Take the opportunity to learn

Protected in my air-conditioned office when I began writing this review, I could see the sky outside filled with smoke and a blood red sun. 

The previous few weeks had been confronting as horrendous bushfires devastated the Manning region in the north of the Diocese. It challenged us to focus on the meaningful and substantial things. These difficult times resulted in responses from our parishes and diocesan services that demonstrated the significance of what we do as a church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Our people in CatholicCare immediately went into action, offering free counselling and support services. Our schools focused on ensuring students and staff remained with their families and could defend their properties from fire. Phone calls were made to check on our colleagues. Parishioners offered their homes to those with no place left to go.

These are examples of the way the church operates in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, not just during crisis, but every day. At the end of the year that was 2019, it is good to reflect on that daily mission.

The Many Parts. One Body. One Mission initiative continued throughout the past year, consolidating work commenced in 2018 and making some further changes to improve efficiencies and promote greater collaboration between agencies.

As Gary Christensen reports, CatholicCare has made a real difference in our local communities with services to young people through permanency support and young adult services, as well as the wider community through the delivery of mental health support in the form of counselling and clinical services. CatholicCare continues to deliver services in larger regional centres including Newcastle and Maitland, but has also increased its service delivery in more isolated locations such as Gloucester and Muswellbrook.

DARA has also been an important part of ensuring social justice for marginalised people who rely on the community kitchens and van for outreach and support services. Its refugee programs continue to expand, offering support for newcomers to our country. A real highlight was the “Welcome to the Beach” program, offered in conjunction with Cooks Hill Surf Saving Club. More than 200 people attended the two-day event aimed at introducing migrants to Newcastle’s beach culture and providing them with essential safety advice.

Catholic schools are a beacon of ongoing relevance to our communities. As Gerard Mowbray reports, more families are opting for Catholic education and the positive outcomes that result. The opening of the St Laurence Flexible Learning Centre was a particular highlight, with students going on to achieve great outcomes throughout the year, in partnership with their educators. As you will see in the Report, existing schools including St Mary’s Catholic College, Gateshead and St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar continue to extend their offerings and have supported their first cohort of students to complete the HSC (or in the case of St Joseph’s, the first time in 20 years).

Across all our schools the learning environment is rich with engaging opportunities for students and staff. The development of the gifted and talented program is stretching students, with some having their projects published in mainstream media, being offered the opportunity to present interstate or even going on to win national awards.

A particular focus has been indigenous education with the Diocese undertaking a review in this area, as well as hosting the 2019 NSW Aboriginal Catholic Education Conference that inspired the 500 delegates in attendance.

Guest speaker Kurt Fearnley talked about dignity through expectation, a message that resonated with the attendees as we work diligently towards closing the learning gap between indigenous and non-indigenous students.

St Nicholas Early Education expanded its services again in 2019. We will shortly see the opening of the seventh and eighth early education centres and there are now 12 before and after-school (OOSH) services operating across the Diocese with further transitions planned for 2020. However, it is not simply about numbers. These services are focused on quality care for children, and the response from the community is overwhelmingly positive.

We have also seen the development of the exciting St Nicholas Pathways program, which is working closely with high school students to prepare them for a fulfilling career in the early education sector.  This has been a tremendous example of collaboration, with real employment outcomes expected for students.

In the Catholic Development Fund report, fund manager Graham Heath tells us about ongoing support of the Diocese’s expansion of St Nicholas Early Education with the development of the new centres. The fund also assisted the development of the Diocese’s new office facilities in Newcastle West and assisted with the delivery of the important work associated with the Many Parts. One Body. One Mission initiative. The fund remains integral to ensuring school building can occur, as well as improving facilities to maximise the contributions of parents to the Diocesan School Building Fund.  

While it may be easier to avoid the discussion, a detailed examination of the Report spells out the response to people affected by abuse perpetrated in the Diocese. This challenge is not receding. To date more than 170 people have received financial assistance, apologies and counselling. There is no doubt this has been an emotional process, but it must continue in a genuine manner.

To ensure that children and vulnerable people are safe in our services, the Diocese has officially launched the Office of Safeguarding, which builds on the work of Zimmerman Services. Sean Tynan’s report details the extensive work that has occurred during the year but perhaps the most poignant moment for many was the dedication of the memorial for those abused at Marist Brothers’ High School, Hamilton.

The first step has now been taken on the journey of a Diocesan Synod. This will roll out over the next two years, culminating in 2021. This important time for the Diocese will be a rare opportunity to consider the future of the church in the Hunter and Manning regions. The important stages of listening have been highlighted in Teresa Brierley’s report on Pastoral Ministries. As the report highlights, we all have something to learn from each other and that will be the opportunity for the coming year.

All the diocesan agencies’ achievements are the result of the hard work and dedication of our staff working in collaboration with our community. Attending staff inductions during the year it was apparent our people do more than a job. It was a sound reminder of the sense of mission and community that the Diocese provides in its daily work.

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Sean Scanlon Image
Sean Scanlon

Sean Scanlon is the Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.