Twenty-Five of the Best!


Naturally Twenty-five of the Best! isn’t making a judgment about who the 25 best Australian Catholics really are – how could anyone know? It is simply an attempt to identify some people in Australia’s history and in the present time for whom faith is, or has been, significant. We have left the twenty-fifth box without an image so that you can nominate someone you know, or know of, to fill this spot.

The Arts

Khoa Do. Boat person, film maker and humanitarian

When Khoa Do (pronounced Kwa Doh) was two-years-old, he left Vietnam on a fishing boat with his parents, who risked their lives to find a future for their children in another country. Khoa and his family arrived in Sydney and settled in the city’s west. They moved from suburb to suburb wherever the rents were cheapest and finally settled in Yagoona. After primary school Khoa received a scholarship to St Aloysius College, a life-changing experience.

‘What the school taught me was that it doesn’t matter what your background is, what you look like, whether your name is sold on mugs in stationery stores – what really matters is the way you live your life. And one lesson stayed with me till today – “be men for others”.’ 

After leaving school, while he explored his love for theatre, film, and comedy, Khoa worked as a volunteer, teaching English and job-seeking skills. In 2001, Khoa was nominated for an AFI Award for his screenplay for the short film Delivery Day. The film tells the story of a girl’s struggle to balance the demands of school, her mother and the family’s backyard sweatshop. It is based primarily on Khoa’s own experience growing up in Sydney’s Vietnamese community.

A year later, Khoa commenced voluntary work with disadvantaged young adults at Cabramatta’s Open Family Welfare Centre. He was asked to teach film-making to these ‘at risk’ young people. He decided to take the hands-on approach and to actually make a film with them. They developed a script based on the experiences of those in the class: drug addiction, homelessness and crime. All the major cast members werefirst-time actors. The result is the now internationally acclaimed The Finished People. A further film was Footy Legends, based again on Khoa’s experiences in the suburbs. His latest film is Mother Fish which explores the experience of being a ‘boat person’.

Film is Khoa’s main medium to educate, to challenge and to change people’s values but he also speaks to all sorts of groups around the country. When Khoa was nominated as 2005 Young Australian of the Year, Fr Ross Jones, Rector of St Aloysius College commented:

‘St Aloysius College rejoices in Khoa’s nomination. It endorses all that we esteem in our graduates: a reflective life, a strong sense of justice, and a recognition that God’s Kingdom is extended when one’s gifts and talents are placed in the service of those found on its margins.’ 


  • What aspects of Khoa’s life demonstrate self-reflection, a sense of justice and service of those on the margins?
  • What do you think of Khoa’s idea that ‘the moment you encounter your biggest obstacle is the moment of your greatest opportunity’? Have you found this to be true?

Aaron McMillan. Musician


Aaron McMillan was a successful 24-year-old Sydney musician whose life was turned upside down in 2002, when he discovered that he had a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball. After successful surgery by Dr Charlie Teo, the next years of his life saw him engaged in a most courageous battle to do as much as he could to live life to the full and to use his musical talents for the good of others. He not only continued to prepare for and present concerts at the Opera House and in the hospital ward, but he was also generous in mentoring and encouraging other young musicians.

Dr Teo described him as ‘wanting to heal the world through music’. Self-pity was never an option for Aaron but his appreciation for what was good and beautiful about life and also his search for what really mattered, led him to a rediscovery of faith during the years between his first operation and his final illness. His movement towards explicit faith is described in the eulogy given at his requiem Mass in St Mary’s Sydney.


Aaron’s courage and good humour in the face of illness and death and the search for meaning that led him to faith, spoke powerfully to those who knew him personally and to the thousands who followed his story over the last years of his life.

  • What led Aaron to faith?
  • What is life all about, especially life cut short like Aaron’s was?
  • How might you face death?

George Mung Mung. Community leader, teacher and artist


George Mung Mung, a visual artist, was a great cultural leader, artist and teacher of the Warmun community [Turkey Creek], East Kimberley in Western Australia. A respected elder, Mung began painting in the early 1980s. Prior to this he had worked as a stockman for many years on stations in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Using local ochres mixed with natural gums he painted the inseparable relationship between land and life. Many of his works embody both Kija and Christian beliefs.

In the 1970s he set up the Ngalangangpum bicultural Christian school with his friend, fellow artist and elder, Hector Jandany. Both men taught the stories and songs of their country to the children in the school. His statue of Mary of Warmun was made to replace the community’s plaster statue of Our Lady which had been accidentally knocked off a table and broken. Mary of Warmun is one of the most beautiful pieces of Australian Christian art and forms the frontispiece of the Australian edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Rosemary Crumlin describes how she discovered this work of art, and others like it, on a journey in north Western Australia. In 1990 George Mung Mung won the 1990 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. He died the following year.

Elizabeth Pike, an indigenous writer from Melbourne offers this appreciation of Mung’s achievement:

Little Mary of Warmun
So small in stature,
Yet within your heart
Lies the greatest love
Given for the whole world.

Aboriginal man
So filled with the Spirit
Of your own beloved Creator
You have so generously given us
A woman of our own people.


George Mung Mung’s vision of Mary is both unique and universal. Find four or five pieces of art depicting Mary as mother and identify similarities and differences with George’s vision of Mary, Mother of God.

