Good Samaritan Oblates, Elaine Walley and Catherine Jones, have been recognised in this year’s NATSICC Awards for their service to Indigenous communities.
BY The Good Oil
Elaine and Cathy were recognised in the 2019 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) Awards for their service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Western Australia.
Elaine is one of seven inspirational elders who received the Deacon Boniface Award for Elders, which was renamed this year to honour respected elder and Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Deacon, Boniface Perdjert.
Cathy received the non-Indigenous award for her work as an educator and principal in Aboriginal communities.
The NATSICC awards recognise those who are working tirelessly and quietly within their communities, going above and beyond to support and inspire their people in faith and culture.
On receiving the award, Elaine, who is a Yamatji, Wadjari Elder living in the Three Springs community in WA, said she was “blown away”.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’m so grateful to receive this award on behalf of my people and the Good Sams. Sharing it with six other elders is overwhelming. I congratulate all the recipients and bless them in their work,” Elaine said.
Three Springs is a small town of around 400 people north of Perth and south east of Geraldton.
Elaine, who became the first Aboriginal Good Samaritan Oblate in March 2016, seems to find a need within the community and fill it, working with Good Sam Sister Anna Warlow SGS on rural outreach retreats, supporting the breakfast club at the local primary school, and visiting those in need, among many other acts of service.
In recognising Elaine for the award, NATSICC said she is “an extraordinary woman and community leader who is recognised in her local community”.
“Elaine is a living and authentic witness of the Catholic ethos. She is the leader of all that now happens in the faith community in Three Springs and as such is a woman whose faith continues to grow, through her commitment to daily prayer and good deeds, and by living out her commitment to God and God’s people, not only in the church but in the local community and beyond,” NATSICC said.
Elaine first encountered the Good Samaritan Sisters about 10 years ago when she met Sr Anna at the House of Welcome, a community outreach initiative supporting the liturgical life of small, isolated communities in WA, as well as offering retreats and gatherings, especially for women.
Elaine acknowledged the guidance and encouragement of Sr Anna and Sr Ellen Moran, a Loreto Sister, now retired, who was also ministering at the House of Welcome.
“Their guidance and support has encouraged me and given me confidence,” Elaine said. “I particularly value the support of the Good Samaritan community in WA especially my Oblate sisters and my sister Ivy.”
“The Good Sams spirituality has strengthened my faith and enabled me to share my journey with God with others, especially the rural women supported by the Good Sams rural outreach in WA. It has helped me to encourage other Aboriginal women to follow in my footsteps.”
Cathy was also “stunned” and on hearing the news of her award.
“It was a bit of a process. I was stunned at first and struggled to think why I should be given the award, right up until the night before I had to go to church to receive it,” she said.
“When I think about what I’ve done, I feel it’s quite ordinary, and there are people doing so much more out there in Indigenous communities than I am.”
A former Good Samaritan Sister (1979-1992) and now Oblate, Cathy is an active member of the St Brigid’s Parish in Mount Magnet, WA, which is over 300kms north east of Geraldton. She won the award alongside fellow parishioner and Yamatji woman, Cecilia Kelly, who received the adult service award for her work with the community and the Geraldton Sporting Aboriginal Corporation.
Cathy acknowledged St Brigid’s pastoral associate Good Sam Sister Gerri Boylan SGS who has been a “great support and mentor” and her parish community, who have had an influence on her life and work over the years.
She has been the Principal of Cue Primary School since 2014, and before that worked as a specialist teacher at Mount Magnet District High School from 1992, with some time off in between to raise her four sons with husband David – Connor (25), Gerard (22), Rhys (20) and Anthony (19).
In recognising Cathy for her award, NATSICC said “tenacity and grit shine through all of her service, as does her love of the outback. Living at Boogardie Station has thrown challenges and yet so many memories. Cathy has shown great strength and belief in God in bringing up her four sons, after the tragic death of her husband in August 2011”.
NATSICC said Cathy’s service as school leader “is infused with gospel values, where she makes Jesus present and impacts in the lives of her teachers, students and their families”.
The school has a full Indigenous enrolment of around 20 students and two teaching staff. Outside of her teaching role, Cathy wears many different hats, including strong advocacy for past students and their families with community services.
“So many families are living in poverty – generational poverty – and it’s hard to break the cycle. We have to meet people where there are at, and accept them where they are at, and love them where they are at. We need to recognise that the values of Aboriginal people are different to white western values, and we need to support them to be their own agents of change.”
As NATSICC recognised Cathy “is a living example of the parable of the Good Samaritan, someone who acts to help those in need no matter who they are and emulates the key teaching of love your neighbour”.
“The spirituality and traditions of the Good Samaritan have always supported me. I read from the Rule of St Benedict every day, and I’m heavily influenced by St Benedict to help me live a good life and make the right choices,” she says.
“The Good Sams have always been a support, and I never turned away from them. I just believed God had another path for me.”
On the day, Cathy said she chose to be “gracious and accept the award” despite her hesitation.
“It’s good for the Cue community to be recognised, and I see this award as a challenge for me to keep caring for the people and to be courageous in my choices and decisions as a community leader.”