Fiona’s path back to the classroom after completing her tertiary education was not a direct one.
She recalls, “I wanted to work with young people. I found that there was an increasing number of young people disengaged from education and many lacked direction. I started to work at a school for teenagers whose experiences had led to their either being removed from mainstream education or becoming disengaged.
“I began as a Youth Worker but within a short period of time I’d taken on a teaching load and enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Education. I felt this was what I was meant to do.
Fiona had been educated in Tamworth, at St Nicholas’ Primary School, Our Lady of the Rosary College (no longer in existence) and McCarthy Catholic Senior High School. “My family attended St Nicholas’ Parish, where I was fortunate to have Fr Gerard (now Bishop) Hanna during my formative years. I think having someone of his calibre during those years guided me really well on my faith journey.”
After leaving special education Fiona worked at St Catherine's Catholic College, Singleton, teaching Religious Studies, HSIE (including Studies of Religion and Legal Studies) and Music and at St Pius X High School, Adamstown, as a specialist Religious Studies teacher and Religious Studies Co-ordinator in 2017.
The role of Religious Studies Co-ordinator is integral to the curriculum of the Catholic school. As Fiona says, “The RSC normally assists the Ministry Co-ordinator in the faith life of the school. It’s important to help the students engage with their learning, so I try to provide them with authentic learning experiences, leading them to be world changers, Kingdom people and critical members of society. These opportunities can occur at various times; for example, at a significant time like Lent with Project Compassion, in October, World Mission Month and also when Catholic Social Justice units are being studied.”
It’s not uncommon for members of the Catholic community to have concerns about ‘what the Catholic schools are teaching’. Fiona says clearly, “Classes explore with students what it means to belong to the Catholic tradition and how they can find their place in it. They are also taught how scripture can inspire them and encourage them in their lives; it's not just another book on the shelf.”
Part of the experiential dimension is being a member of a praying community. “As a co-ordinator, I like to ensure classes are exploring different way of praying; ways that students can communicate with God,” says Fiona. “Having students understand that their own spirituality can be strengthened by the Holy Spirit is so important, especially in the spiritual marketplace where they find themselves.”
Currently Fiona is also Ministry Co-ordinator at St Bede's Catholic College, so there is an opportunity to meld the academic and experiential dimensions of the school community.
Fiona is a keen advertisement for the benefits of post-graduate study, having completed a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education (Australian Catholic University) and a Masters in Theology (BBI-The Australian Institute of Theological Education and the University of Newcastle).
“These courses had a huge impact on me. They changed the way I approached my thinking about youth spirituality and therefore my students. I developed a deeper understanding of Jesus through studying Christology and explored the impact and value of charisms as a significant part of the Catholic story. My study of charisms has sparked an interest that has seen me reading further in my spare time to gain a deeper understanding of their effectiveness in the lives of so many Catholics!”
Fiona recommends graduate study in Religious Education and Theology. “It’s made me a better practitioner ‒ any teacher of Religious Studies needs to have this valuable foundation.”
Fiona’s own living out of her faith includes a strong commitment to her parish of Holy Trinity Blackbutt North ‒ Corpus Christi at Waratah. She regularly proclaims at Mass and has also been a member of the music team.
Fiona is married with three children, and feels that her own academic pursuits – while demanding a strong commitment in terms of time ‒ have had a positive impact on them. “I think studying, working and aiming high throughout their childhood has modelled for them a strong work ethic. They aim high too and are constantly surprising me with their achievements.”
For this teacher, Religious Studies Co-ordinator and Ministry Co-ordinator, the best moments are “when students 'get it'. I love opening their eyes and their horizons about what possibilities they have for their lives. I like it when they get passionate about class and what is going on within it.”
The students – and staff ‒ of St Bede’s are blessed to have such a committed and gifted teacher in their midst.
International Women's Day 2018
In honour of International Women's Day (8 March), MNnews is celebrating the achievements and incredible contributions of Catholic women on behalf of the Church and the Catholic Faith.
Click here to more stories of astounding and inspiring women.