Damien Parer. Photographer


Damien Parer was a brilliant photographer during World War II. He was a courageous, light-hearted, humorous man who accompanied Australian troops into the front lines in North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. He grew up in a large family and went to Catholic schools where both his faith and his interest in photography were fostered. After leaving school he became a professional photographer and also worked with Australian film-maker Charles Chauvel. When World War II began he was appointed as official movie photographer to the second Australian Imperial Force.

Whereas photographers were usually at the back of troops in action, Damien always wanted to get up in front of the soldiers to film. Consequently he was often involved in helping retrieve wounded men from the battlefield. His Academy award-winning documentary film Kokoda Frontline is still available, now on DVD. This iconic war photograph is a still from his film Assault on Salamaua. His faith was the wellspring of his bravery, compassion and good humour. He had a tremendously vivid awareness of the presence of God and risked the mockery of his mates in praying regularly and unconcernedly in front of them. They soon respected and were comforted by his faith, as well as cheered up by his often irreverent humour. He married Elizabeth Marie Cotter in 1944 but was killed in action not long before his first son was born.


  • What’s the relationship between faith and everyday life?
  • Why do so many people feel uncomfortable expressing their faith openly? How did Damien approach this?
  • How do you handle fear?

Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann. Teacher and Artist

Ungunmerr Baumann was born in the great Australian bush near Daly River in the Northern Territory in 1950. Raised by her aunt and uncle she enjoyed a wonderful bush childhood learning the deep lore of the land as well as attending schools at Adelaide River, Pine Creek and Mataranka. When she was 15 she was baptised a Catholic at Daly River taking the Christian names Miriam and Rose. Her Aboriginal name is Ungunmerr. She became a teacher’s aide at St Francis Xavier school in Daly River before undertaking further studies and discovering a passion for art. Many Australian Catholics are familiar with her Stations of the Cross.

She recognised the possibilities of using art with Aboriginal children to engage them and to encourage self-expression and self-confidence. In 1975 she became the first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher in Australia.Since then she has accumulated several post-graduate degrees and honours. She has been a great advocate of Aboriginal teachers. She has encouraged many to undertake the necessary studies to go back into the schools so that Aboriginal children can benefit from both traditional and western learning.

A similar quiet enthusiasm for the value of traditional Aboriginal practices in deepening Christian prayer and spirituality has seen Miriam Rose travel all around Australia speaking about the Aboriginal practice Dadirri which approximates to Christian contemplation. She is profoundly moved by the Word of the Gospel spoken into the silence of her own native heritage:

‘In recent times we have come to listen to a most sacred word that comes to us from God, our Father. This new Word is Jesus. I have said how dadirri, which is the deep listening and quiet stillness, can make us whole and revive us. This is a special quality in our lives. It is born in our culture. The Word of God finds a home here. Jesus enriches and renews our culture. He gently stirs our inner stillness, but he does not take away our peace. We like to hear words of peace, like Jesus spoke. We want to listen and to pass on words that are true and good – like the words that have come to us through our culture and traditions; and like the words that come to us in the Gospel of Jesus. This is what I long for: that with these words to guide us, everyone will come to listen to the Sound of God. We all have to try to listen – to the God within us – to our own country – and to one another.’


  • Miriam Rose, like most Aboriginal Australians has a deep sense of the significance of the land and how it mediates a sense of God. How do you relate to the land and the natural world?
  • Use this simple method to practise Dadirri with your classmates.


Venera De Domenico. Migrant, Mother, Grandmother


Public figures are not the only ones who have made a magnificent contribution to the life and faith of the Australian Church. The faith and courage of the many migrants who make up Australian society is reflected in the story of the wonderful Venera De Domenico who, like many other young women, bravely left her home in Sicily to accompany five small children to Australia.

Born in 1914 in Sicily, she married Carmelo De Domenico when they were both 17. Carmelo left Italy alone to make a new start for his family in Australia. His wife and children arrived in Australia in 1950. Carmelo and Venera settled at Home Hill in North Queensland, where they ran a fruit shop in the main street for nearly 30 years. Venera’s marriage to Carmelo spanned 72 years. ‘Nonna Venera’ is matriarch of a family of over 90 descendants (in 2010). Her granddaughter Anna Strachotta nominated her as an Australian ‘Unsung Hero’ in these words:

‘My Nonna is my unsung hero for many reasons, but in short for her kindness, generosity and love. She was married to my Nonno for seventy-two years, and she has created a family of eighty-eight. Nonna migrated from Sicily with a young family and now, as a very bright ninety-four-year-old, she is a very treasured member of a country town in north Queensland. She has instilled her love of family, friends, community, life and food in so many.’


  • Who are your grandparents? What have they contributed to your life and faith?
  • What would you say was the key to Venera’s rich sense of life?

Lauren Hichaaba. International volunteer coordinator

Lauren grew up in Melbourne, though her family travelled around quite a bit. At a crucial moment for her she found herself living in America with a chance to study theology at the Catholic University of America.

A great source of inspiration for her as she was growing up had been the quiet unpretentious faith of her father and the commitment, both of her parents and her grandfather, to the underprivileged.

When the family arrived in America, Lauren decided to make some friends by joining the local Catholic youth group. The faith and enthusiasm of a young leader really impressed her and she made the decision to become an active and committed Catholic herself. At this stage, her parents and family were moving back to Australia but Lauren had already gained a scholarship to study at the Catholic University of America in Washington. She decided to accept it and remain in the US. During her studies she came into contact with Fr Frank Moloney SDB, the noted Australian Scripture scholar who held the Chair of Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America at that time.

