On the 18th May, an Archdiocesan Gathering Day was held at the Waterview, Bicentennial Park. The day was attended by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Dr Dan White – Executive Director of Catholic Schools, Mr Anthony Cleary- Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation, Sydney Catholic schools Religious Education Coordinators, Youth Ministry Coordinators and staff of the Catholic Education Office, Sydney. The day was held in order to address some of the key issues affecting Religious Education within the Sydney Archdiocese.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher addressed the gathering of his vision for Sydney Catholic Schools in a challenging time. He acknowledged the need for a personal encounter with Christ to help nourish the Catholic ‘soul’, and the need for Catholic teachers to become ‘missionary disciples’, evangelising and enlivening the faith of those in their communities.
The Archbishop told the story of the late Willy Herteleer, a homeless man who lived a life of evangelisation on the streets around the Vatican. Willy would frequently ask passers by if they had been to confession or Mass that day, stating that Communion was his medicine. Archbishop Anthony reflected “Willy shows us we are all in this together. He touched both the highest and the lowest in giving the gift of himself, and that is something we hope to see in our schools and parishes, creating an oases where everyone is welcomed, formed and sent.”
In articulating his vision for Sydney Catholic Schools, Archbishop Fisher acknowledged the achievements of Catholic Schools in Sydney, and encouraged those responsible for Religious Education to take the opportunity to be the new evangelisers of the church, encouraging students and families in all areas of faith. Click here for Archbishop Fisher’s Address.
Dr Dan White – Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools spoke about “Responding to Challenges, and setting future direction for Sydney Catholic Schools”. The current Strategic Improvement Plan for improving Catholic Schools in Sydney ‘Building on Strength, Future Directions for Sydney Catholic Schools’ is due for renewal at the end of the year. Participants on the day were then involved in workshops aimed at identifying the core challenges facing Sydney Catholic Schools. The information from these workshops will be used to assist the process for setting a future direction for Catholic Schools in Sydney.
Anthony Cleary, Director – Religious Education and Evangelisation, provided an executive summary of the 2014 Survey of Religious Attitudes and Practices. This survey instrument was designed to gain a deeper understanding of the religious beliefs and practices of young people in the Archdiocese of Sydney. Whilst the results of the survey reflect the continued decline in mass attendance and major catholic beliefs, they also reflected that some improvements have been made in recent years.
Anthony reflected on the importance of enlivening faith, stating that “experiences in life are what enlivens the faith of young Catholic leaders. We have a range of projects and approaches to encourage this enlivening of faith”. This commitment to faith formation is evident in the range of pilgrimages and immersions that the Catholic Education Office make available for their staff in order to facilitate faith formation and a personal encounter with God. At the culmination of the day, a Question and Answer Session was held, with insights from each of the four panelists:
- Fr Michael McLean (Episcopal Vicar for Education, Parish Priest, St Mark’s Drummoyne)
- Ms Elizabeth Denny (Principal, St Patrick’s College Sutherland)
- Mrs Sinead Kent (Family Educator, St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School, Ashfield)
- Miss Daniella Foley (Year 12, Marist Sisters College, Woolwich)
In sharing their knowledge and experiences, the speakers on the panel were able to add yet another dimension to the day, openly answering questions from their own perspective.
The Archdiocesan Gathering Day was a valuable event, providing an opportunity for collaboration and information sharing between Archbishop Fisher, Sydney Catholic School Leaders, and members of the Catholic Education Office Leadership Team. It is clear that there are many positive things being done in Sydney Catholic School communities, and faced with the increasing challenges presented in the ‘Survey of Religious Attitudes and Practices’, there needs to be a continued concerted effort to enliven the faith of the communities which Catholic Schools serve