her memory lives on in the hearts of all who act with kindness in these grounds.”
In the quieter moments after the award Rita has returned to these words. “I hope I have fulfilled that,” she said.