As a fellow Aussie, Fr Frank took an interest in Lauren’s progress and also introduced her to Salesian spirituality. Don John Bosco founded the Salesian order in Italy in the mid nineteenth century to support and befriend young people living on the edges of society. His intuition was to make friends of young people, to attract them to faith by engaging their interest and affirming anything at all that was positive in them. This is still a feature of the Salesian approach to young people.

The result was that after she had completed her studies she decided to spend a year working in Zambia in Africa. Back in Australia, Lauren taught part-time as well as coordinating the Salesian’s Cagliero Project which places young Australian volunteers in a variety of locations around the world. Lauren’s greatest thrill is seeing the impact of working in these very different and often difficult places on the young Australians and knowing that these experiences will not only produce short term benefits for the various communities and individuals involved but will also have a lifelong impact on every volunteer.


Lauren was influenced at key times by her family, a youth leader and later by a priest/teacher at University. Who have been some influential people in your life? What impact did those people have on you?

Moira Kelly. Humanitarian

The separation of the little twins Trishna and Krishna has made their legal guardian Moira Kelly practically a household name throughout Australia but Moira’s commitment to helping others goes right back to when she was a little girl and used to climb the fence to help the children at the special school next door. After watching a film on the work of Mother Teresa she told her mother that that was the kind of work she wanted to do. When she left school after Year 10 she trained as a teacher aide and as a lay missionary before joining Mother Teresa’s work in India.

After stints in many of the world’s most challenging situations, she was working in a Bosnian refugee camp when a mother with a seriously ill child, who could not be helped with the very basic treatment available there, asked the simple question: Wouldn’t the doctors and people in your country, Australia, help my child if someone told them what was happening in this country? Moira’s pathway suddenly became clear to her. She returned to Australia to form the Children First Foundation which brings crucial medical help to desperately needy children from around the world, including Trishna and Krishna. Moira is warm, humorous and self-deprecating. Her faith is down-to-earth, simple and direct and is expressed in the home away from home that she provides for the youngsters who come to Melbourne to be helped. ‘Truly, I tell you just as you did (good) to one of the least of these, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40)


Moira’s commitment to helping others began in childhood. What positive aspects of you as a child are still a strong part of who you are today? What aspects might you like to reclaim?

Donna Mulhearn. Peace worker

The kind of courage and commitment that leads someone to leave all that is familiar and comforting, to travel to a war-torn land and to deliberately place oneself in a position of great danger for the sake of unknown others is a very Christian brand of courage and commitment. It was demonstrated by Donna Mulhearn when she heard a call on the radio for people to act as human shields in Iraq and immediately knew that it was something she had to do. A human shield is the deliberate placement of civilians in or around combat targets to deter attacks.

Her experiences in Iraq led to her determination to do something positive for the children of Iraq whose lives have been devastated by the war either through loss of parents or by the trauma of continually living under threat of disaster. The explicit motivation for Donna was the prayer: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace’. She is setting up safe houses in Iraq and also speaking to as many schools and groups as possible to raise both awareness and funds to help children in Iraq. Her story and stories of the people and places she has visited can be found on the Pilgrim and Storyteller site.


Donna was simply listening to the radio when she heard a call that she knew she must respond to. Have you or anyone you know experienced that kind of urgent sense that you must undertake a certain course of action or make a response immediately? Explain what happened. How is God implicated in such a conviction?

Margaret Oats. Parishioner


Margaret Oats was known to many as as ‘the Angel of Collingwood’. She lived for 40 years in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. She made that suburb the place where she carried out the gospel command to love.

A parishioner of St Joseph’s, Margaret would have described herself as an absolutely ordinary person but she had the great gift of seeing Jesus in fellow human beings. She was able to immerse herself in people’s stories. She used to walk about the district with her hat on and a jeep full of food and necessaries for those she met or visited who were hard up. Margaret never just dropped things off but always took the time to talk and connect with people, sharing a cup of tea, listening to their stories and putting them in touch with each other and with those who might be able to help them over a tough time.

Margaret is often photographed holding a cup of tea, the ‘cuppa’ symbolising her simple, hospitable presence in her community. A soup van named in her memory continues to move around the streets of Collingwood and surrounds, keeping her love of others and her practical service to them alive. You can find out more about Margaret’s story on the DVD called Angel of Collingwood from Albert Street Productions.


Some people work in a broad domain; Margaret worked within the confines of her own suburb. Are you a big-picture person or do you prefer the more intimate scene? How could you ‘make a difference’ in either place?

Law and Politics

William Deane. Governor General

William Deane was born in Melbourne and attended St Christopher’s School, Canberra and St Joseph’s Hunters Hill before going to Sydney University to study Law. He became a barrister, then a judge, then Chief Justice. He was one of the judges who deliberated in the historic Mabo decision before being appointed Australia’s 22nd Governor General in 1996. During his six years as Governor General his passion for justice, for Aboriginal reconciliation and for rehabilitating people who were disadvantaged in any way became very apparent.

Sir William also reflected the feelings of all Australians in speeches he made in response to tragedies that beset us during his time (including the Port Arthur killings, the Thredbo collapse and the Swiss canyoning accident), He always found ‘the right words, the right gesture, the right salve to ease the pain of those left behind to grieve’. He was equally well able to express the pride and joy of Australians at the ceremonies opening the Olympic Games in Sydney. He was one of the most popular Governors General Australia has had. Read some brief quotations in this article.

