By Robert Hiini
Catholic education needs Christian and Catholic educators if it is to be true to itself, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB told a packed St Mary’s Cathedral on 31 January, as he commissioned more than 180 new staff now at work in Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) schools in Perth.
The Mass brought together more than 700 Catholic school staff, who were joined by the Acting Executive Director of CEWA, Dr Debra Sayce and by WA Police Minister Michelle Roberts MLA, representing the WA Minister for Education and Training, Sue Ellery MLC.
The staff and students, hailing from 113 CEWA schools throughout Perth, were also joined by Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, Vicar General Fr Peter Whitely and outgoing Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Mgr Michael Keating, as well as 15 other concelebrating priests.
Archbishop Costelloe invoked the example of the saints in reflecting on the role of a Catholic educator, focusing on the witness of fellow Salesian St John Bosco, who was “before anything else a disciple of Jesus”.
“St John Bosco (had an) unshakeable conviction that to be involved in the care of the young means to put the young person at the heart of all that you say and do,” Archbishop Costelloe said of the 19th century educator of destitute children and young people in Turin, Italy.
“On one occasion, speaking directly to the young people he was caring for he said, ‘For you I study, for you I work, for you I live, for you I am ready even to give my life’…
“These of course are nice-sounding words … They are also a challenge to all of us who are caught up in the delicate, demanding and privileged task of educating the young people entrusted to us by their parents.
“How much are we prepared to do? How much are we prepared to give? What will it mean for me, in my particular situation, to put the young people always at the centre of my professional life, which is also my Christian vocation? How much of myself am I prepared to sacrifice in order to put the well-being of the young people first?”
The Archbishop also made reference to another great hero of the faith, the 5th century father of Western monasticism St Benedict of Nursia, who described his monasteries as “schools in the Lord’s service”.
“As educators we might call our classrooms, and our playgrounds, which are much noisier and more lively than contemplative monasteries, the same thing: schools in the Lord’s service where the young people learn from us what it means to live their lives immersed in the beauty and mystery of God’s love for them, and where we learn from our young people all that the Lord wishes to reveal to us through them.”
Archbishop Costelloe issued scrolls of commissioning to each new teacher, blessing them before asking the remainder of the congregation to also extend their hands in blessing.
In welcoming people to the event, Dr Sayce said that educators in Catholic schools looked forward “with hope and enthusiasm to the countless opportunities that we as educators in Catholic schools and colleges will have to develop our students – to grow and to learn”.
“The role of your school community has an important place in faith, which is part of the Church in a very real and very important sense,” she told the congregation.
“We are thrilled that you are bringing your expertise, your love for teaching and learning, your calling to this vocation, to enrich your school communities and the lives of students.”
CEWA schools teach some 76,000 young people in 162 schools and colleges across WA’s four Catholic dioceses, educating around 17.5 per cent of all school-aged children.