Catholic schools on the move
Br Sir Pat Lynch KNZM
The mid-June Catholic Education Convention attracted 830 individuals from our national network of 238 primary schools and colleges.
The convention’s title – ‘Horizons of Hope’ – was deliberately chosen, since it is forward looking and inspirational. The phrase was coined by Pope Francis and reflects the passage in the Book of Jeremiah: ‘Yes, I know the plans I have for you, plans for peace…a future full of hope’, (Jeremiah 29.11). We are indeed a faith-based business, where faith is our fundamental capital, and where we recognise God is involved in our everyday history. This is the genius we bring to our education enterprise. Our work is focused on the realisation of God’s love and plans for the cosmos of which we are an important part.
2015 is a significant milestone for New Zealand’s Catholic school system. In September we will mark the 14th anniversary of the passage of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act, which gave rise to our schools becoming State Integrated Schools.
In 1975 most Catholic schools were extremely hard up, so much so that without the integration legislation most of them would simply have had to close. Effectively, integration saved our school system and enabled it to slowly rebuild itself. Today it is robust and admired by our Church community and the wider community of New Zealanders.
Many people have had a significant part to play in rejuvenating and expanding our national school network, so that we are now able to be very proud of it and its achievements.
Some of the pivotal achievements that have transformed our schools are: a collaborative national system that embraces each of the Diocesan Education Offices, their Bishops and other Religious Order-based proprietors in each diocese; a pooling of resources in the capital works areas; a nationally organised and monitored review and development system that oversees the Catholic character of each school; professional development opportunities for teachers, principals and school trustees – and the list goes on. Today Catholic schools punch above their weight, particularly with their results in the National Certificate in Education Achievement (NCEA).
This happy state of affairs is predicated on the good work done in our primary schools. As a result of this public evidence, the reputation of our schools is high with the New Zealand community and of course with Government. Fundamentally, our commitment to excellence in all that we do is a tribute to our trustees, principals, teachers and support staff. Of course, we cannot omit mentioning the leadership of our bishops, proprietors and all their staff in this regard.
Collectively we have established a strong Catholic education brand. A brand is a school’s promise on what it will deliver. In order to sustain and strengthen the brand these characteristics need to be kept in focus – reliability, dependability, predictability, consistency, authenticity and uniqueness.
We have all heard about the need for ramping-up our energies in the area of evangelisation. Pope Francis has given it new meaning by saying, the Gospel is never focused on our own community, exclusively. Effectively it is globalised as we seek to make known God’s love to everyone. We are the same brothers and sisters of the same Father, regardless of any other reality.
As we look forward, trustees, principals and teachers will need to reflect on Francis’ rather salient message about the need to focus more on the person of Jesus as the basis of our Faith. This is clearly important in building up the faith commitment of our young people.
The positive aspects of globalisation always need to be actively mined in order to extract the best innovative ideas and practices available worldwide. The technology revolution will continue to deliver extraordinary resources in religious education, liturgy, prayer and other aspects of special character. Those running our schools need always to be on the lookout for the good ideas from Catholic and other educators, wherever these are found in the world.
I am very confident we have a bright future in front of us, which is invigorated by the lively active faith that immigrant New Zealanders are bringing to our parish and school communities.
Catholic education fundamentally focuses on the fact that all humans are part of God’s family – we are the adopted daughters and sons of God. What an incredible revelation that is!
Br Sir Pat Lynch KNZM is Chief Executive Officer, New Zealand Catholic Education Office.