Parramatta Mercy Sister Barbara McDonough has already had not one, but two buildings named after her. As of Australia Day, the latest acknowledgement of her dedication and passion to educating young women can fit in her pocket.
Last Wednesday, Sr Barbara was the recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) as part of the 2022 Australia Day Honours List. She was recognised for her service to education and to the church alongside over 1000 recipients across the country.
In speaking to Catholic Outlook following the announcement, Sr Barbara said “so many who knew me were so happy and so excited for me, so that, in turn, made me happy and even excited to receive the award.
“My first reaction was that I couldn’t see why I had been nominated, when all I have been doing is what any other dedicated teacher would do.
“These last few days, people have been ringing me and emailing me from all different sections of my life, saying this award is ‘so well deserved’.
“It’s not just an award for me, it’s an award for the Sisters of Mercy, for it has been my role as a Sister of Mercy that has given me those opportunities to be there for others.”
Professing her vows with the Sisters of Mercy in 1955, Sr Barbara served as a teacher, deputy principal and principal in Mercy Sisters schools across Sydney for over 40 years.
She explained that when the NSW education system was shaken up during the early 1960s, and more subjects were opened up to both boys and girls, she became a trailblazer and ‘expert’ being a female science teacher and was actively involved in establishing the Catholic Science Teacher Association.
“As principal, I was given the opportunity to help and enable people, whether it be students, families or teachers, and I learnt the strength of the team that surrounds you, it’s not something that you just take on by yourself,” Sr Barbara said.
“You are there to enable the students and the teachers on the way and give them the opportunity to develop themselves.”
Stepping away from her teaching duties in the early 2000s, Sr Barbara remained connected to both Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC) Parramatta and Catherine McAuley Westmead. In 2011 and 2012, her contribution to each school was honoured in the opening of two separate student buildings in her name.
She now enjoys retirement, after recently stepping down from active involvement in the OLMC Parramatta Alumnae Committee and as their Archive Liaison Officer.
“Sister Barbara is an absolute gift to the OLMC community – staff, alumnae and students,” the Alumnae Committee wrote in the 2021 OLMC Alumnae newsletter following her retirement.
“She brings these groups together with her extensive knowledge of our community history and her vision has always been to nurture and build a connected Alumnae.
“For many years, Sister Barbara was also pivotal in the collation of College archival material. She was one of a small group of volunteers who devoted many days to sort, order and label the treasures donated over many years. This ongoing dedication and service is a clear example of how Sister Barbara has never retired from living the values at the core of the Mercy tradition.
“For the historical legacy embodied in our archives, the Alumnae and the College will remain indebted to Sister Barbara and very grateful for her work,” they said.
Federal MP for Greenway and Mercy alumni Michelle Rowland congratulated Sr Barbara on her nomination in a post on Facebook.
“She epitomises the very best of Australia through her selfless and humble acts of kindness and is an example to us all,” Ms Rowland wrote.
“In her own words, this is borne from her experience of having limited choices in another time as a young woman, and her desire for every girl to be their best.
“Congratulations Sister Barbara, may you take a moment this Australia Day to reflect on the achievements of your work in our local community over so many years, with your quiet practical help that has changed the lives of so many for the better.”
In thanking her nominator, a former student, Sr Barbara hoped that her award will inspire other nominations, especially in her Blacktown local community, for which she was the only recipient this year.
“Receiving this award and the attention around it has given other people the chance to say thank you for the work I have done over the years. I would like to see this extended to so many more in our local community.
“These awards aren’t exclusive. Anybody can be nominated – someone just has to tell the right people to look at this person, and what a difference they have made to their community.
“We need more people in Blacktown to be nominated and recognised for the work they do, and I hope that my award can be the catalyst for future nominations.”