Dr Dan White was greeted by a colourful guard of honour filling the entire forecourt of St Mary’s Cathedral as he arrived for his farewell Mass after more than a decade as head of Sydney Catholic Schools.
The guard of honour was formed by students holding banners representing each of Sydney’s Catholic schools.
Dr White told the students and staff who filled the Cathedral that the Thanksgiving Mass was “about what’s special about each one of our Catholic schools”.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who presided over the 9 April Mass said Dr White was an “impassioned teacher” who had excelled in his role as Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools.
“Today we offer such a big thank-you party and prayer for the longstanding Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools, and I think there is a lot of that ‘can’t keep it in’ kind of joy in the air,” Archbishop Fisher said.
He said Dr White had made a “considerable impact on the Sydney Catholic Schools system” and would be remembered for establishing several important initiatives including the Family Educators, staff faith formation including retreats and pilgrimages, the Archbishop’s prizes, the special needs school Eileen O’Connor Catholic College, the Newman Gifted Programme, the Catholic Education Foundation, the Benedict XVI Retreat Centre, Sydney Catholic Early Childhood Services and the Archbishop’s Charter.
“During his years of leadership our measured results in these areas have improved and our schools have seen significant growth in number and scale,” the Archbishop said.
Concelebrating the Mass were Bishops Terry Brady, Tony Randazzo, Richard Umbers and Adrian Doyle, Archbishop Emeritus of Hobart, Dr White’s former employer when he was Director of Catholic Schools in the state of Tasmania.
Dr White asked the students present to consider three things about what their school could do for them—ignite a love for the Catholic faith, inspire a love of learning and let each school’s name and reputation empower them.
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“We brought in the banners of every one of your schools … it’s your school’s good name we celebrate today. Something that’s been passed on from generation to generation by your teachers, by your parents,” Dr White said.
He pointed out that the banners carried into the Cathedral by students were specially made for next year’s celebration of 200 years of Catholic education.
“You are part of something bigger,” Dr White said. “It’s been my privilege to be in this community of schools for 10 years.”
Following Mass, Dr White was treated to a farewell lunch at Doltone House near Hyde Park. At the lunch Archbishop Fisher thanked Dr White for his “educational wisdom” and his “spiritual passion” over the past 10 years.
“It’s been a very educationally and spiritually fruitful ministry that you’ve offered and a great blessing to many people,” he told Dr White.
The director of Human Resources at Sydney Catholic Schools, Jane Comensoli, said that like St Mary MacKillop, Dr White was someone who “never saw a need without doing something about it”.
She referred to his many initiatives to assist students from refugee and migrant families and special needs students with the establishment of Eileen O’Connor Catholic College.
Four of Dr White’s six children — Tiff, Mick, Tim and Jo — spoke fondly of the lessons their father taught them as they were growing up.
Tiff said her dad taught them to never stop asking questions and he “encouraged others to be curious”.
Meanwhile, daughter Jo, said her father had “empowered” hundreds of thousands of students and teachers over the years.
“The impact you’ve had on this world is immeasurable,” she told her father.
Dr White said hearing his children’s speeches was “a very beautiful and humbling moment”.
He identified seven “pilgrimage” steps in his life—receiving a wonderful Catholic education himself, deciding to become a teacher, realising the shared mission between schools and parishes, appreciating the universal Church, the humbling experience of meeting school principals from around the country, journeying with his closest pilgrims, his family and friends, and having Jesus as his “rock and inspiration”.
Dr White hinted at a busy retirement saying, “God isn’t finished with me yet”.