The second-year Bachelor of Psychological Science student is the inaugural winner of the Frances Xavier Conaci scholarship which will assist him to study at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Rome Centre this month as part of his International Core Curriculum studies.

Nathan is an Aboriginal student from Brisbane, with cultural connections to Yieman country. Nathan plans to pursue a career providing mental health support to remote communities. A particular interest is examining criminal or forensic psychology in order to work with incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship recognises the life of an extraordinary Indigenous seminarian and enables an Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student to study at the Rome Centre.

The scholarship commemorates the story of Francis Xavier Conaci, an Aboriginal boy, who in the mid 1850s was sent from New Norcia Western Australia to Rome to study in a Benedictine monastery.

Sadly, Conaci died while in Rome and was buried in an unmarked grave with other Benedictine community members.

Nathan was awarded the scholarship in Brisbane in May and travelled to Italy in early July.

ACU and the Australian Embassy to the Holy See hosted a ceremony during NAIDOC Week to acknowledge the scholarship. The timing coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Greg Craven said the award recognised the relationship and spiritual connection between the young Aboriginal scholar and our University.

“ACU is honoured to have the opportunity to recognise and honour the life of this important young Australian,” Professor Craven said.

“The Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship is an important initiative which has strong support from both the New Norcia Aboriginal community and the Benedictine Monastery in New Norcia. I am particularly delighted that Nathan is the first student to receive this opportunity to study at our wonderful Centre in Rome.”

Nathan is closely involved with ACU’s Weemala Indigenous Higher Education Unit and also mentors Indigenous students at a Brisbane high school.

“As a psychology student, I realise the importance of being able to work with people of all different cultures and there is no way to truly understand a culture so different to your own, unless you have lived it,” Nathan said.

“This opportunity means that I can gain a greater understanding of the thoughts and views that supersede culture, and as such I can learn and grow as a person in ways that I couldn’t possibly do otherwise,” he said.

ACU has worked in close partnership with the Australian Embassy to the Holy See on the initiative, and has collaborated with the Benedictine community of New Norcia and the New Norcia Aboriginal Corporation in developing the scholarship to respectfully honour Conaci’s memory.

ACU is committed to providing education opportunities and supporting success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the First Peoples and Equity Pathways Directorate and Indigenous Higher Education Units located at each campus, as well as scholarships and bursaries.