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The Australian Catholic Church

Twenty-five of the Best!


 VENERA DE DOMENICO - Migrant, Mother, Grandmother

(1914 - 2013 )

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.’ In this video presentation Venera speaks of her faith in God, of how her faith influenced the way she has lived her life and of how it helps her as her death approaches.

For reflection/discussion

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

(1981 -      )

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.

Watch a recent interview with Lauren here.


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

(1964 -       )

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)

For reflection/discussion

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

(c.1975 -      )

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.

For reflection/discussion

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

(c.1920 - 1998)

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?