In December 2006, The New Zealand Bishop’s Conference sent out a letter to parish and school leaders defining their respective roles.
It was intended to support their work by commenting on the ‘distinctive roles and contributions that can be made to Catholic education by all of us working together’.
Some roles are clearly defined and governed by various laws and agreements with the government; others are roles that the Church is free to develop in a way which best suits the individual parish and school. To facilitate discussion regarding the roles, I called a meeting of all those involved.
It was pleasing for the Vicar for Education, Jenny Gordon, Brother Peter Bray, Director of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre, Michele Lafferty, Manager of Catholic Schools, and myself, to greet a large number of parish and school leaders to Plimmerton on 27 March.
I welcomed the chance to give my vision of a positive, collaborative school-parish education system to such a large group.
I reminded those present what I believe our parish and school communities are about. We began by listening to a reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:42-47). This reading about the early Christian community encompasses such themes as:
1. Eucharistic community
4. Common prayer
These are what our schools are about and they summarise parish life. I hope I made the point clearly that schools and parishes are not separate – families, parishes and schools must work together. When we work at being communities of learning, prayer, and hospitality and come together as Eucharistic communities, we grow as Church together – we are ‘Salt and Light Together.’
There were a number of opportunities to work in small groups, during one of which people were able to reflect on the positive aspects of their parish/school relationship and to look at an area which could be strengthened. I was delighted to experience the high energy buzz of conversation this engendered.
Father James Lyons, Parish Priest of Ss Peter and Paul’s, Lower Hutt, gave examples of good practice of collaborative action from the priest’s perspective, and Mrs Stasia Kennedy, Principal of St Joseph’s School, Levin, did the same from a principal’s perspective.
Michele Lafferty spoke about how the various roles are underpinned by a healthy, collaborative relationship between everyone involved and Jenny Gordon assured the group that one of her roles is to ‘assist all of you in your quest for fullness in Catholic education and the provision of the best foundation for continuing evangelisation and catechesis for children and adults’.
At the end of the afternoon school and parish groups were asked to reflect on what they had heard and decide on two actions which would enhance and strengthen their relationship.
We received very positive feedback on the worthwhile aspects of the afternoon, one of the highlights of which seemed to be simply being given the opportunity to meet and talk together. This further reminded everyone that we are in the mission of the Church together.
I reminded the gathering that our synod last year took as its theme ‘Salt and Light Together’. I can think of no better way of describing the relationship between school and parish … or of describing you … priests, lay leaders, principals, directors of religious studies: ‘You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.’
We are ‘Salt and Light Together’.
The day will be repeated for South Island clergy and principals on 8 May. There will also be other opportunities for this relationship-building activity.
In the meantime I sincerely thank the priests, lay leaders, principals, teachers, boards of trustees and parents for all that they do for our schools and parishes.
John A Dew