CELEBRATION OF AUNTY ELSIE INDIGENOUS SUPPORT SCHOLARSHIPS
St. Mary’s Cathedral House, 1 December 2020
Following the acknowledgements and welcomes from Lisa and Chris today, I want to add my own, including a very warm welcome to my place, St Mary’s Cathedral.
We acknowledge with reverence and gratitude God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who creates, redeems and inspires our Catholic community and its friends under the sign of the Southern Cross in this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
We acknowledge the Gadigal, Wangal, Cammeraygal, Gweagal and other Peoples of the Eora nation – ancestors and custodians of the lands upon which our Archdiocesan Catholic community lives and ministers. We honour and give thanks for the Eora elders past, present and emerging, and those also from other parts of our country.
Amongst present elders we acknowledge in particular my dear friend Aunty Elsie Heiss whom we honour and thank for her constant, tireless and inspiring efforts in promoting the dignity and flourishing of our First Nations peoples, especially their spiritual dignity and flourishing. Also with us today is Lisa Buxton, the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from the School of Education of the University of Notre Dame with a research Masters degree.
As a wonderful example of emerging elders, we welcome and congratulate today the first recipients of our inaugural Aunty Elsie Indigenous Support Scholarship, Sienna Thomas (with her mother Emma Thomas & grandmother Lynda Holden) and Katie-Lee King (with her parents Tracy and Ronny). Your families and your extended families that are the First Australians, the Church and the University are all very proud of you!
As we honour and give thanks for our Aboriginal peoples and their elders, we repent of any harm our predecessors or we have done them. We recommit ourselves to seeking their participation in every part of our Church’s life and to continue working for reconciliation.
As we acknowledge the elders of Aboriginal Australia, we also acknowledge the elders past, present and emerging of our Church – the patriarchs and prophets, apostles and missionaries, the priests, religious and lay faithful – who have taught us to walk lightly on this earth as pilgrims, have transmitted the Faith to us, have built up our parishes, institutions and ministries, and have given us examples of generosity, fidelity and courage. Amongst these I acknowledge the new leader of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Professor Francis Campbell, along with other university leaders and staff.
We ask you, God of Wisdom and Strength, that all those who receive these scholarships from this year forward, and those who assist them with their learning, will progress on that surest path to mutual understanding, recognition, reconciliation and support that is education. Today we recall some words of Pope St John Paul II at his historic meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Alice Springs (29 November 1986), addressed to the very issue of the education of the young:
The silence of the Bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of God’s Spirit. Your careful attention to the details of kinship spoke of your reverence for birth, life and human generation. You knew that children need to be loved, to be full of joy. They need a time to grow in laughter and to play, secure in the knowledge that they belong to their people.
You had a great respect for the need which people have for law, as a guide to living fairly with each other. So you created a legal system – very strict, it is true, but closely adapted to the country in which you lived your lives. It made your society orderly. It was one of the reasons why you survived in this land.
You marked the growth of your young men and women with ceremonies of discipline that taught them responsibility as they came to maturity.
These achievements are indications of human strivings. And in these strivings you showed a dignity open to the message of God’s revealed wisdom to all men and women, which is the great truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so we ask you, Father, Son and Spirit, to bless our gathering today, our award recipients and our dear Aunty Elsie in whose name these scholarships are awarded. Make all we do worthy of those ancestors and saints who have gone before us, those we lead and serve today, and those who will inherit what we contribute.
Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians, pray for us.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, teacher of Aboriginal children, pray for us.
St John Paul II, friend of First Australians, pray for us!