HEARTFELT TESTIMONY: Former Sisters of Mercy leader Di-Anne Rowan speaks to the Royal Commission panel at yesterday’s final hearing day into Neerkol Orphanage.
HEARTFELT TESTIMONY: Former Sisters of Mercy leader Di-Anne Rowan speaks to the Royal Commission panel at yesterday’s final hearing day into Neerkol Orphanage. Austin King Rokhearing

Former Sisters of Mercy boss says victims ‘changed my life’

"THERE is a line in Christianity that says no pain no gain."

And that phrase means you have to do hard things to receive great rewards.

Those were the words former Sisters of Mercy boss Di-Anne Rowan used to describe the insight she had into the conditions and the environment for the nuns who worked at Neerkol Orphanage from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In her genuine, honest and heartfelt testimony at yesterday's final Royal Commission hearing day, Di-Anne said she believed many of the nuns were living in a time where there were lots of rules and consequences.

However, she thought there was a "series of disciplinary levels", plus other forms of corporal punishment policies the nuns and other Sisters of Mercy staff adopted as acceptable but were "regrettable".

"If those forms of punishment did not have the desired result, another level of action was administered... and that was very regrettable," Di-Anne told the commission.

In her time as the congregation leader of the Sisters of Mercy, Di-Anne initiated several communication links between Neerkol victims and Sisters of Mercy staff members, State Government Ministers, church personnel and other organisations.

It was Di-Anne and the members of the Professional Standards Committee who worked towards the healing and justice process when Neerkol abuse victims started coming forward.

She also worked closely with several sexual and physical abuse victims, who lived at Neerkol, during her time as congregation leader.

She said she remained compassionate and understanding during her interaction with the victims.

Di-Anne even went as far to say the victims' stories, and her interaction with them, changed her life.

"Coming from a small town like Blackall, attending boarding school and having family around me, the allegations and stories of abuse at Neerkol was very foreign to me," she said.

"It has been wonderful to meet them again... some of the victims have been sending through Christmas cards and ongoing communications and it has been extremely wonderful and an absolute privilege."

Di-Anne was the one who suggested to then Bishop of Rockhampton Brian Heenan it would be best that Father Reginald Durham discontinue living at the Neerkol presbytery.

She also declined former orphanage employee Kevin Baker's request for assistance to pay his legal fees when he was charged for his alleged misconduct.

She thanked and congratulated the victims yesterday for telling the commission their stories.

"I would like to thank them for their courage," she said, as she turned to the back of the courtroom to address them directly.

"I had read many accounts of their stories but when you hear them it makes a difference."

Di-Anne also acknowledged the work of the Neerkol Action Group and thanked the Royal Commission for giving victims the opportunity to retell their stories.

Yesterday was the last day of hearings for the Royal Commission Inquiry into Neerkol Orphanage.

The next step in the inquiry is the written submissions process.

Counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Sophie David SC, will send out a written submission to all the parties in the inquiry.

They will then have the opportunity to respond to that submission before final submissions are handed down towards the middle of this year.

The final report into this public hearing will be delivered to government later this year.



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