Twenty one years ago a parent, supported by the Federation of Parents and Friends, questioned why her daughter, who had a severe disability, would not be able to attend the Catholic school her brother was attending, due to a lack of resources.
Bishop Michael Malone, newly installed as the Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, issued the challenge to the Catholic Schools Office to ensure that it provided the resources to enable such students to have a Catholic Education. It was music to the ears of our Special Needs staff who had been seeking such support for some time.
The Federation of Parents and Friends Associations, the parent body representing each school’s Parents and Friends Association established a Special Needs Working Party in cooperation with the Catholic Schools Office’s Special Needs department.
Since that time the allocation of vast resources has characterised the support given to students with special needs and the enrolment of these students has accelerated to the point where the Maitland Newcastle system of schools holds one of the highest percentage of students with special needs in the state.
The enrolment of these students is celebrated every year with the Special Needs Mass, another initiative of the Special Needs Working Party, at which our Bishop and other clergy celebrate through the Eucharist the special contribution students with disabilities make to our schools. It also acknowledges the many staff in schools and in the Catholic Schools Office who support these students in their schooling.
Bishop Bill celebrated the 19th Annual Special Needs Mass at St James Catholic Church in Muswellbrook last Tuesday, assisted by Upper Hunter priests, Frs Anthony Nguyen, John Tobin, George Mullappillil and Peter Thoai Ngoc Nguyen.
With the theme of “Unity Strengthened by Diversity” the Mass celebrated the many diverse gifts our students with additional needs bring to the unity of our school system and to each individual school.
A special feature of the Mass was the creation of jigsaw puzzle reflecting the theme of Catholic Schools Week for 2016, I Belong, You Belong, We Belong. The pieces of the puzzle were brought forward by students with special needs, student leaders and school staff emphasising the unity that is demonstrated in our schools every day.
I particularly want to thank Bishop Bill and the Upper Hunter clergy for celebrating the Mass for us and the parish of Muswellbrook for hosting this important celebration.
Special thanks go to Niamh Marzol, Principal of St James Primary School, Muswellbrook, Religious Education Coordinator, Jane Jacobs, Parent Liaison and Resources Officer Cath Garrett-Jones and Sr Louise Gannon for all the preparation that goes into such a celebration.
This was the first Special Needs Mass held in the Upper Hunter and the presence of so many students, parents, grandparents, parishioners and school staff from across the diocese was in itself a wonderful affirmation of the unity and diversity that exists in our school system.