Don’t be mistaken by the kind, mild manner of Sister Kerry Macdermott. Underneath that gentle exterior lies a strong, compassionate, tireless leader, who has devoted her life to the service of others, particularly the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and families in the Minto/Macarthur area.
Over the years, Sr Kerry, a member of the Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor religious order, has walked alongside Elders and members of the community, advocating for justice by challenging the status quo, giving a voice to the voiceless, while encouraging others to use their voice to speak up and implement change.
In recognition of her hard work and dedication, Sr Kerry was recently awarded the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) – 2021 Non-Indigenous Service to Community Award.
In true Sr Kerry style, receiving such a prestigious award was not about recognition for the work she has done over the years, but about an opportunity to shine a light on others.
“It’s hard to say you appreciate an award for something you love doing, but receiving this award raises awareness and shines a light on the Aboriginal community in our area, and that’s why I appreciate this award,” she said.
“I’m really grateful and feel so blessed that for the last 37 years I have walked with the community and they have taken me to heart. It’s been a sheer privilege and a great blessing. I just listen to their needs and try to see where I can help most” - Sr Kerry Macdermott
In 1984, Sr Kerry and Congregational Leader, Sr Patricia Murphy, moved to Minto where the Sisters’ close involvement with the local Aboriginal community led to the formation of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in 1993. Over the years, their ministry changed from nursing to welfare and advocacy for the rights of those in need.
Sr Kerry’s role of advocate and mentor in the community is most evident in her work with schools, particularly John Therry Catholic College, Rosemeadow, where 12.6% of the student population identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Sr Kerry is a much-loved member of the John Therry community and her tireless work has resulted in students having a strong cultural voice and presence in their school.
Sr Kerry's hard work was also instrumental in the development of an inclusive curriculum and the creation of scholarship funds for students and their families. Seeing a need for Aboriginal families to have the option to give their children a Catholic education, Sr Kerry approached the Bishop of Wollongong.
These conversations resulted in Catholic Education providing pastoral support to families in Catholic schools within the Diocese of Wollongong, and the launch of a tertiary education pathways initiative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at John Therry, known as the Eileen O’Connor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship Program. Each year, the program will support two Year 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from John Therry who are planning to study a teaching degree in Primary or Secondary education, or a tertiary degree in health or allied services.
Peter Hill, Director of Schools in the Diocese of Wollongong, believes Sr Kerry’s dedication and life of service to those in need exemplifies what it is to be a ‘bearer of Christ’s love’.
“Sr Kerry has developed an exquisite nose for the suffering of others and is a living example of the difference kindness and compassion can make in the lives of others,” said Mr Hill. “Her willingness to answer God’s call of advocacy and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their families has resulted in a significant increase in Indigenous student enrolments in our system of schools, adding a richness to the tapestry and culture of our school communities.”
CEDoW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Officer, Karan Taylor, is extremely grateful for the support Sr Kerry has provided to students, families, and Catholic education over the years.
”Sr Kerry has been a wonderful advocate for our Aboriginal families and their children, supporting and guiding our families,” said Mrs Taylor. “She lives in community and is a much-loved member of our Aboriginal communities, and is respected across our Catholic schools in the Macarthur region of our diocese.
“She has been a shining light for Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, supporting families with their Catholic faith at the Holy Trinity secondary church in Minto. Sr Kerry is an inspiration and is a very deserving recipient of the 2021 NATSICC Service to Community award, I think it is very important that she has been given this recognition for the person she is.”
Sr Kerry has been a friend to many throughout Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong and we congratulate her on this very deserving and prestigious award.