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Honouring Australian Church Women

Each year on Australia Day, Australia celebrates and honours the significant achievements and contributions of various Australians by presenting them with awards.* Not all of the recipients of these awards are well-known, so it is also an opportunity to recognise the ‘quiet achievers’ in our communities. Throughout the years of Australian Church Women, some of our ‘quiet achievers’ have been honoured with these awards.

One of our earliest ACW members to receive such recognition was Deaconess Mary Maria Andrews, AM, FIBA, a founding member of Australian Church Women. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to religion on 26 January 1980; this honour was announced by Sir Zelman Cowan, the Governor General of Australia at that time.

Since the honours system was introduced in 1975, quite a few of our members have also received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) ‘for service worthy of particular recognition’. I’m not going to name all the recipients of this award, as I do not have a complete list. It would be greatly appreciated if unit secretaries are able to find time to email me with a list of current and past members who have received these awards.

The ACW National Archives holds two tributes of service honouring Deaconess Mary Maria Andrews, AM, FIBA, who represented the Anglican Church in Australian Church Women. One tribute was compiled by the New South Wales Unit of ACW, and the other by Jenny Jarvis, Winifred Kiek Scholarship National Convenor, November 1996. I have combined the two to give a more complete overview of Mary Andrews’ considerable achievements that she carried out in the name of Jesus.

Mary was born on 20 March 1915 at Dry Plain Station near Cooma, NSW. Her life was given to service for others when, from her early teens, she began teaching Sunday School.


1933–34 Nursing Training

1935–36 Croydon Missionary & Bible College, Diploma

1937–38 Anglican Deaconess House – Diploma 1st Class Honours


1938–45 Two terms with the Church Missionary Society in China

1945–46 A term at St Faith’s Children’s Home and a Home for Destitute Women and Girls, Lahore, India [now Pakistan]

1947–51 China – teaching and pastoral work

1951–82 Head Deaconess – Sydney Anglican Diocese

1952–75 Principal at Anglican Deaconess House – Sydney

1976 Part-time Chaplain at Anglican Retirement Villages


1951–86 Deaconess Council/Deaconess Institution Representative

1951–87 Associated with many Anglican hospital boards and committees

1957–87 NSW Women’s Inter-Church Council, which later became NSW Unit of ACW

1959–60 President NSW Women’s Inter-Church Council

1969–1996 From the inception of the Movement for the Ordination of Women [MOW] she was an active member

1972-75 Vice-President World Federation of Deaconesses

1973–75 Australian Council of Churches, Anglican Delegate

1973–87 NSW National Council of Women, granted an Honorary Life Membership

1978–82 National Liaison Officer Women’s World Day of Prayer

1983–85 Secretary of NSW World Day of Prayer Committee

1984 Vice-President NSW National Council of Women

1985–87 Vice-President of NSW World Day of Prayer Committee


1973 National Life Member of Australian Church Women

1980 Member of the Order of Australia, for Services to Religion

1981 State Life Member of NSW Unit of Australian Church Women

1985 Fellow of International Biographical Association

1987 Life Patron of International Biographical Centre

1993–1994 International Woman of the Year, the International Biographical Society

Represented Australian Church Women at:

1967 Ist International Interdenominational Women’s Conference, Taize, France

1971 Attended Church Women United Assembly, Wichita, USA

1979 Attended Church Women United Assembly, Los Angeles, USA

Represented Australia at:

1978 International Women’s World Day of Prayer Meeting, Lusaka, Zambia

1982 Women’s World Day of Prayer Meeting, Tutzing, Germany

The personal philosophy of Deaconess Mary Andrews:
‘My philosophy is rooted in the Christian faith – which is the central and all influencing power in my life. I have sought throughout my life to uphold the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ – of love to all people. As a Christian I believe I am called to serve with compassion, love, humility, patience and joy wherever in the community and world I am called to work.’

Why did she join Australian Church Women?

Deaconess Mary wrote:

‘In my early teens, I was involved in Christian Endeavour, which brought together young people from different denominations at High School. I was Vice-President of Christian Union. I studied at Croydon Missionary and Bible College with men and women of different denominations. In China as a missionary, I worked with missionaries of different Churches.

‘On returning to Australia, I became interested in the Women’s World Day of Prayer and the New South Wales Women’s Inter-Church Council. There was no Federal body uniting Australian Church Women.

'My prayers were answered when the Australian Council of Churches asked Mrs M. Wyllie, Mrs K. Dey, Mrs M. Verco to form a Committee to bring forth a proposal re. a national body – the result of which a Conference of ladies representing different denominations and states was held at Deaconess House …’

Deaconess Mary Andrews was instrumental in the birth of Australian Church Women, and she commented years later: ‘it has been a joy to see that ACW has grown and is fulfilling the original aim to unite Christian women together in their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Mary passed away on 16 October 1996. After 81 years of faithful stewardship, these words were pronounced: ‘Deaconess Mary Andrews, enter into the rest of your Lord.’

Approximately six hundred people attended the Thanksgiving Service for her life at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 23 October 1996. The hymns sung at the service were those sung on the occasion of Mary’s ordination.


Again, this time in the person of Deaconess Mary Andrews, we see what can be achieved when women are released for ministry and permitted to go beyond the expectations of ‘what women should do’.


*According to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet section of the Australian Government website: ‘Australia’s distinctive honours system began in 1975 with the creation of the Order of Australia, to recognise service to the nation or humanity, as well as the Australian Bravery Decorations and the National Medal.’


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This Herstory Blog of Australian Church Women Inc. tells the stories of the women and activities of this national Christian organisation that was founded in February 1965.

Stories that inspired and encouraged me to begin this blog and share their inspiration with you. Stories that need to be told so that the women of ACW can be honoured and celebrated for their achievements and experiences in local, national and international communities of faith. And, most importantly, stories that demonstrate being disciples of Jesus Christ firmly underpins all that Australian Church Women represents.

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