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Scholarship brings Australian First Nations students to Rome

Recipients of the 2023 Francis Xavier Scholarship discuss the award’s namesake – a 19th century Aboriginal boy who trained as a Benedictine monk –and describe their aspirations to help First Nations communities back in Australia.

By Joseph Tulloch

Every summer, the Francis Xavier Scholarship brings Australian First Nations students to Rome.

Sponsored by Australian Catholic University and the Australian Embassy to the Holy See, the scholarship owes its name to Francis Xavier Conaci, was a 19th-century Australian Aboriginal boy who travelled to Rome to train as a monk before dying tragically young.

This year’s recipients are Raylene Pennay, 38, a Gungarri woman, and Tyahn Bell, 22, a Ngunnawal woman

In an interview with Vatican News, which you can listen to below, the pair discussed travelling in the footsteps of Francis Xavier Conaci, and their aspirations to help First Nations communities back in their native Australia.

“It was nice,” said Pennay, “to be able to go and imagine what his [Conaci’s] life was like for him, coming to Rome as well, from Australia, as a young boy. Having taken flights to get here, I can’t imagine how it would have been coming by boat away from your family and your lands and having this new experience. So it was nice to go where they believe he’s buried, and be able to sort of pay our respects to him and really think about what that means.”

Bell, meanwhile, says she wants to “bring a message back home, to my people as well, that we are made for ‘deadly’ things, even though there are systemic barriers and obstacles in place in Australia.”

“I always like the saying”, she adds, “that our ancestors have paved our way, and we can follow.”

Listen to the full interview

The interview at Vatican News' offices

The interview at Vatican News’ offices

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