Parish life

Mary Ellen Bland—Campbelltown Local Woman of the Year 2023

March 8, 2023

We celebrate International Women’s Day this year by highlighting the faithfulness and contribution of our very own Mary Ellen Bland who has just been named Campbelltown’s Local Woman of the Year 2023. Congratulations Mary Ellen!

We thought that this is the perfect time to re-share an interview that our own Debbie Gates had with Mary Ellen—published in the Winter 2016 edition of Journey Magazine—demonstrating just why everyone loves Mary Ellen Bland in our diocese!


We begin our series in Journey of profiling the many wonderful volunteers in our diocese who work tirelessly behind the scenes. Mary Ellen Bland resides in our Macarthur region and is a member of St John the Evangelist Parish Campbelltown. Since retiring as an early childhood and primary school teacher and leader, Mary Ellen has kept herself busy serving as a volunteer for the benefit of many in the diocese and further afield. Mary Ellen currently serves as a:

  • Member of the Catholic Development Fund (CDF) Advisory Council
  • Member of the Good News Support Program for ex-students of Mater Dei School Camden and adults with special needs
  • Member of the Brother Clarence Foundation, a Marist Brothers organisation providing financial support for students in need in Macarthur schools
  • Director of the Campbelltown Catholic Club Board.

In addition, Mary Ellen has recently retired from the position of Board Chair and Director at St Patrick’s College Campbelltown; Member of the Pastoral Council in her parish; and Board Director of Mercy Works Ltd – a not-for-profit working to improve health, enhance social well-being and expand educational opportunities for people living in Australia and the South-East Asia Pacific region.

You are one busy lady Mary Ellen! How do you get so involved?

For the CDF and the Campbelltown Catholic Club I was identified and approached. I think it may have been because I was very interested and involved with many elements of parish life (eg, RCIA, St Vincent de Paul Society, Parish Pastoral Council, Minister of Liturgy and a member of a working party for the establishment of Catholic schools in the new parishes in Campbelltown in the 1970s and 80s) and that I also had training and management experience in my leadership roles in education. Maybe it was because I also invested with the CDF and was a member of the Campbelltown Catholic Club? Or maybe it was because I was asked nicely and they knew I wouldn’t say no!

For the other organisations, I approached them. I am a graduate of the Institute of Company Directors and undertake annual corporate governance training through seminars, workshops and professional reading.

What have you learnt since becoming involved with these organisations?

The diocese is very Illawarra centric and this is historically so. However there is an upsurge in awareness of the other three regions of the Diocese – the Macarthur, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands – and this is not solely because these are massive growth areas in our diocese. The current Diocesan Pastoral Plan has identified this as a responsibility and I think that collectively we have become far more aware and appreciative of the huge number of people and organisations dedicated to being Bearers of Christ’s Love in our diocese. I see our Bishop and priests being faithful to their vocation, dedicated hard workers and caring servants to their people. I am constantly impressed by the genuine dedication of diocesan staff who bring professional expertise and enthusiasm to their roles and by the commitment of the laity who, on a voluntary basis, take on the many ministries of parish and diocesan life, both at “grass root” and leadership levels.

What are some changes that you have seen during your time with the diocese?

I am very pleased to see the genuine growth in awareness of the breadth of this diocese in all its organisations and ministries. This is evidenced by the spread of diocesan agencies into areas outside the Illawarra region.

I am also very aware of the new challenges that the massive growth in the Macarthur region presents to the diocese. New schools and parishes have to be and are being established. I am very connected to the 16 – soon to be 18 – schools in the Macarthur region in my role as School Liaison Director for the Campbelltown Catholic Club.

In particular, I note these diocesan initiatives:

  • Micah House, CatholicCare’s office in Campbelltown
  • the establishment of the Catholic Education Centre Macarthur
  • the growth in loans made available through the CDF to build and refurbish schools
  • the improved communication between all agencies that has resulted in better strategic financial planning and management of diocesan assets
  • a greater willingness for all stakeholders to share information and data
  • the ongoing professional education of diocesan personnel
  • the emphasis on pastoral planning at parish and diocesan level
  • a growth in the focus on youth services (besides primary and secondary education).

What makes you tick?

I have a thankfulness for the wholesome loving Catholic family into which I was born. God was an ever-present fact of life and so was prayer, which really was conversation with Him. Mass particularly sustains and enriches me.

We kids learnt from our parents that there was no reason we should not strive for the best in everything we did. There was no reason not to be generous with our time, ability and worldly goods. What a gift that has been and indeed it is very satisfying to see this being exhibited in the next generations of my extended family.

I just have to say that my husband, Bruce (now deceased)*, has brought such richness to my life through his love, companionship and guidance in all aspects of raising a family.

God moment?

It took many years for it to become a moment. Now when I wake each day I pray that I will see the face of God in every person I meet that day.

Ideal dinner party guests?

Vicar of Dibley, a piano tuner, my parents, Father George Condookala (now Parish Priest at Port Kembla), Max Walker, my husband Bruce, Kasey Chambers, and the Kerrigan family from the movie “The Castle” (“Dad reckons fishing is 10% brains and 95% muscle and the rest is just good luck!” and “Tell ‘em they’re dreamin!” – my favourite quotes from the movie.)

Claim to fame?

My grandkids reckon I’m a legend! I reckon they just like my cooking. They think that because I was at university in the early 60s, I must have been a hippy and political activist, and so far it benefits me to keep up the illusion!

Debbie Gates is the Director of Development and Community Engagement, Diocese of Wollongong

* Editor’s note: Bruce passed away in 2021, requiescat in pace.



















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