When I began my teaching career at Bourke Public School in 1973 the thought that I would take on such a role 35 years later and continue in that role for this length of time would have been the furthest from my mind.
The role of Director of Schools is a very privileged one as you get to interact with so many people involved in Catholic Education from the Bishops of Australia to the eager young Kindergarten students who are welcomed into our schools across the diocese every year.
I am indebted to Bishop Michael Malone who had the confidence to appoint me initially as Acting Director of Schools in Term 4, 2007 and then to offer me the permanent role in Term 3, 2008. One of my lasting memories of working with Bishop Michael was during the World Youth Day Week in Sydney in 2008 when Pope Benedict gave the much called for apology to the victims of sexual abuse in the Church. Bishop Michael, of all the Church hierarchy, had led the way for such an apology to be provided. The spontaneous reaction of the 300 young people present with Bishop Michael before walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge was something to behold. They recognised the importance Bishop Michael placed on the need for this apology.
I am also indebted to Bishop Bill Wright for allowing me to continue in this role over the last 6 years. Bishop Bill has had many opportunities to be involved in the life of our schools through two activities in particular, the Blessing and Opening of a number of wonderful school facilities including the establishment of St Aloysius Catholic Primary School, at Chisholm and the unveiling of the foundation Stones for two new secondary schools, St Bede’s Catholic College at Chisholm and Catherine McAuley Catholic College at Medowie and the Student leadership Retreats held each year at Riverwood Downs.
Bishop Bill places great emphasis on the importance of these retreats and on the role of our senior student leaders not just as leaders of their respective schools but as the young leaders of the diocese now and into the future.
We cannot have Catholic schools without parents making the decision to send their children to our schools and I thank the thousands of parents who place their trust in the diocese’s system of schools from our very smallest to our largest. This trust is never taken for granted and we endeavour to provide the best possible Catholic education we can for every student in our care. To all our parents I extend a heartfelt “Thank You” for your continuing involvement with our schools. The number of students enrolled in our schools continues to rise every year and that has certainly given us the confidence to plan for new schools to meet this demand in the years ahead.
The students themselves are an absolute delight. Only last Friday I attended St Peter’s Primary School Stockton, where Bishop Bill was to deliver his Christmas Message only to be struck down with illness. He was admirably replaced by Fr Brian Mascord, the Vicar General, and the interaction between Fr Brian and the students was just brilliant. The attentiveness of the students, their beautiful singing, their responses to questions, their involvement in the beginning prayer and their sense of fun will remain with me for a long time. Thankfully I see these qualities reflected in our schools across the diocese.
The Principals, teachers and support staff of our schools are responsible for creating environments like that at St Peter’s that cause so many to want to come to our schools. Their dedication to ensuring our young people grow to be informed, articulate and faith filled members of our society is an essential part of the education program we operate across the diocese. I am indebted to every one of them for all that they do to bring the message of Jesus to those in our care.
I have no doubt that teaching today, with a much more crowded curriculum to when I commenced my career, is an increasingly more difficult vocation and yet I witness regularly the passionate love our staff have for their roles in our schools. To all of you, thank you for all that you do for the students in our schools.
My role as Director of Schools is to ensure that every support possible is extended to these staff and students and I am supported in that task by the members of the Catholic Schools Office. It has certainly been a great privilege to work with such a talented and committed group of people who always have the support of our schools as their major priority. I have often said that my role as Director is very much dependent on the willingness of the staff of the CSO to go the extra mile in the mission of Catholic Education and I see examples of this every day. I am indebted to the Leadership Team of the CSO for their support and to my closest staff, Gail Hill and Vicki Sheriff who have made my role so easy through their professionalism and commitment.
My last year as Director of Schools coincided with the 150 year celebrations of the arrival of the first resident Bishop in the Diocese of Maitland as it was originally called and this allowed us time to reflect on the history of the Church in this diocese over those years. Catholic Education has been at the core of this history and the structures Bishop Murray put in place have led to the system of schools we have today.
I never forget that the schools we have today were established by the Priests and members of the parishes across the diocese and the Religious Orders who took on the responsibility of providing the education program for those times.
Our parishes remain a vital part of the operation and success of our school system and I thank most sincerely the Priests of our diocese for their ongoing support. Whilst the lack of young families as active members of the parish community would be a disappointment to them they continue to reach out to their school communities ensuring that the message of the Gospels continues to be the focus of our school system.
Finally my thanks go to my wife Annette and my family who have journeyed with me through these years. I look forward to spending more time with them in the years ahead and to being an active participant in the lives of my grandchildren.
Thank you for the privilege.