Papal honour for Armidale’s ‘Go to Man’
15 July 2021
Left to right: Paul Burton, Armidale Central Council President; Don Hewitt, Member, St Augustine’s Armidale Conference; Paul Robinson, President St Augustine’s Armidale Conference
“Don has always acted out of faith to bring hope through serving in a sensitive manner those in need” - Award Citation for Don Hewitt
The citation accompanying the Cross Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice (‘for the Church and the Pope’) awarded to Don Hewitt for his service to the St Vincent de Paul Society describes the humble octogenarian as the ‘Go to Man’ in his local area for over fifty years.
His achievements are many and varied, from countless home visits to “the elderly, lonely, sick, broken, poor, addicted, neglected”, through to his key role in the founding and running of Freeman House, Armidale’s alcohol and drug rehab centre and shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
Freeman House began operating in the 1970s and re-opened in 2015 after a major upgrade funded largely as a result of Don Hewitt’s tireless efforts. He also did much of the planning for this state-of-the-art complex.
Today, Freeman House - named after Cardinal James Freeman - is the largest residential rehabilitation service in northern NSW, providing long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation, crisis accommodation, inpatient treatment, aftercare support and programs to accommodate patients with young children.
Don recalls how, “People found the comfort of the Society members and wanted to stay. Some of the best people who helped us were the people that we’d helped.”
The Vatican’s recognition of the man named as ‘Donaldo Arturo Hewitt’ in the handsome accompanying certificate is an honour established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 and given for distinguished service to the Church by lay people and clergy. It is the highest award that can be awarded to the laity. The medal, cast in gold, depicts the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the centre of the Cross. The decoration's ribbon is yellow and white, the colours of the Papacy.
The award was presented to Don by Bishop Michael Kennedy at the Mass at Saints Mary and Joseph’s Cathedral, Armidale on 13 June 2021. Members of his family were in attendance, along with many parishioners and admirers of his work over the years.
Don Hewitt commenced employment at the University of New England in 1957 as a laboratory technician, later advancing to manager. He was also a volunteer fireman on campus. At the age of 27 he joined St Vincent de Paul Society as a means of living out his faith – “I’m not much good at prayer, but I’m pretty good at action”.
The date was 14 February 1966 – Decimal Currency Day.
The award citation notes, “Don possesses a calm capacity to be with a person, listens carefully and maintains a humble manner which affirms others… Don is ever prepared to give to those in need that rare, golden gift: his time and enduring patience. There are people with addictions who have consulted Don on a regular basis for years.”
As the Society’s Regional Council President he obtained millions of dollars in funding to build or renovate 23 centres across the Armidale Diocese that continue to provide thousands of people with household goods, food, finance, counselling services, contact and rehabilitation. Don continues to provide support to people in need as a member of the local St Augustine Conference.
In June 2015, Don Hewitt was awarded Life Membership of the Society and in 2017 was made Armidale’s senior citizen of the year for his work with the Society. He continues in a mentor role, drawing people back to the ideals, regulations and spirit of the Society.
Don and Barbara (nee Carey, a Society member for many years) were married in 1961. They have six children – who say their father was always there for them - and six grandchildren.
Paul Robinson, President of St Augustine’s Armidale Conference, offered congratulations on behalf of all Vincentians, noting that the Cross Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice is a merit award granted in recognition of service to the Church and society.
“It is granted as a symbol of recognition to those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in cooperating with the efforts of the Church. It is the highest award the Pope gives to a lay person, and richly deserved by our brother, Don Hewitt.”