(Vatican Radio) A 19 year old Aboriginal student from Brisbane has been named as the inaugural Francis Xavier Conaci scholar, an initiative providing educational opportunities for young people from Australia’s Indigenous communities.
Nathan Pitt was announced on Thursday as the first student to be awarded the scholarship, which allows him to study this month at the Rome campus of Australian Catholic University. He’s currently studying psychology at ACU’s Brisbane campus and plans to pursue a career providing mental health support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote, rural communities.
The scholarship is named after a 19th century Aboriginal student, Francis Xavier Conaci, who was encouraged by a Benedictine abbot in Western Australia to travel to Rome to study, in the hope that he could return to work as a monk within his native community. Conaci died in 1853 at the Rome abbey of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, but his legacy lives on in this new initiative, supported by Australia’s embassy to the Holy See.
Philippa Hitchen spoke with Nathan Pitt to discover how he hopes to take forward that challenging task of empowering Australia’s indigenous communities….
Nathan Pitt speaks of his family background, of his Catholic education and of how he grabbed at this opportunity to spend time in Rome to round out his culture and gain a more global perspective in order to be able to go home with better tools and knowledge with which to contribute to building a more just society.
Nathan also expresses his own thoughts and gives a personal perspective on the often tragic history of aboriginal Australians: “there were unfortunately groups who just trampled on all the indigenous people had, and forced their own cultures onto them”.
But, he points out, there were also those who came in and shared their culture, like Francis Xavier Conaci, who worked together with indigenous people helping them to build and develop their communities.
“I think there needs to be a lot more light shed onto the positive aspects” he said.
Nathan speaks of various initiatives that celebrate indigenous culture and heritage and all kinds of aspects of indigenous Australian life pointing out the valuable contribution of Church groups who lend their support and collaboration in building a positive relationship and shining the light on traditional culture.
Above all, Nathan speaks of his own desire to help empower indigenous communities and - in particular - help them to overcome deep-rooted discrepancies and injustice in a situation in which health care and imprisonment negatively affect generations of indigenous Australians: “I’m studying psychology and the key parts of my studies are going to be in criminal psychology and forensic psychology, not so much to go in and help people who have already been imprisoned, but to get in early and help young indigenous Australians to try and break that cycle of imprisonment”.