Bishop Bill presented Ms Waanders with the medal on 5 December at a Mass in front of her parish community. The medal is the highest honour the Papacy can award to lay people.
Pope Leo XIII established the award in 1888 to commemorate his golden sacerdotal jubilee. The award was originally bestowed on men and women who had aided and promoted the jubilee. Pope Paul VI introduced the current version of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for distinguished service to the Church and Catholic community. The medal now depicts the Apostles St Peter and St Paul.
Freelance writer and former Aurora editor Tracey Edstein, along with retired priest Rev Kevin Kiem, nominated Ms Waanders for the award.
“I was overawed when I received the phone call from Tracey to congratulate me on having been awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice,” says Ms Waanders. “I felt very humbled to have been singled out for this award, and feel enormous gratitude, especially as I was totally unaware that this award existed."
Ms Waanders has lived in the Raymond Terrace parish for almost all her 77 years. The child of Dutch immigrants, she was only eight years old when she arrived in Australia. She credits her parents’ faith and commitment to Catholic education for beginning her life of faith and service to the Church, built on by both her Dominican education and the TWEC Adult Faith Formation Course.
Throughout her life, Ms Waanders has sought to emulate qualities of devotion to discipleship, service and evangelisation. She has given her time to key pastoral and liturgical programs in the Diocese that seek to spread God’s message.
Upon retiring from fulltime work in 2002, Ms Waanders moved into what became almost fulltime church ministry. She recognised the significant needs within the parish, particularly relating to young people. She took on the leadership of two significant ministries in a voluntary capacity to do what she could to foster the faith of children.
Ms Waanders was co-ordinator of special religious education in the public school system for more than 16 years, as well as taking charge of the sacramental program. Each of these demanding roles involved ongoing commitment and training and when volunteer numbers decreased, Ms Waanders took on more classes and more schools herself.
She also takes communion to the sick, is a World Day of Prayer organiser, leads special liturgy and Sunday Celebrations in Anticipation of Eucharist and is heavily involved in bringing people to the Church via the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
In 2019, Bishop Bill awarded Ms Waanders the Magdalene Award at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
She is integral to the Raymond Terrace parish’s commitment to the promotion of, and participation in, the Diocesan Synod and the Plenary Council.
“All of these programs and initiatives allow us to build the faith,” says Ms Waanders.
Perhaps the most meaningful testimony of her commitment to the parish community is that she genuinely sees herself as a “parish person”. She cares about individuals and is committed to doing all she can to ensure the Church and her parish live up to their mission.
A well-known and a much-loved member of her parish, she is a woman of deep faith in Jesus committed to sharing that faith with all whom she encounters.
During Covid, Ms Waanders became the face, or at least the voice of the parish, delivering bulletins and checking on people’s welfare.
Ms Waanders understands the Papal Award is for her past service “to Almighty God and his Church” but it has left her feeling an overwhelming responsibility of living up to being a recipient.
“I pray that I be given the graces necessary to continue to be of service to Almighty God and promote his Kingdom here on Earth,” she says.