A special bicentennial memento in time of pandemic

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Over 70,000 students across Sydney Catholic Schools will receive this Benedictine Crucifix to mark the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Over 70,000 students across Sydney Catholic Schools will receive this Benedictine Crucifix to mark the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

71,000 students across Sydney Catholic Schools will receive a special memento to mark the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia which will also serve as an ongoing reminder of the presence of God, now and throughout their lives.

Capuchin priest, Fr Ben Johnson OFM has blessed piles of boxes crammed with 71,000 Benedictine Crucifixes with a medal embedded on each of them.

“St Benedict saw the power of the Cross as a valuable symbol to provide us with strength and protection”, Fr Ben explained after the blessing.

“Wearing this medal or placing it in a special place, can help remind us all that Christ is always with us to light our path through hard times and comfort our hearts”.

“I hope that throughout the lives of the students that they will at some stages, reconnect with this cross and Benedictine medal …”

The current COVID 19 lockdown has led schools to shift lessons online and with churches closed for public Masses, Sydney Catholic Schools Executive Director, Mr Tony Farley, said it was important to still mark this year’s bicentenary of Catholic education in a lasting way.

“We wanted to provide every student with something that is absolutely intrinsic to who we are. They can hold onto these spiritual mementos for their entire lives and it will remind them, not just of their Catholic education, but also be a concrete reminder of faith and of following Jesus Christ”, Mr Farley explained.

“I hope that throughout the lives of the students that they will at some stages, reconnect with this cross and Benedictine medal, as a reminder of their faith and one which no doubt can be in turn passed onto future generations of students as well”.

Mr Farley said the crucifix was a powerful reminder of Christ’s love for each of us, which we can especially draw comfort from in challenging times.

Capuchin priest, Fr Ben Johnson OFM with 75,000 blessed Benedictine Crucifixes. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Capuchin priest, Fr Ben Johnson OFM with 75,000 blessed Benedictine Crucifixes. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“When you look at a crucifix with Christ on the Cross, you see suffering. It’s a stark, yet universal symbol. When you see that suffering, you know you’re not alone and that’s especially important for our students at this time”.

The medal honours St Benedict of Nursia, a saint years ahead of his time, who founded some of the earliest monastic communities in the Western world in the fith and sixth centuries. St Benedict left a legacy that survives today: the Rule of St Benedict which taught that monastic life should be based on prayer and work.

The medal of St Benedict is also a recognition of the Benedictine order, a pioneering congregation who came to Australia in 1835 when Australia’s first Archbishop, John Bede Polding, a Benedictine himself, brought a small group to Sydney.

Archbishop Polding founded the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1857- a title which was later changed to the Good Samaritan Sisters. They made a significant contribution to Catholic education which continues today.

“When you look at a crucifix with Christ on the Cross, you see suffering … When you see that suffering, you know you’re not alone and that’s especially important for our students at this time.”

“We stand on the shoulders of these giants in Catholic schooling”, explained Tony Farley.

“But they were giants who acted with incredible humility and love and most of whom we don’t know the names of today, but we can see their legacy all around us”.

Students in Catholic schools across Australia are marking the bicentenary this year- a story which began in Hunter Street Parramatta in 1820 when the first Catholic school was established by one of Sydney’s first priests, Fr John Therry.

There are now 1755 Catholic schools across Australia, serving 777,000 students and their families.