Previous Recipients

2016 Cath Leary Social Justice Award

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. 


2015 Cath Leary Social Justice Award

Sr Carmel McDonough RSM

The 2015 winner of the Cath Leary Social Justice Award is Sr Carmel McDonough RSM. This award recognises the significant contribution Sr Carmel has made to a range of social justice issues over a great many years. It also recognises her leadership in providing education on social justice issues to young women. Sr Carmel has made a long and valuable contribution to the Mercy Foundation as a Board member, retiring from the board this year, and as a member of the Grants Committee.

This award recognises the significant personal contribution Sr Carmel has given to issues as diverse as asylum seekers and refugees, indigenous Australians, people living in poverty and people experiencing homelessness. She is recognized as an outstanding educator and role model for young women who are learning about the need to take action on issues of social inequality and social justice.

This award is named after Cath Leary, former board member, long term member of the grants committee and passionate social justice advocate. Cath gave generously of her time and worked tirelessly for people and communities who needed a voice. Cath lived her life in a manner that exemplified the values of the Mercy Foundation.

Cath was a dear friend of the Foundation and Sr Carmel. Cath passed away in 2014 and the Social Justice Award was renamed in her honour.

We congratulate Sr Carmel on her significant contribution to social justice and social justice education in Australia.


2014 Cath Leary Social Justice Award

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Congratulations to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Melbourne on being the recipient of the 2014 Mercy Foundation Social Justice Award - now known as the Cath Leary Social Justice Award.

This award recognises the significant contribution that the ASRC has made to providing asylum seekers with a range of practical and other assistance. The Mercy Foundation is particularly impressed by the way in which the ASRC uses professional volunteers to provide translation, interpreting and legal assistance.

The Mercy Foundation also recognises and congratulates the ASRC on their other programs which assist asylum seekers with casework, access to technology and education and which help provide a sense of community connectedness. Such help is provided by the ASRC in a spirit of compassion, to people who have fled untenable situations in their country of origin, and their work represents the very essence of social justice.

CEO of the ASRC, Kon Karapanagiotidis, was presented with the award by Sr Loreto Conroy, Leader of the North Sydney Sisters of Mercy, at a special forum on asylum seekers held at the Mercy Foundation on Thursday 28 August 2014.


2012/13 Mercy Foundation Social Justice Award

Stephanie Brennan

This award recognises the significant contribution Stephanie has made to address homelessness in Western Sydney. Stephanie's initiative, leadership and enthusiasm helped bring together over 80 organisations to address homelessness in Western Sydney through Project 40. A resulting decrease in homelessness in the region was a direct result of this campaign.

This award also recognises Stephanie's significant personal contribution to the goal of ending homelessness. Stephanie was a founding member in establishing both the Nepean Campaign Against Homelessness and the Nepean/Blacktown Regional Taskforce on Homelessness. Stephanie regularly contributed to the sector through speaking engagements and sector events.

Stephanie is an outstanding role model for other service providers in helping to end homelessness for many vulnerable Australians.


 2011 Mercy Foundation Social Justice Award

 Micah Projects

Congratulations to MICAH PROJECTS Queensland, recipients of the Mercy Foundation's 2011 Social Justice Award. The award was given in recognition of the outstanding contribution Micah Projects makes to ending homelessness.

In June last year, Micah Projects launched the 50 Lives 50 Homes campaign. Micah Projects was the first NGO to coordinate Registry Week, where they interviewed people sleeping rough in the inner city of Brisbane. Using the Vulnerability Index, the information they collected was used to produce a register of the most vulnerable people sleeping rough in Brisbane. They have exceeded their initial targets of housing 50 vulnerable people, with nearly 90 people housed as a result of this campaign.

During the Queensland flood disaster earlier this year, the team worked tirelessly to ensure homeless and marginally housed people were provided with emergency housing, food and support.

Micah Projects led the implementation of the Common Ground initiative in Brisbane and they have been chosen by the Queensland government as support providers to people living in the building. It opened in July 2012.

The mission of Micah Projects is to respond to people experiencing poverty, injustice and social isolation so that they may experience inclusion, economic well-being, justice and connection within their community of choice. Congratulations to Karyn Walsh, Micah Projects Coordinator and her team on their outstanding contribution to ending homelessness.


2010 Social Justice Award


On May 18, 2010, Grocon, an Australian construction company, was awarded the Mercy Foundation’s social justice award for its corporate leadership and its financial and practical support for Common Ground permanent supportive housing projects throughout Australia.

In 2007 Grocon made an initial commitment to build the new Common Ground development in Elizabeth St, Melbourne ‘at cost’. This pledge was worth some millions of dollars to this project. Grocon has built the Elizabeth St Common Ground project as a Design and Construct contract on a zero profit, zero margin basis and with a 100 per cent return of net savings to the client.

This building, which will very soon open, will permanently end the homelessness of approximately 65 people. It will also provide about 66 additional low cost and affordable housing units for people in low wage jobs.

Since that initial commitment, Grocon has gone on to pledge the same support to all capital cities and they are currently involved in building, without profit, Common Ground buildings in Sydney and Brisbane. They have also made commitments to offer a number of positions to homeless and formerly homeless people to work on each of these construction projects.

They are the first private company to be awarded the Mercy Foundation Social Justice Award. Jane Wilson accepted the award on behalf of Grocon CEO, Daniel Grollo.


 2009 Social Justice Award

Catherine House, Adelaide

The Mercy Foundation made its annual Social Justice Award to Catherine House, Adelaide. Sr Jennie Ryan, Congregation Leader of the North Sydney Sisters of Mercy, made the award to the Director of Catherine House, Ms Madge McGuire.

