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  •  A New Beginning

    In this, my first article for Catholic Life in my role as Director of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Sale, I wish to commence by paying tribute to my predecessor, Peter Ryan.

    I first met Peter when he commenced employment with the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne. Given our respective roles in senior management at that time, our paths crossed frequently. I always experienced Peter as a very measured man, quiet and reflective and with a passion for Catholic education. During those years, which saw significant changes within the Melbourne office, Peter maintained a commitment to what he saw as the very best of Catholic education and worked assiduously with the various teams he managed to introduce innovative practices and supportive environments.

    It came as no real surprise to me therefore, in working very closely with Peter as I have since July this year, to find the high respect in which he is held here in the Diocese. The word “supportive” has cropped up continuously from priests and principals and staff of the Catholic Education Office. Listening to the many commendations, so richly deserved, that have formed part of the farewell speeches I have heard delivered over the past week, I was glad to know that others saw in Peter over these years the same professional and passionate educational leader I had known and worked with in Melbourne. Peter’s deep faith has, I know, been evident in all he has undertaken here in the Diocese of Sale.

    The formal farewell at the Cardinia Centre in Pakenham on November 2 was a fitting tribute to Peter, attended by colleagues and friends from Peter’s 43 years in Catholic education. Peter’s address to those gathered at the function summarized the breadth and depth of his life, committed both to work and to his family. The words of John O’Donohue spring to mind, in his writing on retirement

                    This is where your life has arrived. 

                After all the years of effort and toil; 

                   Look back with graciousness and thanks 

                    On all your great and quiet achievements. 

                                                                            (Benedictus – A book of Blessings) 

    As the new Director I know I face the challenge of building on the work that has been done before me, by Peter, Therese D’Orsa, Terry Synan and Fr John Readman. Each one brought unique gifts and personal attributes to the role. Education in the diocese has benefited from the differences as well as the similarities that existed.

    Since commencing as Deputy Director in July, in a period of transition into the role of Director, I have been privileged to meet parish priests and principals, staff and children as I started my travels around the diocese. What stands out for me is the commitment to quality Catholic education that is evident in our schools. There is an emphasis on developing leaders with the skills and competencies needed as we move through the ever challenging task of educating young people to be the best they can be in the world that awaits them.  And there is, through the support and leadership of staff in the Catholic Education Office, an understanding of the need to ensure that our schools maintain their Catholic identity with inclusive practices which recognise the complexities of the educational dynamics that exist in all schools, but specifically those committed to a faith orientation.

    In his final article for Catholic Life last month, Peter Ryan outlined some of the challenges that face us in the immediate future, with funding issues for Catholic schools being a significant one. Whilst we grapple at a national level with this particular challenge, we must not lose sight of what will remain essential – the Catholic character of schools in the diocese. I look forward to working with other leaders in the diocese to continue this work.


    Maria Kirkwood.