Scholarship winner to continue journey begun in 1849

Recipient of the 2019 Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship, Calle Nicholls (Australian Embassy to the Holy See/David Dodd)

Calle Nicholls, a “proud woman of the Wiradjuri tribe”, has been presented with the 2019 Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship at a ceremony in Rome. Source: Vatican News/ACU.

The scholarship was established in recognition of Francis Xavier Conaci, an Aboriginal student, who travelled to Rome in 1849 from New Norcia, Western Australia, to study in Rome with the aim of travelling back to his country after his studies to spread the Gospel message.

Unfortunately Conaci died while in Rome, and is understood to be buried with other Benedictine community members in a grave in the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls.

The presentation of the 2019 scholarship, now in its third year, was timed to take place during NAIDOC Week.

Studying a Bachelor of Social Work at ACU’s Canberra campus, Ms Nicholls told Vatican News she aims to work in rural Australia after graduation, particularly with youth and young people who had been incarcerated.

“I would like to work with Indigenous kids, in Western Australia (and) in the Northern Territory where the youth incarceration rates are quite high; I would like to go in there and see what needs to be fixed” she said as she geared up for an exciting three weeks in the eternal city.

 Australia's ambassador to the Holy See, Melissa Hitchman, congratulated Ms Nicholls, reflecting that, though ACU’s generosity, the scholarship allowed Francis Xavier Conaci’s journey to continue for future generations.

“Much of his story remains a mystery. It deserves to be discovered and fully revealed. Calle and the other Conaci Scholars have the privilege of retracing his footsteps and forging their own way towards a renewed church/state/Indigenous future,” she said at the ceremony.

Ms Nicholls said she was delighted to receive the award and was excited to be studying at the ACU Rome Campus.

“I was extremely grateful and excited when I found out I had been awarded this particular scholarship. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and, with only one student being selected, I feel very proud to be this particular person and look forward to representing my culture.”


Calle Nicholls: an Aboriginal student in the footsteps of Francis Xavier Conaci (Vatican News)

Rome scholarship honours Aboriginal student (ACU Media Release)

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