Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong (CEDoW) and Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor are very pleased to launch a new tertiary education pathways initiative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at John Therry Catholic College, Rosemeadow, where 12% of the student population identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Each year, the Eileen O’Connor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship Program will support two Year 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who plan to study a teaching degree in Primary or Secondary education, or a tertiary degree in health or allied services.
Aboriginal Elder Uncle Ivan Wellington, CEDoW Director of Schools, Peter Hill, and Sr Kerry Macdermott (OLN) of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry were amongst a number of guests who attended a special liturgy—brought to life through the moving sound of didgeridoos, traditional aboriginal dance, and a smoking ceremony—to launch the program. Guests were also serenaded by a heartfelt ‘call to prayer’ proudly performed in Dharawal language by Year 11 student, Rainer Smith.
Mr Hill said the theme for this year’s celebration of 200 years of Catholic education in Australia—Faith in the Future—was fitting for this significant occasion.
“We’re demonstrating our faith in the future for these young people by offering a scholarship to pursue a career in teaching or allied health,” said Mr Hill. “The reason we’re doing this is because we appreciate the liberating power of education, in particular Catholic education.”
Sr Kerry Macdermott (OLN) of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry believes Eileen O’Connor was the perfect person to name the scholarship program after. With limited education, Eileen established the order of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor, providing free nursing services to the marginalised and the disadvantaged.
“Eileen loved young people,” said Sr Kerry. “The scholarship gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students an opportunity to go further, and let them know they are valued and appreciated for who they are as first people of this land.”
“The church hasn’t forgotten them, Jesus wouldn’t forget them, and neither would Eileen” - Sr Kerry Macdermott
While recent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicate an increase in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 25-34 years who have completed a tertiary qualification (Certificate III and above), Indigenous Australians are still underrepresented in universities.
John Therry Catholic College Principal, Wayne Marshall, believes the scholarships will be life changing for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the school.
“Historically, we have seen many students leaving school before Year 12,” he said. “In the last four or five years, we’ve had a growing number of students complete their HSC and attain an ATAR.”
Uncle Ivan Wellington said the Eileen O’Connor scholarships will be vitally important to the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the area.
“Over the years we’ve struggled to gain scholarships for our young people, and some of them really need them to further their education,” said Uncle Ivan. “The Eileen O’Connor scholarship will be a great help for families who want their kids to go on and learn a better way of life.”
Each scholarship recipient will receive:
A total benefit of $20,000 over a four-year period, subject to satisfactory academic progress
An iPad or similar technology to support the successful completion of their degree
Mentor support from a CEDoW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early career teacher or experienced allied health professional
A three-year teaching position in a cluster of schools within the Diocese of Wollongong upon successful completion of the teaching degree
Support applying for positions with relevant health employers and Aboriginal Health Centres
An opportunity for employment as a classroom School Support Officer during their study.
Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong is committed to creating vibrant Catholic school communities where every student finds meaning and purpose in their life through experiencing continual growth in faith and improvement in learning.