In trying to choose the highlights of the year, it became very obvious that there isn't space to do justice to the many beautiful aspects of school life I have observed in 2015.
It began with the annual Called to Serve Mass where the staff of our schools are commissioned by Bishop Bill Wright to accept the challenge of providing Catholic education to the children in our care. Sacred Heart Cathedral was packed to overflowing as we acknowledged the recipients of the Monsignor Coolahan Awards and celebrated as a Catholic community committed to teaching the Gospel.
A few weeks later, we celebrated Catholic Schools Week and joined Bishop Bill, staff and many student leaders in celebrating the distinctiveness of Catholic schools. The Catholic Schools Week Mass was highlighted by a choir comprising students from our ASPIRE Program and St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton. The impact of beautiful singing in a liturgy was very evident in this celebration.
A special feature of Catholic Schools Week was the opening of St Aloysius Catholic Primary School at Chisholm, the first newly established school built in the diocese in over 30 years. We continued the round of blessing and opening new facilities in our schools, including the award winning Sr Marie Centre at St Pius X High School, Adamstown and the Damascus Centre at St Paul’s High School Booragul. Catholic education was celebrated in a special way at St Brigid’s Primary School, Raymond Terrace, as the community reflected on 165 years of Catholic schooling in the town, whilst 100 years was marked at St Joseph’s Denman.
Our Performing Arts programs continued to go from strength to strength with DioSounds and ASPIRE proving beautiful expressions of student talents nurtured by dedicated mentors and teachers. Newcastle’s Civic Centre reverberated to the sound and sight of music, singing, drama and dance of a high quality.
The Special Needs Mass held at Holy Name Church in Forster and the Deaf Pride Mass held in the Cathedral were both occasions when the special needs of students were acknowledged liturgically by Bishop Bill and members of the clergy. These were celebrations of great joy and a wonderful testament to the work of the staff in our schools who provide learning support to students with special needs.
The announcement of the recommendations of the Study into the Provision of Secondary Education in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle was a highlight of the year and reflected a detailed consultative process that will provide two new secondary schools in the diocese and the extension of two schools from Years 7-10 to Years 7-12 by 2020.
The visit by the Catholic Education Commission to our diocese for its August meeting enabled the members of the CEC, from all parts of NSW, to witness the uniqueness of Catholic education in our diocese, most evident in the welcome that was extended to them in their visits to our primary and secondary schools and their conversations with student leaders.
A wonderful highlight of the year was the success of three of our secondary schools in representing NSW in the final of the Science and Engineering Challenge held at the University of Newcastle. St Mary’s, Gateshead, St Pius X, Adamstown and All Saints College, St Peter’s Campus, competed against schools from all states except Western Australia and St Peter’s took out the title after an absorbing set of challenges.
As all these highlights are called to mind, it is impossible not to reflect on the unheralded work of principals, teaching and support staff of our schools and the staff of the Catholic Schools Office. To have a vocation that impacts so strongly on the development of the young people in our care is an enormous privilege and our staff respond to this privilege with dedication and passion.
We are supported by our Bishop, members of the clergy and religious congregations, the Federation of Parents and Friends Association and the various Parents and Friends Associations in each school.
For me, our year is ending with one of the outstanding attributes of our system of schools and that is the quality of our student leaders. I have had the great privilege of meeting with them on various occasions and last week accompanied many to the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide. They always impressed me in their commitment to their schools, their fellow students and to their communities.
There are so many other highlights of our year but space does not allow me to elaborate. However, I want to conclude with my deep appreciation of the staff of our schools and the CSO for all they do to ensure that our system of schools provides a high quality Catholic education to our students.
I wish all staff, students and parents of our Catholic schools a blessed and happy Christmas and I look forward to another successful and satisfying school year in 2016.