Sr Ryan stated that she is “pleased to make the award to such a wonderful service for women in South Australia. Catherine House is a leader in its field and the work it does to promote social justice for homeless women is exceptional”.

Catherine House is a service for homeless women in Adelaide. It was chosen by the Mercy Foundation to be this year’s recipient because of its holistic work with women to help solve their homelessness. Catherine House provides supported accommodation to women over the age of 21 without accompanying children, affected by homelessness.

Catherine House sees its key purpose as solving women’s homelessness through improved self-sufficiency and ability to access services. Staff work from an empowerment perspective, working both on the personal and the political levels.

Catherine House now also has on-site a Vocational Education and Employment centre called Sagarmatha, which through a variety of courses and activities assists women to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to gain employment, create a healthy lifestyle and settle into permanent housing. Catherine House has also recently established its first permanent housing for women.

Catherine House was presented with a plaque as well as a $5000 cheque towards their important work with vulnerable and homeless women.


2006 Social Justice Award

Animation Project, Campbelltown

The Animation Project in Campbelltown, NSW, is an innovative community development and education project which works with residents of large public housing estates in Sydney’s outer south-western suburbs. It was established in April 1999 by the St Vincent de Paul Society.

The Animation Project fosters principles of self-determination, ‘people power’, inclusion, participation, solidarity, critical thinking and local decision making. The Project builds on the strengths, experience and knowledge of local communities. The Mercy Foundation sees in the Animation Project work which empowers those most marginalised to bring about social change. It works alongside those experiencing poverty in respectful and non-dominating ways for the common purpose of developing a more just world.

In conjunction with the 2006 Social Justice Award, the Mercy Foundation also recognised the work of others in the field of social justice:

The Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) celebrated 10 years of its work in November 2006. On this occasion, the Mercy Foundation acknowledged the outstanding contribution of the ERC in creating a more just and sustainable world through its work of research, community education, advocacy and networking. The ERC has delivered projects and initiatives over the last ten years which have significantly influenced a large audience of people on a large number of issues.

The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) has been one of those standout organisations in the field of social justice which has made significant achievements. AFTINET supplies education materials, regular bulletins and speakers at public events; makes submissions to government and opposition parties to change Australian trade policy; and forms links with similar organisations in other countries to argue for different and fairer rules for international trade and investment.

Peter Arndt’s contributions to social justice in relation to Indigenous Australians are significant. Peter has worked tirelessly to bring an Indigenous perspective to the work of the Justice and Peace Commission. Peter has made efforts to include and empower Murri persons within the Catholic Church and has thus created a model for other peace and justice groups. Peter is respectful of the Indigenous community and acts in solidarity with them.


2005 Social Justice Award

Toward Critical Mass Project

The 2005 Social Justice Award was presented to the Toward Critical Mass Project of the School of Social Work and Community Welfare at James Cook University, Townsville , Queensland on 13 December, 2005.

The Toward Critical Mass Project has as its aim to turn around the decline in numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates from the School of Social Work and Community Welfare. The School saw the decline in the numbers of Indigenous graduates as an injustice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The School believed it was their responsibility to reverse the decline by making their courses more inclusive of Indigenous culture and knowledge. This, in the longer term, will increase the number of Indigenous Australians employed in the social work field.

Initiated in 2005, the Toward Critical Mass Project developed specific recruitment strategies and implemented the recommendations from their own research on barriers to completion of studies by Indigenous students. These included ‘Indigenising’ the curriculum, employing an Indigenous lecturer and involving Indigenous community members in the School’s decision-making.

The Award recognises in particular the commitment of the Toward Critical Mass Project in working with the Indigenous communities to bring about structural change by implementing an Indigenous Reference Group to inform the work of the School, creating a more just and inclusive society.


2003-4 Social Justice Award

Asian Women At Work

The 2003-4 Mercy Foundation Award for achievement in the field of social justice was presented to Asian Women at Work and Fair Wear.

The Award was made in recognition of the work done by Asian Women at Work and Fair Wear to bring about a more just society, by working strategically to improve wages and conditions for workers in the Australian garment industry.

This work began with the women involved in the garment industry. It has been a process of empowering those who are exploited and in this it models the changes sought at every level of the industry. The strategies employed address the injustice of outworker conditions at all levels of the industry: workers, contractors, manufacturers, retailers, unions and government. Those involved have been diligent in empowering workers and persistent in establishing Codes of Practice within the industry and in ensuring that appropriate legislation is enacted to protect workers’ rights.

They have shown incisive knowledge of the issues, practical application of a wide range of skills and extensive networking that involves a wide range of institutions and community groups. Campaign activities have been infused with creative flair that highlighted the issues, informed consumers, gently confronted retailers, and attracted young people to the cause.

The Award wishes to recognise in particular the perseverance and creativity of Asian Women at Work and Fair Wear in working to bring about structural change and create a more just society.


2002 Social Justice Award

Social Action Office

The 2002 Mercy Foundation Award for achievement in the field of social justice was presented to the Social Action Office - Queensland.

The Award was made in recognition of the Social Action Office’s leadership and work in striving to bring about a more just society.

Since its establishment ten years ago the Social Action Office has consistently worked to bring about systemic change in political and social systems which exclude impoverished and disempowered people. It has underpinned its work with quality research and effective strategies. Nor has it shrunk from taking controversial positions when this has been called for. More recently the Social Action Office has taken a leading position in community education on environmental concerns.

The Award wishes to recognise in particular the work of the Social Action Office in the 1999-2000 Marginal Electorates Campaign, Fair Go Fair Share. This initiative well illustrates its commitment to the promotion of human rights and work for structural change. The welfare of those who suffer injustice is truly the primary concern of the Social Action Office.