Sr Mary Comer.

Congratulations to Sr Mary Comer rsj who received a Medal of the Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day honours list – for service to the community including in her role as the founding director of Centacare Bathurst.

We share a profile of Sr Mary published on 26 January 2023 in The Catholic Weekly.

Plus a profile on the work of Sr Mary in the Western Advocate.

The Catholic Weekly

Last year Sr Mary was named a Bathurst Living Legend by the Bathurst City Council for her contributions which also include being a member of the management committee of the Central West Child Guidance Clinic in the regional city for 13 years.

A teacher before she became a psychologist, Sr Mary along with the late Sr Janice Ryder RSJ established a school counselling service across the diocese’s schools in 1979 and ran it for nine years. “We could see that some schools would do a lot better if they got some extra help and counselling services in Catholic schools were not common at that time at all in a city or the country,” she said.

“What was apparent to us was that while the Church so often spoke about the family being the important core of the Church, it offered little formal, pastoral or professional support to couples and families to strengthen them and offer remedial help when they were in trouble, especially in regional and rural areas.”

In 1988 Sr Mary established Centacare Bathurst with a staff of two – herself and a part time receptionist – with the support of her congregation, the diocese and its Catholic education office, and the advice and support of the Metropolitan Centacare directors.

“It was designed to provide professional and psychological services for children, individuals and families and to organise referrals where necessary, and opportunities to provide community education programs, such as parenting skills and marriage education.”

Sr Mary worked in and directed the service for its first 18 years, securing government grants which enabled staff numbers to increase and offices to be established in other regional towns.

Subsequent directors, Vivian Llewellyn, and currently Robert George, have grown the social welfare side of the service and it currently boasts a staff of well over 100 professionals and among numerous other services, including counselling and after school care. It provides school counsellors for each of the schools in the diocese as well as community programs where appropriate.

“What has made all that possible has been the supportive good, reliable staff, board members with vision and persistence, good mentors, and the support of communities,” said Sr Mary. “So from my perspective, this award is shared by all of those people.”