OAM honour brings “great joy” to Blue Mountains couple

By Mary Brazell, 12 June 2024
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipients Vic (right) and Liz O'Callaghan at their investiture ceremony at NSW Government House in May 2024. Image: Supplied


Blue Mountains couple Vic and Liz O’Callaghan never imagined receiving a phone call from the Governor-General’s office, informing them of their nomination for the Australia Day Honours.

But the couple from St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springwood, are deeply humbled, honoured and grateful to have been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in January 2024.

In late May, the couple, supported by family and friends, were presented with their medals during an investiture ceremony at NSW Government House.

“It came as such a surprise, we didn’t even imagine that something like this would happen to us,” Vic told Catholic Outlook.

“The other thing I never imagined or thought of in my life was to pick up the local newspaper, open it up and there’s a photo of Liz and I on the front page.”

Liz added, “People have been so generous in their support of our recognition and have shared the joy and honour with us. It’s been great to see the fact that it brought great joy to so many people.

“There aren’t a lot of married couples who have been granted the award at the same time, so it’s been very humbling.”

Liz was recognised for her service to education. She has worked for Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese since the mid-1980s as a teacher, Assistant Principal and Principal. She was also a lecturer at the Catholic Teachers College in Sydney from 1969 to 1981 and an education consultant for a decade between 2008 and 2018.

Vic, who was also an educator in the Diocese of Parramatta between 1980 and 1996, was recognised for his service to restorative practices. He and Liz are both co-executive directors of Restorative Practices Australia since 2003.

Liz was first trained in restorative practices in 1996 from NSW Police Sergeant Terry O’Connell, who had developed a program to allow those who had been harmed by various crimes to come together and share their pain in a safe environment.

Liz said, “This brings a better understanding of each other’s experiences. From these understandings, more courageous decisions may be made.”

Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipients Vic (third right) and Liz O’Callaghan (centre) with colleagues Terry (left) and Margaret O’Connell (second left), daughter-in-law Bronwyn, (third left), son Francis (back centre), son Luke (second right) and daughter-in-law Kate at their investiture ceremony at NSW Government House in May 2024. Image: Supplied

Liz, Vic, and Terry then developed this program further to be used in an educational setting with primary school children. This program allows the person who’s been harmed and the person who did the harm to work together to make things right.

Vic said, “when you really listen to the voice of a child, you hear something different, and you are most often surprised because of their perception and developing maturity.

“Senior students can be trained to form small restorative circles on the playground to assist younger students with a difficulty has occurred. Here, they use restorative questions, which promote respect and facilitate deeper listening, to resolve issues and make a plan for the future.”

Liz said, “being able to work directly with students to use this method themselves, to sit down in small circles with people, ask questions, promote respect and listening to solve their issues – the kids love it and it makes a big difference.

“Initiatives such as these lead to cultural change from the base of any institution. During all this, both the person who has been harmed and the person who has caused the harm need support.”

Prior to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013, Vic and Liz saw a need in the community to bring people together to voice and share their trauma in a respectful and safe manner to bring peace and understanding of each other’s responses to the revelations of abuse within Australian institutions.

With their training in restorative practices, which deals with difficult and serious matters, Liz and Vic were able to design Listening Circles where people gather in small circles to allow uninterrupted listening to occur.

Vic said, “the Listening Circle provides a facilitator with a script, agreements, a talking ball, three scripted questions and psychological support. These all combine to create a climate of emotional safety.”

Liz said, “The circle doesn’t allow for conversation, doesn’t allow for debate. You speak, and I listen – that’s how it works.

“You can feel the Holy Spirit in the room. During these circles, you begin to trust those in the room and sense you’re held in safe hands.”

Vic and Liz saw the award as being as much a recognition of their own ministry, but importantly, a recognition of those who have worked with them.

Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipients Vic (centre right) and Liz O’Callaghan (centre left) with daughter-in-law Kate (left), son Luke (second left), daughter-in-law Bronwyn, (second right) and son Francis (right) at their investiture ceremony at NSW Government House in May 2024. Image: Supplied

“The teams of people with whom we have worked, as well as students, parents, and the community, have all shared in the celebrations,” Liz said.

“We had our own mentors, some gone but others still with us, leaders, politicians, academics, and colleagues from around the world—we felt humbled, shocked, grateful, and joyful.”

Vic said, “we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done unless people trusted in us – the trust is crucial.”

Vic and Liz wished to thank their loving family who “injected great joy” into receiving the award and have always been generous in their support of their ministry.

“We really appreciate the honour that we’ve been given by the Governor General,” Liz said.

“Congratulations came our way from so many, coupled with shared joy by all, and we are now beginning to accept with pride this amazing honour.

“Thank you to all with whom we share this amazing award.”


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