Sir William quoted this passage from the gospels as his lifelong inspiration: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me’ (Matthew 25: 35–40).


Which words from Scripture would you quote as inspirational for you?

Peter Lalor. Miners’ Leader and Member of Parliament


The name most associated with the Eureka Stockade rebellion is that of Irish Catholic, Peter Lalor. Peter Lalor was an unlikely leader of the rebels in that he came from a respectable middle-class Catholic family in Dublin and had completed engineering studies at Trinity University.  However he did have a strong sense of justice and a need to stand up for what he believed in. His family in Ireland had been long active in the struggle for Home Rule. When Peter found himself caught up in the Ballarat miners’ protest movement against high licence fees, police mistreatment, lack of representation and shortage of land, he was willing to take on a leading role.

‘I expected someone who is really well known to come forward and direct our movement. However, if you appoint me your commander-in-chief, I shall not shrink. I tell you, gentlemen, if once I pledge my hand to the diggers, I will neither defile it with treachery, nor render it contemptible with cowardice.’

When the Southern Cross flag was run up the pole on Bakery Hill on 1 December 1854, Peter knelt, removed his hat, pointed to the flag and led the miners in the following words:

We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

A primitive stockade was erected and miners began to drill but noone expected an attack by either police or military and all but 120 miners had actually left the stockade when it was attacked at 3.00 am on Sunday 3 December 1854. Twenty-two miners were killed and many more wounded including Peter Lalor himself who was badly hit in the shoulder. He was smuggled into the home of Fr Patrick Smyth and later that day his arm was amputated. Warrants for his arrest were issued but he was concealed by friends until his wound had healed. By that time the justice of many of the miners’claims had been recognised and Lalor himself was elected to Parliament in 1855 where he became a respectable and conservative presence until his retirement in 1887.


What is the role of courage in the life of a Catholic? When is it legitimate to rebel? When is it not legitimate?

Enid Lyons. First woman member of the Australian House of Representatives


Enid Burnell was a student teacher of 15 or so when the Tasmanian Treasurer and Minister for Education, Joseph Lyons fell in love with her. They were married when Enid was 17 and he was 35. According to Peter their son ‘it was all so beautiful and as Mum told it, it was a real love story’.

Enid became a Catholic shortly before she was married and for the rest of her life her faith defined the way she lived. Enid could be strong on principle but was also surprisingly tolerant. She was a fine public speaker in her own right and had very progressive attitudes as to how society should work and about the role of women. At the same time she cheerfully bore 12 children despite the pain of sustaining a broken pelvis during the first delivery that was not diagnosed until after the last child had been born. In 1932, Joseph Lyons became Prime Minister of Australia. Staunchly supportive of her husband during his whole political career, Enid was encouraged by him to take her place in public life alongside him. As she was such an excellent speaker she was in great demand and had the knack of making connections between the issues of the day and the concerns of the men and women who were listening to her.

Devastated by the death of Joe in 1939, she pulled herself together to continue the task of raising her large family. After a time decided to continue her political role by standing for Parliament. In 1943, at the age of 46, she became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.

‘This is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this House. For that reason, it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. I am well aware that as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come.’ (Maiden Speech, House of Representatives 1943)

Even after she retired from politics, she took an active part in the community as an ABC board member, newspaper columnist and author. A review of a recent biography of Enid Lyons provides some more detail about this extraordinary woman.


Enid was a pioneer among women in politics but also raised a large family. Juggling the two roles is still a great challenge for women. How do you see the role of women in our society? Why is politics important? What are some contributions Catholics can make to public debate?

Roma Mitchell QC


Roma Mitchell of South Australia was the first to hold so many positions in Australian history that her biographers titled their story of her life Roma the First. Australia’s first female Queen’s Counsel, and the first woman to be appointed a judge in a superior court, she was also the first woman invited to present the Boyer Lectures, and the first woman to be made chancellor of an Australian university.

Born in Adelaide in 1913, she became a lawyer when it was a practically unheard of role for a woman. The title of Queen’s Counsel (QC), which she received in 1962, is accorded to barristers whose standing and competence justifies an expectation that they will provide outstanding service as advocates. In 1965 she was appointed to judicial office in the Supreme Court of South Australia. Even by 1970, Justice Mitchell was still the only woman judge appointed to a superior court of Australia. Her career culminated in her being the first woman to be appointed Governor of an Australian state when she assumed the position of Governor of South Australia in her seventies. The career of Dame Roma Mitchell remains a beacon of hope and encouragement, especially for women.

Throughout her life the faith in which she was raised was central to her ideas about service and justice. During her long career she helped bring about reforms which are now largely taken for granted and was an advocate for women and children in situations of domestic violence. She also campaigned for the right of women to be included as jurors. In later years it was her practice to pray every day in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Adelaide. Despite the influence and respect she had commanded as Governor, she always remained the good humoured, unselfish, unaffected, clear-sighted woman with a passion for justice that she had always been. Her death elicited tributes from other great Australians as well as from the people of South Australia.


‘She (Roma Mitchell) believed fundamentally in the rule of law. She trusted it. I think she may have made personal sacrifices in terms of her dedication to her work, but she loved it.

