About the Cath Leary Social Justice Award

Since 1996 the Mercy Foundation has recognised an individual, group or organisation with a clearly notable record of work for change in social and cultural structures that impoverish and disempower people.

The Mercy Foundation Social Justice Award was established by the Mercy Foundation in 1996 to mark the United Nations International Year for the Eradication of Poverty.

In August 2014 the Board made a decision to name the annual social justice award, the Cath Leary Social Justice Award. This is to recognise the significant social justice work made by long term member of the Mercy Foundation Board, the late Cath Leary.

Cath Leary had a background in education and community development. She worked as an educator in schools and then later managed the education team at Caritas Australia. More recently she was International Programs Director for Mary MacKillop International. She had a Masters in International Social Development from UNSW.

Cath was a member of the Mercy Foundation Grants committee for almost 10 years and had also been a member of the Board since early 2009 - for the past 3 years as Deputy Chairperson. She is remembered by all at the Foundation for her good humour and kindness and very acute - but gently given - sense of social justice. She worked tirelessly for people and communities who needed a voice, needed change and needed respect. She was at 'the service of human dignity'.

The focus of the award is on individuals, groups or organisations that have made a major contribution to addressing key social justice issues in Australia.

Note that in awarding this prize, the Mercy Foundation Board takes into account activities which are currently underway or have been completed within the previous 5 years.

Through this Award, the Mercy Foundation wishes to affirm and promote:

  • The important goal of addressing systemic social justice problems in Australia.
  • The importance of work which is aimed at changing the things that cause people in our society to live in poverty, have inadequate access to education and/or employment, or experience homelessness or housing insecurity.
  • The importance of doing this work in a way which demonstrates an attitude of fundamental respect for all people.
  • Working to develop increased opportunities for people living in poverty. 
  • Advocacy activities - speaking up about and promoting solutions to structures and systems which contribute to inequities in our community.

Winner of the Cath Leary Social Justice Award for 2016 is Bronwyn Penrith

The Cath Leary Social Justice Award for 2016 was awarded to Bronwyn Penrith, for her significant contribution to social justice. This award recognises Bronwyn’s long and ongoing contribution to equality and justice for Indigenous Australians over many years. The Mercy Foundation Board noted Bronwyn’s generosity in sharing of knowledge and for her commitment to the community through the many campaigns and organisations she has actively and energetically contributed to and supported.

Bronwyn is a Wiradjuri woman who has worked all her life for equality and the recognition of Aboriginal people and their rights. She is the Chair of Moreton Consulting's Board of Directors. She is Chair of the Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women's Corporation near the Block in Redfern and a Director of the Redfern Foundation Ltd. She is also a recent past member of the Redfern/Waterloo Aboriginal Justice Group and the City of Sydney Aboriginal Advisory Committee. Bronwyn delivers mentoring training, cultural awareness and community education workshops. She is also a highly skilled mediator and is a registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner with the Australian Government Department of the Attorney General. Many of her roles have and continue to be carried out in an unpaid voluntary capacity.

Most recently, Bronwyn has performed a leadership role in educating and leading women in the Aboriginal community about lateral violence.

The Mercy Foundation Board awards the Cath Leary Social Justice Award each year to an outstanding individual or organisation that has made a substantial contribution to social justice in Australia. The Award is named in honor of the late Cath Leary, long term Board member of the Mercy Foundation who worked tirelessly for social justice in her lifetime.

We congratulate Bronwyn on this significant achievement.