Role of families celebrated during the bicentenary of Catholic education

8 Aug 2021

Above: Year 5 and 12 students shared the Family Week Prayer at Mandurah Catholic College, Dudley Park WA.

Catholic schools across Australia celebrated Family Week from 8–14 August, recognising the significant contribution parents, carers and families have made to the foundation, growth and continuity of Catholic schools in Australia over 200 years.

Family Week coincided with the Feast Day of Australia’s first Saint, Mary MacKillop, who was a passionate educator and advocate for children and families, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite a large number of Catholic school communities currently conducting remote learning, their families were still celebrated with students taking part in virtual activities including completing colouring sheets and prayer.

National Catholic education executive director Jacinta Collins said the bicentenary is an opportunity to acknowledge the families of the 777,000 students, and their essential role across our 1,755 Catholic school communities.

“With the tremendous support of parents and carers, including those who were lay teachers in our early schools, Catholic education has grown to serve one in five students and provide faith, excellence and access to Catholic education for millions of students,” Jacinta said.

“For nearly 75 per cent of that period families, alongside parishes and religious congregations,
sustained and built schools across Australia, in large part without any government financial support,” she said.

“Today, with greater government support, our families continue to contribute through school fees and building levies to maintain and build new schools. “Our families work in partnership with their schools in formation and learning support, volunteering, parents and friends groups, fundraising and a host of other activities that contribute to the growth and success of their children and their schools.

“The past two years have made further demands on parents and carers with long periods of home learning for many communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we continue to face an unpredictable future, our families will be at the forefront with teachers in ensuring
continuity of learning and formation for their children.

“On this milestone occasion, we acknowledge our First Nations families who were the first educators in Australia and recognise the contribution they have made over two centuries to the spirituality and cultural heritage of our schools.

“Catholic education also recognises parents as the first educators of their children, and the critical role they play in fostering their child’s successful learning and development,” Jacinta said.

Catholic education’s peak parent body Catholic School Parents Australia (CSPA) supports Catholic school families through resources, consultation, advocacy and representation.

Father of five children and CSPA chair Karl Rodrigues said the Family Week celebrations are an important opportunity to recognise the contribution of families and demonstrates the confidence and faith parents have in Catholic schools.

“Over the past 200 years in Australia parents have chosen a Catholic education to complement the important role of families in supporting their children to grow to their fullest potential.”

“Catholic education provides a holistic education for children, one that is balanced across academic, spiritual, physical, cultural and motivational dimensions, as well as being based on respect and values,” Karl said.

Schools celebrated locally in a variety of ways including liturgies and gatherings, by distributing the national prayer for families and hosting student activities such as interviewing their family members, drawing a picture of their family, and learning about Mary MacKillop.

“Catholic education’s history of strong family values and connection through faith, are at the heart of the work we do, supporting the learning, growth and well-being of the whole child,” CEWA executive director Dr Debra Sayce told The Record.

Western Australia’s oldest Catholic school, Mercedes College in Perth, shared the story of a family where the traditions and values of a Catholic education have been passed down through four generations of students.

Third generation student Sonya Roberts said Mercedes College had been instrumental in their family’s strong sense of integrity.

“So much has changed at the college but the values that would have been here when grandma and mum were students are still very much here today,” she shared in a video message.

Mandurah Catholic College, Dudley Park in WA celebrated Family Week with prayer, as Year 12 students lead the Year 5 students through the family prayer. The college also marked their Patron’s Day, which is the Holy Family, with a school Mass. Throughout 2021, Padua College
in Mornington VIC has been focused on re-energising their ‘Parents Of Padua’ (POP) group to encourage a sustainable and effective partnership between members of the school community.

Padua College principal Anthony Banks said the school sees the relationship between the student, family and the college as a partnership. “All the research tells us that when this partnership is positive and healthy, then the child stands the best chance of success. “We are incredibly grateful for the families of Padua College choosing to send their children here and for the sacrifices they make to enable this education possible,” Anthony said.

Padua College parent Sarah Hansen said her children have been challenged to be “the best person they can be and inspired to use their God-given talents to be outward looking and social justice minded”.

“As our last child, Bridget, enters Year 12 in 2022, we feel enormously grateful for the opportunities our family have been afforded as members of a positive, creative and hope-filled learning environment,” she said.


Pioneer Catholic Educator remembered

Pioneer Catholic Educator remembered

Image: Fr John Neill OP OAM with Blackfriars Priory School students in 2016.  For 200 years Catholic schools have been established and staffed by pioneer clergy, religious and lay educators, many of whom devoted their entire lives to Catholic education.  "Let us not...

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