  • What is ‘law’? Where does it come from? Why would Roma Mitchell have loved it and been so dedicated to it?
  • What is your own feeling about the Law? It is just a collection of regulations or does it have a broader base in history?

Sport and Literature

Joel Bowden. Footballer and voluntary community worker

Joel Bowden is probably the best known of the Bowden family. However all the Bowdens have been not only gifted at sport but also share a deep commitment to various aspects of social justice arising from their experience of Catholic faith in action as they grew up.

Parents Michael and Judy Bowden left Melbourne with the beginnings of their family in 1971 to teach in Mildura. Then they took their family to work with Aboriginal people on the Ernabella Mission on the NT border and later to Alice Springs where the youngest members of the family were born. Both parents instilled in their children by word and by example a sense of respect for other human beings regardless of their status or background and a huge commitment to redressing injustices. Their faith shaped the way they lived their lives. This is reflected in the range of activities for others in which their, now adult, children participate. Whether it be teaching, working with street kids and supporting the Lighthouse Foundation, tutoring in the high rise flats in Richmond, working with young Aborigines in Alice Springs or helping Aboriginal people get access to legal help, one or other of the Bowden boys or their sister Majella will be involved.

They not only inherited a Catholic way of life but they were taught to think too. Joel admits, not without pride, that he was voted the most annoying player on the list at Richmond Football Club. This was because he was always raising controversial topics and asking team mates what they thought about issues well beyond the boundary line at Tigerland.


The Catholic faith and practice of the Bowden parents played a crucial role in developing a strong sense of justice and concern for others in their family. What role have your parents played in the person that you have become? What positive values and attitudes have they passed on to you? What would you in turn like to pass on to your own children?

Matthew Hayden. Cricketer

Matthew Hayden is a recently retired Australian cricketing great. He  is also a Catholic whose faith makes a real difference to how he lives his day-to-day life. ‘It’s everything to me, without being over the top about it,’ says Matthew.  Despite the challenges of remaining committed to regular practice of his faith on tour Matthew always made a point of getting to Mass and being mindful of God as he did his best for his side, a staunchness that Greg Baum comments on in this article.

As a past student of a Marist school, he has an intense interest in issues of social justice. Now retired, he hopes to encourage young Aboriginal cricketers and to see them incorporated into Australian Test teams. He has also made a big contribution to cancer research and encourages good eating and exercise among kids. He is also passionate about community development, the great outdoors and cooking. His various contributions to Australian life as well as his wonderfully successful cricket career led to him being made a member of the Order of Australia. He was one of the Ambassadors for World Youth Day in Sydney.


Why do you think Matthew made such a point of getting to Mass each Sunday no matter where in the world he was? Why is Mass so important to Catholics?

Les Murray. Poet

Les Murray was born at Bunyah NSW in 1938. His dairy farming parents were not well off and he was a rather isolated and lonely child who took refuge in reading whatever he could find. His mother died when he was 13 and his father never got over it. As a little boy, surrounded by bush and the companions of a little school, Les was not unduly teased, either about his rotund build or his socially awkward personality but it was another matter at secondary school. Les discovered some of the crueller aspects of human behaviour and retreated into himself. This seminal influence made him wary of the pressure of opinion and the human tendency to demand that others conform to fashionable viewpoints.

At 18 he began to write poetry ‘I discovered poetry when I was 18, and I went “Yeah, that’s the equivalent of painting. That’s what I can do”’. He began studying at Sydney University but drifted for some years despite having poems published quite widely and being acknowledged by some of Australia’s greatest poets. He married Valerie Morelli whom he had met at university and he became a Catholic himself. ‘Oh, I can see … yes, that feels right. I belong to that!’

Murray’s faith is based on belief in God as the origin of all possibility of creativity and indeed poetry:

God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught, as in a mirror
. (from Poetry and Religion)

Elsewhere Les comments: ‘My contribution to religious thought has been that God has to share in our disaster and to be punished for what had been done. To take on our nature including the dreadful things we do to each other … If a great deal of pain is involved – the pain of the innocent – then he who provided the opportunity for it to happen has some responsibility for it as well … God has to be punished by humans not least because he alone can bear the punishment.’ These words describe what has in fact already happened in the incarnation and death of Jesus.

Hence this verse describing a crucifix on a church wall:

High on the end wall hangs
The Gospel, from before he was books.
All judging ends in his fix,
All, including his own.
 (from Church).

You can get a good sense of Les’s own style as he tells his story on Radio National and you can read some poems here.


God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught, as in a mirror

How does this help your understanding of God? What reflections of God have you seen in Christianity? in other faiths?

Bernard O’Reilly. Bushman and Writer


Bernard O’Reilly grew up in a large family of pioneer Australians. His family was the first to try farming on the beautiful Lamington plateau in south-east Queensland and the first to introduce visitors to this area. O’Reilly’s Guesthouse is still run by the family and is still introducing people to the wonders of the temperate rainforest which clothes the McPherson ranges. From his boyhood Bernard was captivated by the bush and its plants, birds and animals and he shared the faith of his parents, taught by example as much as by words. ‘Dad was broadminded in the best sense of the word; he never preached or ramped of what we should do or not do; like mother it was by example that his lessons were taught. He had that deep, simple religion common to all men of the soil.’

