RAY COLLINS: Enriching and fulfilling experiences

In the last week I have had the opportunity, indeed the privilege, to attend and be a participant in two retreats held at the Riverwood Downs Conference Centre near Gloucester.

The first of these was the retreat for teachers in their first 5 years of teaching in a Catholic school and the second was the annual Student Leaders’ Retreat where the incoming leaders of our schools that offer Stage 6 education gathered to reflect on their responsibilities as leaders in a Catholic school and as young leaders in the diocese.

Whist offering significantly different experiences the retreats had one very important aspect in common and that was that they were both a very spiritual experience for all those who participated.

Unfortunately my attendance spanned only part of each retreat but I did have the opportunity to read the evaluations of the teachers’ retreat and was so impressed with the depth of their reflections regarding how much they received from the experience of sharing each other’s faith journey.

These young teachers were grateful for the opportunity to give direction to their roles in developing the hearts and minds of the young people in their care and for drawing support from one another and from the retreat team.

The teachers’ retreat was the second of two that were organised to enable teachers to explore their faith in the context of teaching in a Catholic school.  The first was for those who have taught in our schools for many years and again the evaluations of that retreat were outstanding, indicating that the opportunity to share and enrich their personal faith had added important dimensions to their roles in our schools.

In the student leaders’ retreat I was privileged to be part of a panel which engaged in a Q&A session with the leaders. The panel consisted of Bishop Bill along with three young leaders, Melissa Asquith, Melissa Fenech and Michael Szmymec who are involved in various diocesan leadership roles in schools and at university.

This session provided me with wonderful insights into the maturity and confidence of our young school leaders. As I have said to each group of leaders over the years, they are chosen to lead their schools through quite significantly different selection processes but universally our schools choose well and I have always been impressed with our student leaders, not only in our Stage 6 schools but across all of our cohorts.

I was particularly delighted to hear Bishop Bill and Fr Brian Mascord, Vicar General of the diocese, express what an outstanding group of leaders they were. I witnessed, in other sessions their willingness to share their own faith experiences, to discuss the challenges of being a school leader and to acknowledge the sense of responsibility these positions carry.

Last year the Catholic Schools Office embarked on a series of spirituality programs for our staff both in schools and in the CSO and a very wise decision was made in employing Mrs Bernadette Gibson in the role of coordinating these programs. An enormous amount of work goes into the preparation of these events and I am so very grateful for all that Bernadette has done to ensure that this retreat program and the various spirituality experiences she provides for school and CSO are so fulfilling for those able to attend.

For the Teachers’ Retreat last week she was supported by Brad Fuller, Melissa Fenech, and Michael Szmymec and for the Student Leaders’ Retreat she was assisted by Melissa Fenech, Maryanne Hacker, Sue Lacey, Joyce Smith and Michael Szmymec. To each of these generous people I extend my sincere thanks as well.

To the participants of the two retreats I can only say how humbling it is for me to share in these experiences with you and wish you well in your continuing roles in Catholic schools.

Ray Collins Image
Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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