Mary Anne’s Order of Australia: a love story
Jack and Mary Walshe were parishioners in the early years of St Christopher’s Cathedral and involved with the church for many years.
It was a family affair for the Walshe’s with their two daughters Carmel and Mary Anne, and son Peter, all involved in the life of the cathedral in their various ways.
That involvement was recognised when Carmel was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1999 for her services to the community through music at St Christopher’s.
Unfortunately Jack, Mary, and Peter were later to pass away and weren’t to know that further recognition lay in store for the family.
Over twenty years after Carmel’s award, Mary Anne herself has now been recognised with an OAM, with the cathedral playing a major part in her story.
“It’s wonderful, it really is,” said Mary Anne. “It’s more wonderful than I expected.”
“Since the announcement I’ve been overwhelmed by the lovely warm wishes I’ve had from so many people from all walks of my life.”
Mary Anne Neilsen (formerly Walshe) received her award in the recent Queen’s birthday honours list for services to the community as a church organist.
For 50 years she played the organ at both St Christopher’s and the chapel of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
Each Sunday she would play at the 9.30am service at RMC and then head over to St Christopher’s for the 11am mass.
“I call it a vocation really. It’s using a talent that I love…that mix of faith and music is quite important to me.”
That talent also brought love into her life. She met her husband when she was a young organist and he was a cadet at Duntroon.
The love also extends to other churches: she continues to play at St Paul’s Anglican Church at Manuka, the All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie, and the Wesley Uniting Church in Forrest.
She says while she cherishes her catholic heritage, “my life has been enriched by knowing these people of other churches and how welcoming they have been to me has been beautiful.”
And if all this organ playing is not enough she also felt she needed to get in a little extra when on holidays!
Touring England with her husband she wheedled out churches short of an organist and every Sunday on the trip she managed to get her hands on an organ and get a church gig, needing to do what she loved.