Despite its relative proximity to Brisbane, the O’Reilly selection was in a very inaccessible spot, and the establishment of the Lamington National Park cut it off even more effectively. It was 36 years before a sealed road passed the O’Reilly property and much longer before electricity and other amenities were available. All these things made the family members very self-reliant and completely at home in the bush. So Bernard was well equipped to respond when, in 1937, a Stinson aircraft crashed in the wild McPherson Ranges. The extraordinary story of how Bernard O’Reilly located the crash site and then orchestrated the rescue of the two survivors is one of bravery, faith, courage, cameraderie and wonderful bushcraft. Bernard himself went on to write a very unassuming account of the rescue to which he added recollections of his life in the bush. Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong are his best-known books.


Faith in God means believing that nothing happens randomly. Bernard O’Reilly believed that he was equipped by his upbringing, his years in the bush, his health and strength and his skills in reading wild country to find the missing plane and airmen

What are some of the character traits, interests, abilities or learnings of yours that could be used in service of others, right now and in the future?

Religious and the Church

Caroline Chisholm. Pioneer Social Worker


Many people think that, if Australia was to have a second canonised saint, Caroline Chisholm may well be the best qualified for this honour. Caroline was born into a comfortable Protestant middle class English family in 1808. From childhood she had a keen interest in the welfare of others. In 1830 she married a Catholic, Archibald Chisholm (on condition that he allowed her to continue her social work) and subsequently she became a Catholic herself.

She and Captain Chisholm travelled first to India where he was stationed and then to Australia in 1838. Caroline was shocked at the dreadful conditions that awaited young emigrant women in the Colony. She was an immensely practical woman and resolved to do something about it. She regularly met ships to greet the young arrivals to ensure that they did not fall into the clutches of people anxious to take advantage of them. Caroline did her best to make arrangements for the women, offering some of them refuge in her own home. Eventually she persuaded Governor Gipps to allocate a building to be used as a hostel where girls could be accommodated while they were looking for work or for life-partners.

The motivation for this work was her own interest and commitment coupled with her desire to do God’s work in relation to the young women of the colony. This is the vow she made before the altar in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1841: I promise to know neither country nor creed, but to try and serve all justly and impartially. In 1846 the family returned to England to organise fairer, safer emigration for families and young women and to work for the reunion of families with husbands, fathers or sons who had emigrated. She organised the Family Colonisation Loan Society to encourage whole family migration, emphasising the positive role of women and children in Australia and helping and advising from her own experience. She became known as the Emigrant’s Friend.

During the gold rushes, the family was back in Australia – this time in Victoria setting up shelter sheds along the routes to the gold fields and for those going upcountry to work. Even a timeline sketch of her life indicates what a tireless worker she was. She died in England in 1877.


Caroline’s own interests and enthusiasm coincided with the Christian vision of the dignity of each human being. What are your own interests and how might they be used for the well-being of others?

Ursula Frayne. Religious Sister and Pioneer


Ursula Frayne (her baptismal name was Clara) was born to enterprising and well-to-do parents in Dublin in 1816. She joined the newly founded Mercy Sisters in 1832. The sisters were known as ‘the walking nuns’ because they were constantly seen on the streets and lanes of Dublin attending to those most in need. She must have impressed her superiors because in 1842, the 26 year old Sr Ursula was sent initially to Newfoundland, a province of Canada, then recalled to Dublin from where she was given the even greater challenge of founding Mercy work in Perth, Western Australia.

She left Ireland in 1846 with six companions. Conditions for the sisters in the new colony were initially so terrible that the Mercies in Dublin sent them their return fare but they had not reckoned with Ursula’s determination and ability. To enable her to found a school for poor Catholic children, she first had to raise funds by establishing a school for students who could afford to pay. So, within a few years she had three schools on the go: a young ladies’ secondary school that made money and two schools that directed their efforts to children of poor families. All these did well, many young women were attracted to Mercy work and more foundations were made.

In 1856, Archbishop Goold of Melbourne invited her to set up Catholic schools in Victoria. She arrived in 1857 and within weeks had organised loans to begin laying the foundations of the Academy in Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. Her work went ahead in leaps and bounds in the Victorian ‘Gold Rush’ colony which did not have the constraints of cash flow that had made the Western Australian beginnings so difficult. Ursula was courageous and enterprising and full of commitment to her faith and the future of children and young people. Mercy schools and convents flourished throughout Victoria and indeed, throughout Australia.


  • What would make an 18-year-old leave a comfortable home to walk the streets of Dublin looking after anyone who was poor, sick or down and out?
  • ‘Religious life gave women including Ursula Frayne, the opportunity to exercise a public role in the community that was generally denied to married women.’ True or false?
  • If Ursula Frayne walked around your city or town, whom would she identify as most in need? What might she do about it?

Rosemary Goldie. First Female Member of the Roman Curia. Church Worker


Rosemary Goldie was the first female official appointed to the Roman Curia. She had been one of the very few lay auditors at the Second Vatican Council. Twenty-nine lay men had attended the first session of the Council but at the second session Pope Paul VI invited some women auditors, including the Australian Rosemary Goldie who was well-known to him. A ‘co-worker’ he called her as by that time she had spent considerable time in Rome as a lecturer at the Lateran University and at Regina Mundi. Born in Sydney in 1916, she had gone to Paris to complete her studies at the Sorbonne. Among her professors there was the famous philosopher Jacques Maritain who influenced her thinking on the role of lay people in the Church.

During the Second Vatican Council 1962-65, Rosemary – fluent in English, French and Italian – and the other women auditors held many open house discussions for bishops and seminarians which helped them all to get to know each other better, and conversation flowed freely.

