Mary Eastham Receives Queen’s Service Medal for Interfaith Work

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May 31, 2024

Dr. Mary Eastham, an active member of the Catholic community in Palmerston North and a dedicated supporter of interfaith activities, finally received her Queen’s Service Medal last week at a ceremony at Government House. Although Mary was bestowed the honour last year, the official presentation took place on Wednesday, 22 May, with her family present to share in the celebration.

Mary’s dedication to interfaith relations is well-known in Palmerston North. She helped establish the Palmerston North Interfaith Group (PNIG) in 2011, a group that represents various religious traditions and faiths within the community. Through her work with PNIG, Mary has been instrumental in promoting understanding and cooperation among different faith groups.

For over a decade, Mary served as the Bishop of Palmerston North’s representative on the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Interfaith Relations. She is currently a member of the national Religious Diversity Centre, continuing her efforts to foster dialogue and collaboration among diverse religious communities.

Mary was included in the King’s Birthday and Coronation Honours List 2023 in recognition of her services to interfaith communities. Upon receiving the honour, she expressed her gratitude and humility, sharing the recognition with those she has worked alongside. “This award recognises the wonderful work of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Committee in all six dioceses since 2009 and the great work achieved by the Palmerston North interfaith group since 2011,” Mary said. “It is such a privilege working with such great people engaged in very important work.”

Her tenure as chair of PNIG from 2011 to 2022 saw numerous initiatives, including multifaith prayer services, vigils following the Christchurch terrorist attacks, and youth sessions addressing global issues like climate change and racism. She has also represented PNIG at national interfaith forums, demonstrating her commitment to fostering peace and harmony in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society.

Reflecting on the award, Mary emphasized the collective effort behind interfaith relations. “For me, the New Zealand Bishops’ Committee for Interfaith Relations was given this award as was the Palmerston North Interfaith Group because interfaith relations is done by a community of people, not one person,” she said. “It has been an honour and privilege to be part of this work.”

Mary’s family joined her at the award ceremony, making the occasion even more special. “I found out that I was receiving it on 12 May 2023, which happened to be my birthday, so what a gift!” she recalled. The medal was presented by the Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, with Mary’s daughters Casey and Alison, and their families, proudly witnessing the moment.

Mary Eastham’s Queen’s Service Medal is a testament to her tireless efforts and the positive impact she has made in promoting interfaith understanding and cooperation in New Zealand.

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