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Meet the first Australian female lieutenant of the Catholic Church’s oldest Order of Knighthood

Dr Monica Thomson

Leader: First female Lieutenant of the Queensland Lieutenancy, Dr Monica Thomson.

BRISBANE dentist and lawyer Monica Thomson is already a gender trailblazer.

Last weekend at St Stephen’s Cathedral, Dr Thomson was installed as the first Australian female lieutenant of the oldest of all the Orders of Knighthood in the Catholic Church.

After 20 years as a dame of the Queensland chapter of the legendry Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, she adds a black cape and a gold mantilla to her hooded robes to distinguish herself as the new chapter leader.

Her robes were blessed during the installation by Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

“I am very proud to be the first woman in Australia, and the seventh worldwide,” Dr Thomson, 65, mother of three sons and grandmother of eight, said.

“I was one of the original members when our chapter was formed and I hope to carry on the good work during my term as lieutenant.”

Knights and dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre are devoted to building up the faith and practice amongst members, and sustaining the spiritual, charitable and social works of the Church in the Holy Land including Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

They donate as individuals rather than fundraise, and worldwide the order has raised $50 million for hospitals, schools, parishes, social centres and universities in the Holy Land.  Dr Thomson has already made several pilgrimages there.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the first knights that were established by Godfrey de Bouillon around the Sepulchre of Our Lord as a guard of honour immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.

They were approved as an order in a Bull of Approbation by Pope Paschal II in February 1113.

Equestrian Order

Ancient order: (Left) The Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at St Stephen’s Cathedral with Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Bishop Joseph Oudeman and concelebrating clergy.

In 1888, Pope Leo XIII authorised the order to give women similar honours as men. 

As a result Dames of the Holy Sepulchre share the same rights and privileges as knights of the order including licence to ride a horse – should they wish – into a church or cathedral.

Dr Thomson said she would not be taking up that ancient right.

“I’ve only ever ridden once or twice. I am not a horsewoman, but I do like to go to the races,” she said.

Dr Thomson (née O’Dea) was one of six children. She was born and educated in Fortitude Valley and attended St Patrick’s and All Hallows’ School. 

She went on to rise to the top of two male-dominated professions.

First, Dr Thomson graduated in dentistry, and married David, also a dentist and a knight of the order.

While a practising dentist, Dr Thomson became the first woman appointed to a dental board in Australia.

It was then that she studied law to help with her board work. She went on to practise as a barrister in the 1990s before returning to dentistry.

She now works in both private practice and as a senior clinical supervisor at the Dental School at the University of Queensland.


Installation: Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre Grand Prior of Australia – Queensland Lieutenancy Archbishop Mark Coleridge presents the first female Lieutenant of the Queensland Lieutenancy Dr Monica Thomson with her decree from Cardinal O’Brien while Fr Adrian Farrelly holds the gown.

“People ask me which I prefer – dentistry or law. I would have to say they are different,” she said.

“The main difference is that as a dentist I’m in control. As a barrister, you’re standing in front of a judge and they’re in control.”

As Lieutenant of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Dr Thomson sees one key role as continuing to raise donations from amongst the 100 Queensland chapter members in Brisbane and Townsville.

“We have probably sent over in the past four years $35,000 a year – all donations. We don’t fundraise,” she said.

Some of the funds go to supporting a small school in the West Bank town of Ramallah, about 10km north of Jerusalem.

Dr Thomson said the funds went to buying books, paying teachers and just keeping the school running.

The order also supports a new university in the Jordanian city of Madaba.

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