Rosemary made church history when she was appointed  Undersecretary of the Council for the Laity in 1966. She held this a curial position for 10 years, working to promote the role of lay people in Church life. She had very serene and balanced judgment, maintaining ecclesial communion in a strong and tireless manner’. All were charmed by her simplicity and friendliness. In later life she returned to Sydney and lived with the Little Sisters of the Poor at Randwick until her death in 2010.


What is the role of women in the Church as you understand it? Do you have to be a single woman to make the impact that Rosemary did?

John Hawes. Priest and Architect


This unusual priest began his life in England where he was a practising architect and Anglican priest;he ended up as a Catholic priest and hermit on Cat Island in the Bahamas where he is buried in a cave tomb he prepared for himself!

But for 24 years from 1915 to 1939 he made an extraordinary and enduring contribution to the life of the Church in Western Australia through the churches and buildings he designed and built for the diocese of Geraldton. These buildings are in vivid contrast to the usual little weatherboard churches of the outback and to the more common neo-Gothic style churches of the larger towns.

While echoing the traditions of Europe, his churches, made from local stone and often built by Fr Hawes and his parishioners, seem to grow out of the Western Australian countryside itself They form an important part of the story of the faith in Australia.

Despite being an Englishman he was a great favourite with the mainly Irish families of his enormous outback parishes. Perhaps it was because he was an avid animal lover as well as a good and attentive priest. He would be one of the few Catholic priests to have ridden his own horses to victory on the race track and was devoted to his dogs as well. (Dogs even feature in the decoration of some of his church buildings.)

In 1939 he felt he was getting too comfortable and settled. So, as he had always been inspired by the example of St Francis, he decided to leave Australia and become a (very lively and active) hermit priest on Cat Island in the Bahamas. Here he worked with the local people to build many more churches and a tiny hermitage for his own use. He was buried there in 1956.


  • Fr John Hawes had very particular ideas about churches and architecture. What churches or places of worship have you visited? Have you any favourites? Try to explain why.
  • What are hermits? What is the place of solitude in human life? Are you ever ‘alone’? Is solitude the same as loneliness?

Irene McCormack. Missionary


Irene McCormack was a Sister of St Joseph who was killed by ‘Shining Path’ terrorists in Peru in 1991. Born on a wheat and sheep farm near New Norcia in Western Australia in 1938, Irene joined Mary MacKillop’s Josephites when she was 18 and began a life dedicated to God, to children and to the poor. For 30 years she lived the familiar life of an Australian ‘Joey’ in the schools in which she taught around Australia. Then she experienced a sense of mission to work among the desperately poor.

My belief is that if I fail to respond I am choosing spiritual death. To continue to spiritualise what it means to be poor and not to work with the poor in a Third World situation is for me a way of evading history, the real world, that fidelity to the Lord as a Josephite can no longer allow me to do.

Her congregation sent her to Peru and eventually to the village of Huasahuasi where there had been a Josephite mission for ten years and where some Australian Columban priests were working. Sr Irene settled into the village at Huasahuasi and began work among the Peruvian villagers there. Political instability, shocking social inequality and poverty were rife. Eventually the priests and sisters were warned to leave. They did leave but Sr Irene and Sr Dorothy Stevenson returned to maintain a presence among the people.

In May 1991 members of the Shining Path terrorist group visited the village.Sr Irene (Sr Dorothy was away in Lima) and four men from the village were accused of distributing American aid – actually Caritas provisions.  They were dragged to the village square and summarily shot in the back of the head. Sr Irene was the first to die. She was buried in the Huasahuasi cemetery, mourned by the people she had given her life to support.


What do you think motivated Sr Irene and Sr Dorothy to return to Huasahuasi after they had left?

Rosendo Salvado. Bishop and Pioneer.


Born in Spain on 1 March 1814, Benedictine monk, Dom Rosendo Salvado, arrived in Australia in 1846 with Dom Joseph Serra. He threw himself into his work in the new colony, developing a foundation at New Norcia, which is still thriving today. He was consecrated Bishop in 1849. Unlike many missionaries, Salvado extended uncommon respect and courtesy to the Aborigines in his work with them. This respect is illustrated in his efforts to learn the languages and discover the beliefs and customs of the indigenous people.

Characteristic of his efforts in all areas was his endurance, courage and resourcefulness. On one occasion he walked 130 kilometres to Perth on his own, eating whatever he could find (lizards, worms, possums) to ask Bishop Brady for money for the mission. Upon being turned down (Bishop Brady had many other calls on his scarce funds) Dom Rosendo, a gifted musician, still tattered and grimy from his marathon walk, organised and performed a piano recital in Perth’s Courthouse to raise the necessary money. (A Compass program called Camino Salvado shows a group retracing this journey between Perth and New Norcia that Dom Salvado made many times in his life.)

Eventually New Norcia became a flourishing self-sufficient mission with large schools for boys and girls, olive groves, a vineyard and vegetable gardens, although now it is simply a monastery rather than a mission. After devoting 54 years of his life to New Norcia and to the Aboriginal people whom white society had displaced, Rosendo Salvado died while visiting Rome in 1900. His body was returned to Western Australia and he is buried beneath the abbey church.


What lessons could many missionaries have learned from the way Dom Rosendo related to the Aboriginal men and women he encountered in Western Australia? What lessons could we learn from him?

