Eileen O’Connor Catholic College – ‘the best school ever’ – according to student Reece Midgley, was officially opened and blessed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher op, on 9 December.
The Lewisham college, that caters for students with a moderate intellectual disability and other complex learning needs, opened its doors in Term 1, 2016. It currently has a student population of 21, which will double in 2017.
Before the opening and blessing began, Archbishop Fisher shook hands with each of the college’s students and welcomed them to the opening ceremony. The Opening and Blessing commenced with a ‘welcome to country’ from Uncle Allen Madden and the singing of the national anthem led by students from Ashfield colleges, Bethlehem and De La Salle and supported by the Eileen O’Connor Catholic College students.
Archbishop Fisher based his homily on a reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians, which he said was a reminder of what Catholic schools should be in our community.
“In the language of St Paul, a Catholic school must be a place where we learn not just knowledge and skills but also character; where we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. And where we cultivate forbearance, forgiveness and above all love – which binds everything together.”
Archbishop Fisher commented that this description was not the monopoly of a Christian or Catholic school.
“So St Paul adds to his list of what we must learn – let the peace of Christ dwell in your hearts. Whatever you do in word or deed, do in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.
“So a Catholic school is first and foremost a place to meet Jesus and grow in friendship.”
Archbishop Fisher said Australian Catholic schools have provided 200 years of quality education and there were now more than 700,000 students in our Catholic schools across Australia with more than 30,000 of them with special needs.
“The time has come for the Archdiocese of Sydney to dedicate a whole K-12 college and satellite network of support classes to specifically provide for students with special needs.
“If all I said about a Catholic school and what a Catholic school should be applied to every Catholic school in Australia – it applies in a very particular way to Eileen O’Connor Catholic College.
“(This college) represents Church, a school system, a community that’s clothed itself in love and devotes itself to compassion, kindness and patience to help its students to flourish and fulfil their potential.”
Archbishop Fisher expressed his heartfelt thanks to the Eileen O’Connor Catholic College teachers and staff who make the students the focus for all that they do.
Dr Dan White, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools acknowledged all the people and organisations that had played significant roles in Sydney Catholic Schools creating the system’s first dedicated school for students with special needs.
“What we always dreamed about for these children is that they would thrive and learn in a community of love.”
Dr Ian Jackson, Foundation Principal of the college congratulated the students at his school.
“Our young people are extraordinary in the way they dedicate themselves to learning,” he said. “We are also blessed by a committed, passionate and highly skilled staff, wonderful parent community and supportive parish.
“The students make our vision – ‘celebrating diversity, unlocking potential, transforming lives’ – come alive every day!”
Ann Midgley, mother of Year 7 student Reece, said she couldn’t rate Eileen O’Connor Catholic College highly enough.
“It’s an amazing place and the staff have the best philosophy to teach our children. The teachers assess the kids and figure out their needs and then put in place the most appropriate programs that address these needs.
“Reece’s reading has improved enormously since he has been at the college. He also now makes his own breakfast because his hospitality classes are targeted at his level.
“Making your own breakfast is a skill the average person might take for granted but it is a crucial life skill for my son.
“The behaviour management and pastoral care at the school are also really good and there is love behind everything the staff does every day.
“Reece loves coming to school. He’s happy and learning and tells everyone, ‘Eileen O’Connor is the best school ever!’”
Over the next five years, Eileen O’Connor will expand to a K-12 college, incorporating an Early Intervention Centre and a Centre of Excellence for Inclusive Education. It will also be the centre of a network of satellite support classes attached to selected Sydney Catholic primary and secondary schools across the archdiocese.