Sr Patricia was awarded the commendation as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours and displayed humility when speaking about the award.
“I don’t know why I got the award,” she said, “but I decided to accept it to give the deaf children a voice.” She accepted the medal at Government House, Sydney on 6 September.
Sr Patricia grew up in Maitland, attended St John’s Primary School Maitland and joined the Dominicans at the age of 22, attracted to the order known for its work in “teaching and preaching”. She began teaching as an aide for profoundly deaf children at St John’s Maitland when she was a postulant.
The Dominican sisters began Catholic education for the deaf in Australia simply because a family wanted a Catholic education for their deaf child. Australia’s first Catholic school for deaf students was established in 1875 in Perkins Street, Newcastle. The school was moved to Waratah 13 years later and in 1993 St Dominic’s Centre was established as a new facility at Mayfield and named after the pioneering Dominican Sisters.
Sr Patricia was principal of Catholic Centre for Hearing Impaired, Waratah, for three years, before leaving in 1989. She was the last Dominican nun principal at the school. Sr Patricia returned to that old school with her medal, stopping to ponder the statue at the front. It is of Jesus healing a deaf man from Mark 7:34-35 “And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” She said it was while she was at Waratah that her understanding of how to teach the deaf “all clicked”.
Working in early intervention has been a career highlight for Sr Patricia. Even beginning listening training with babies who are deaf. She says specialist training must begin as soon as diagnosis occurs to give the children the best opportunity in life.
Sr Patricia currently teaches deaf children at five Sydney schools and says more financial support is needed for the hearing impaired. “Some are doing so well due to advances in technology. But they need a specialised teacher of the deaf rather than a teacher’s aide,” she said. “There is a lot that they miss out on in the classroom if they don’t have that.”
She hopes the attention she has received from her award will result in greater funding and resources for students who need it.
Sr Patricia’s passion for her work has not faltered. “I should be retired, but that won’t be happening soon,” she said. “It’s my passion, not my work, but my ministry. I love it.”