April 2024

Life Membership for Good Samaritan Sister Mary O’Shannassy JP

Good Samaritan Sister Mary O’Shannassy, well known for her decades-long ministry as a prison chaplain, has been recognised for another long-standing contribution to community service – 30 years as a Justice of the Peace in Victoria.

By Debra Vermeer

Mary first became a JP in New South Wales in 1969 when she was Principal of St John’s Boys’ Preparatory Boarding College, Campbelltown. 

“I first became a JP in response to a need, really, when I was at St John’s,” she said.

“We had young boarders from age four-and-a-half to 12 years and the parents would come at weekends to visit or to take the boys home and they would often have forms with them to be signed.

“So, I became a JP to help provide that service for them, as well as catering to the needs of others in the local area.”

Mary was a JP in NSW for 25 years before moving to Victoria where, 30 years ago this year, she began her ministry as a prison chaplain, and was also sworn in as a JP in that state.

Today, as Senior Chaplain of CatholicCare Victoria’s Prison Ministry, Mary leads the chaplaincy team in the state’s prisons – the equivalent of six full-time chaplains, 10 volunteer chaplains, 60 volunteers and 40 priests on roster for the Sacramental Ministry in the 15 prisons.

Sister Mary O’Shannassy SGS.

Mary said her role as a JP had been a great help to the prisoners and their families over the years. “I’ve been able to make excellent use of it for people in need for a variety of reasons,” she said.

“People have very many needs when they are in prison and it can be hard for them to get someone to witness documents.

“As a JP I’ve been able to look after a variety of those needs, including documents delegating authority for the care of other relatives, such as parents, their siblings and, at times, their own children.”

Mary said that in her 55 years as a JP she had assisted in an “enormous range” of different matters, including certifying documents and being witness to Power of Attorney documents, especially related to health.

“I’ve been able to assist in many different kinds of situations,” she said. “I’ve seen them all as ‘helping opportunities’. It’s being neighbour and it’s a community service and one that I’ve been very pleased to do.”

In recognition of her 30 years of service as a JP in Victoria, last month Mary was honoured with Life Membership by the Royal Victorian Association of Honorary Justices.

Sister Mary O’Shannassy is congratulated by Victoria’s Governor, Professor Margaret Gardiner.

She received her award at Government House at a reception with about 130 Justices of the Peace from across the state.

Victoria’s Governor, Professor Margaret Gardiner, addressed those present, as did Rodney Lavin, the President of the Royal Victorian Association of Honorary Justices.

“It was a very warm and happy gathering,” Mary said. “It was wonderful to be there at Government House with so many of the Justices of the Peace in Victoria who are all giving their time voluntarily for this community service.”

Mary said she was honoured to receive the recognition of service as a JP. “It’s been something I’ve been able to do as a service to others and to help meet needs, which has been very fulfilling.”

Mary has previously been awarded a Fellow of the Royal Victorian Association of Honorary Justices, an Order of Australia Medal for service to the community through Church and social welfare bodies, and an Honorary Doctorate from Australian Catholic University for her service to prison ministry, the Church, and the wider community.


Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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