An interview with Dr Mary Nuttall

Published: Wednesday 16th July 2014


Originally from Castlemaine, Dr Mary Nuttall rsm (Religious Sister of Mercy) moved to Ballarat in 1964 and her first job was as a secretary in a produce/real estate company. This only lasted one year before she followed in her parents' footsteps to become a teacher. 

Throughout her career Dr Nuttall has helped to shape the minds and souls of many students in the Ballarat region. She has held positions as a primary school teacher, a junior secondary school teacher, and a principal of a Catholic primary school.

In 1957 she felt a calling to follow a vowed way of life and after some initial doubts as to the choice of vocation, joined the Sisters of Mercy to pursue a life of service in the field of education.

"My belief in God was strong and I thought that it was God's plan for me to become a Sister of Mercy."

The founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley has always been her inspiration. Catherine was an inspirational woman who sought to alleviate the sufferings of homeless women and children by providing care and education.

Founded in Ireland in 1831 and established in Ballarat in 1881, the Sisters of Mercy have had a long association with ACU of more than 100 years, establishing the Aquinas Training College in 1911 and its successor Sacred Heart Teachers' College in the 1970s. Sacred Heart Teachers' College became Aquinas Campus, one of three campuses of the Institute of Catholic Education (ICE) and in 1991 Aquinas became one of six ACU campuses (now expanded to seven)

"The strong and enduring partnership between the Sisters of Mercy and ACU means that the legacy of Catherine McAuley and the Mercy charism can be expressed in the living out of ACU's commitment to the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good," Dr Nuttall said.

In 1978 Dr Nuttall moved to Canada for three years where she studied the philosophy of community schools and pursued a Master of Arts (Education) degree that focussed on community education, before settling back in Ballarat. In 1981 she was appointed to ICE where she worked as a lecturer in the School of Education for more than 30 years.

She said she joined ACU as it closely aligned with her own philosophy of service.

"ACU has a precious culture that fosters great respect and appreciation for each member of the ACU community. The Ballarat campus is a lovely place to work; it has always been a delight to wake up in the morning knowing that I am coming to work at ACU," she said.

"Staff are committed to helping others and we all work on a level playing field. I feel as if we each have many gifts to contribute to the community, to facilitate learning and well‐being for one another."

Throughout her time at ACU, Dr Nuttall has nurtured and assisted in the development of hundreds of students on their own journey to becoming a teacher.

"I have many happy memories at ACU, of students graduating, in particular students who struggled with disabilities such as cystic fibrosis, blindness and other varieties of learning difficulties. It was always a privilege to be a part of their learning journey and to see them persevere against great odds to fulfil their goals."

As an Honorary Fellow of ACU, Dr Nuttall hopes to foster close relationships among ACU, the Catholic Education Office and schools.

"I am very interested in further developing a Family Learning Program with school communities. The British‐based 'hands‐on' program is designed for parents to support their child's learning in practical ways. This program has already been implemented in a number of schools," she said.

"As a result of the program, we have found that parents and children foster stronger relationships within the family and with the school. Increases in children's self‐esteem and confidence in learning have also been noted," she said.

Dr Nuttall looks forward to other opportunities to forge partnerships with educational bodies that may become available as a Fellow of ACU.

"I love community education; where we use our community as an educational resource. The community is made up of people, resources and talents, and it is a matter of mobilising these community attributes for the betterment of the community."

Even in retirement, Dr Nuttall would like to continue to serve the community and to remain connected to ACU.

"I want to help people and be helped by people. We all have gifts and it is our duty to help people realise their gifts and fulfil their potential," she said.

"I like to celebrate life. I have had a blessed life and feel privileged to be on this earth and to have experienced all that I have and to have met so many people who have helped me to grow and to be of service to others."