The 25th Box

It’s now over to you to nominate and present to your group, an Australian Catholic who has impressed you. It might be someone famous and well-known or someone known to you from your own community, family, parish or school.

Having identified a 25th Australian Catholic to fill the vacant box, your task is to research and/or interview that person and present your findings in a format that will engage your audience.

This could be via:

  • a PowerPoint presentation
  • a poster/pamphlet
  • a blog
  • an artifact with commentary.

It should include visual elements and provide ways to help your audience connect with the faith, personality, ideas and contribution of your chosen person.

Click on either ‘Discussion Points’ or Further Ideas’ in the box to the right of this screen for lots more discussion topics, questions and ideas for projects and presentations in relation to the people featured in ‘25 of the Best!’

Discussion Points

The following questions will help students unpack the lives of the Catholics featured in ‘25 of the Best!’ Students may either choose someone they are attracted to or, to obtain a spread of responses, names could be written on slips of paper and pulled out at random. (Be aware that 2 or 3 people featured in this unit may have little published about them).

Initial Responses

What are the best characteristics of the Australian Catholic you have chosen/drawn?
In what ways would you like to be like him or her?
What do you think others thought/think of him or her?


When was this person born? What was happening in Australia at this time?
What sources of information help us to understand this person’s life and spirituality?
Did this person write or speak about their faith? What did they have to say?

Faith and Life

How did they draw on their faith in their approach to life?
What difference did it make to their actual day to day decisions and actions?
What particular aspects of faith were fundamental to their life’s work?
How do/did they pray?
What are 4 or 5 keywords you would use to describe this person’s spirituality?


What values did/does this person aspire to live?
What are the major achievements and actions of this person?
What aspects of the background of this person supported their efforts?
What changes in awareness happened within this person during his or her life?
How did/does this person share their faith with others?


What difficulties, obstacles made/make up this person’s search?
How did he or she overcome them?
What was the yearning or restless part of this person’s story?
What would be/have been the disadvantages of being this person?
What sacrifices did this person make for the good of others?

New Ideas

Was there anything new about what this person undertook?
What unexpected outcomes resulted from this person’s efforts?

How do you Feel About this Person?

In what ways are you like this person?
What did you learn about yourself by investigating this person?
Does this person’s life, the decisions they made and the direction they took help you to see a way forward for yourself?
What impact does this person’s faith and life have on your own faith?

(These questions are based on a similar list developed by Mark Elliott of the Catholic Education Office of Brisbane).

Further Ideas

Further Ideas For Projects And Presentations To Help You Explore Any Of The 25 Of The Best!

A Quiki Wiki?

Set up a class Wiki to share your learning, comment on, or add, to the work of others. Or you might join SlideShare or subscribe to Voicethread to give your work an even larger audience.

It’s in the Bag

Alternatively you might prepare a show bag that would help you present the story of your person to the rest of the class.

  • obtain a paper carry bag (art shops stock them)
  • collect 7 or 8 items that say something about the life, character and faith of the person you have chosen
  • decorate the bag appropriately
  • take turns presenting your man or woman to the class using the items in the bag as stimulus material for your talk

Sing a song (after you’ve written it first!)

Compose a ballad (or another song style: rap is fun and not too difficult) celebrating the life and faith of your chosen person. The tune can be specially composed or use one well-known to you.


Use the people featured in this unit as a basis for mime. Each student adopts the persona of one of the 25 while the rest try to identify who it is.

The Big Issues: Then and Now

What were/are the big issues and challenges facing the various Australian Catholic people featured in this unit? What would you identify as the big issues facing contemporary Australian Catholics? Can you suggest some possible responses?

Face to Face

Create a Facebook page for your choice of the 25.

Timely interventions and sizzling statistics

Construct a timeline/graph to show the life spans of the ’25 of the Best’ and how they overlap. What questions does this data suggest? What correlations between life spans and chosen vocations do you notice?  Work out the family backgrounds of the 24. Is there a correlation between backgrounds (wealthy/poor; Catholic/Protestant; indigenous/European etc. and chosen vocations? The 24 Catholics have been arranged in five categories. What other arrangements could have been chosen?

Ghostly visitations

Relax, close your eyes and imagine that you are alone. One of the ‘25 of the Best!’ calls to visit you. How do you respond? What food or drink might you offer them to put them at ease? What kinds of things do you talk about? What questions are asked? What jokes are told? What advice do you get about leading a good life?

Inspired words and pictures

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Chríst – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-1889)

What is Hopkins getting at in this poem? Produce a piece of art which expresses his thoughts.

It’s more than a game!

Construct a Board Game based on the life story of one of the ‘25 of the Best!’ or a Trivial Pursuit quiz based on the stories of the whole group. For the former you will need to decide on the purpose of the game, rules and equipment. For the latter, several class members might need to collaborate. Alternatively, devise a Who am I? game using five questions ranging from difficult to simple, based on the life-stories of ’25 of the Best! Don’t forget to ask the hardest questions first. Try your games out on each or another class group.

Time Travelers

Choose two or three of the ’25 of the Best’ from different eras and imagine what they might say to each other if they met. Think about what they would they have in common as well as aspects of their life that would be very different. Talking points between them could include each other’s:

  • work
  • faith
  • sports/hobbies
  • interests
  • worries
  • humour
  • homelife
  • schooling
  • inspiration