New education head keen to reach all Catholics

‘It was then that I really started to learn more about my faith. ‘We learn so much at school and that’s absolutely fine but we see it and understand it through a child’s eyes.’

Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist on Sunday is at the heart of  being a Catholic, but it’s just one element and education is important in discerning the other key areas.

New education head keen to reach all Catholics Archdiocese of Wellington The new director of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre, Sharron Cole, is keen that the centre reaches out to Catholics everywhere and encourages  them to move on from the child’s understanding of faith that most people have unless they have done some adult education in faith. Sharron Cole took up the role last month after Br Peter Bray moved to become vice chancellor of Bethlehem University in the Holy Land last October.

She says she realised that much of her own understanding of faith was still at a child’s level after she began helping with the sacramental programme at her parish, Sacred Heart, Petone.

‘It was then that I really started to learn more about my faith. We learn so much at school and that’s absolutely fine but we see it and understand it through a child’s eyes.’

In the sacramental programme, she realised that the old confessional practice that she knew as a child, and with which she felt quite uneasy, had given way to a much gentler reconciliation.
‘Now I think it’s one of the most beautiful sacraments that I just love and my understanding of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing is different.’

Sharron Cole believes strongly in networks of communication and in team work. She wants to work with other areas of the Catholic Centre particularly Archdiocesan Pastoral Services, Catholic Schools Board and Caritas—‘making sure we have fluid relationships and that we accept that we each have areas of expertise that we won’t overlap in and that we use those as appropriate’.

There is much common ground, however, so we need to work together to see how best to reach out to every single Catholic, active or not.
‘My experience of coming to some courses here at the Catholic Centre and Communio courses in the Hutt Valley and having some that are in the parish itself, has just been wonderful and I want other people to have the same experience.’

This is important because of the changing nature of the church with more lay pastoral leaders and fewer priests. While lay pastoral leaders have excellent formation, the wider laity mostly do not and with their  increasing involvement in liturgy, Ms Cole says, ‘That’s got to be based on a solid and correct understanding of our faith’.

Sharron Cole comes to the Catholic Centre after nearly five years as Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission which grew out of a political deal between United Future and the second term of the most recent Labour-led Government.
There she helped build up relationships with a wide range of family-oriented entities. Being a keen family person herself with a loving, 34-year marriage with husband, Richard, and four adult children, she’s a strong believer in a happy and supportive marriage being a great place for children. But the key question for the Families Commission remains how best to support families where there are not two parents who love and support each other and are prepared to extend that love to the children with the appropriate boundaries and training in place.

Ms Cole rates her talents in team-building. As an executive member of Parents’ Centre when her children were small, she often worked on drafting  policy documents on her own. Here, she says, she was much less productive than she would have been with a team.
‘Teams that work well are well guided, have a clear purpose and nourished—I just think that it’s the old thing of the sum are much greater than the many parts’.

Ms Cole was a history tutor at Massey University for 20 years and taught study skills extramurally becoming involved in distance education. At various points in her career, she has achieved educational qualifications according to the needs of the moment. She achieved a Dip Ed in adult education while with Parents’ Centre, of which she became national president and later patron, followed by a qualification in childbirth and parenting education when her children were small. She says she is a perfectionist and becomes quite frustrated if she doesn’t achieve her goals.