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Former MP Johno Johnson Conferred with Highest Civilian Papal Honour

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
11 Sep 2015

Johno Johnson and his wife Pauline of 53 years with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the special Papal award ceremony last night'

Pauline Johnson, John "Johno" Johnson's wife of 53 years says the two great loves and passions of her husband's life are the Church and the ALP. His unstinting devoted service to both the Catholic Church and the community was recognised last night when Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP conferred the 85-year-old with the highest civilian Papal honour.

Johno Johnson as he is affectionately known was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great at a special ceremony at Woollahra's Wolpe Jewish Hospital last night where the former long serving MP is currently being treated.

The deep fondness and high regard for Johno Johnson was evident by those who attended the small ceremony including former Prime Minister Paul Keating, former NSW Premiers Bob Carr and Barrie Unsworth, John MacBean former secretary of the Labor Council of NSW, former NSW Minister Tony Kelly and current serving MP and former Labor Minister in the NSW Government, Greg Donnelly MLA and leader of the NSW Opposition, Luke Foley.

Labor's heavyweights turned out in force for the Papal Award ceremony honouring former politician and friend Johno Johnson

The high honour bestowed on Johno Johnson last night is the second Papal award he has received. In 2006 he was conferred a Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great in acknowledgement of his role as a forthright defender of Catholic Social Teaching, and commitment to justice and ethics throughout his political and business life, as well as paying tribute to his service as a Director of the Prince of Wales Hospital and his time as a Board Member for both NSW Lotteries and the Cancer Council of Australia.

Guests attending the 2006 Papal Award ceremony honouring Johno Johnson were equally impressive and included former PM Gough Whitlam together with former PM Paul Keating and former Premier Barrie Unsworth.

Last night in his citation Archbishop Fisher said the elevation to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great provided an appropriate acknowledgement of Johno Johnson's significant ongoing contributions to the Church and in particular for his long and distinguished service as Chairman of the Board of the Catholic Press Print Newspaper Company, publisher of The Catholic Weekly.

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great is the highest civilian Papal award

"Under his guidance, this weekly publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney was rejuvenated and returned to profitability despite sharing a challenge common to all print publications to maintain circulation levels," the Archbishop said. "Through his philanthropic nature, this man has shown a consistent and generous willingness to accept roles in raising funds for the different causes he supports, especially those which assist the delivery of important works of the Church through various charities."

The Archbishop made special mention of Johno Johnson's strong commitment to his Catholic faith, and cited his work within the Right to Life movement and contributions to the St Vincent de Paul Society as examples of faith in action. He also commended the octogenarian for his encouragement of many young Catholics to become active in public life.

"Johno is a true inspiration to others to give of their own best efforts through the various works which exist within the Church and the broader community," the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Chris Meney said at the close of the ceremony after explaining the different Orders of Papal awards, and in particular the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Greg Donnelly MLC congratulates his longtime friend and former NSW politician, Johno Johnson at the Papal Award ceremony yesterday

He also reminded those present that in promulgating the Statutes and Rules for the Pontifical Orders of Knighthood by Pope Pius X in 1905, the Pontiff said that the awards would be useful to give encouragement to people worthy of the grateful recognition of Church and society.

"They were also created to stimulate others to follow their path," Mr Meney said.

Among the first to congratulate Johno Johnson on his latest Papal honour was Danny Casey, former Business Manager for the Archdiocese of Sydney who is now based in Rome where he leads the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy's newly-established Project Management Office, working closely with the Prefect of the Secretariat, Cardinal George Pell.

"Danny is my sister's son and our much-loved nephew and he rang Johno at the Wolpe from Rome several hours before the official ceremony," Johno's wife Pauline says.

Initially the family thought they'd spring news of the Papal honour later in the day, just an hour or two before the ceremony but the call from Danny changed all that.

Archbishop Fisher Mrs Pauline Johnson Papal Knight Johno Johnson and Chancellor of the Archdiocese Chris Meney at yesterday's ceremony

"To hear the news from Danny was extra special and a really lovely surprise," Pauline says.

Born in Murwillumbah, NSW Johno was a grocer and Trade Union official. After becoming Treasurer of the NSW branch of the Labor Party he decided to enter politics and in 1976 was elected to the NSW Legislative Council where he served as the Council's President from 1978 until 1991 and remained a member of the Legislative Council until his resignation in 2001.

Awarded a life membership of the Labor Party, Johno Johnson is also a Fellow of Warrane College, NSW and in 2001 was the recipient of a Centenary medal.

Photography Courtesy of the Catholic Weekly