Catholic education is vital, says VC

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The Vice Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Professor Francis Campbell, speaking on the topic “Promoting Catholic Education” at a Scholarship at the Cathedral event on 17 May 2022. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

The head of one of Australia’s largest Catholic universities has launched a powerful, personal defence of Catholic education around the world, saying it has helped countless generations of students, including himself, to achieve great success in life, regardless of socio-economic background.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), Professor Francis Campbell was speaking at a Scholarship at the Cathedral talk, “Promoting Catholic Education” on 17 May at St Mary’s Cathedral’s Chapter Hall.

A joint initiative of the Archdiocese of Sydney and UNDA’s Institute for Ethics and Society, Professor Campbell was the first guest speaker for Scholarship at the Cathedral in over a year, since the talks had been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

A former diplomat and political advisor, who worked as Private Secretary to Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Britain’s former Ambassador to the Holy See, Professor Campbell said he could never have achieved such success in life had it not been for the great education he received in Catholic schools in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I went to schools on the border between northern and southern Ireland and I look back on that time and recall the many around me in class who were prevented from political radicalization because of their education in Catholic schools”, Professor Campbell explained.

“In those schools, we were challenged daily to think morally and to act courageously and for most of us going through Catholic schools, we were likely to be the first in our family to go to university .  Indeed, I was the first in my family to complete secondary school. The Church never flinched from its transmission of a strong moral code regarding its teaching on human life and dignity and that message was delivered within the community to those who engaged in violence, including to the state and its agencies and to take such a stance was for me a powerful and early example of Catholic education and what it stands for”.

“IN THOSE SCHOOLS, WE WERE CHALLENGED DAILY TO THINK MORALLY AND TO ACT COURAGEOUSLY AND FOR MOST OF US GOING THROUGH CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, WE WERE LIKELY TO BE THE FIRST IN OUR FAMILY TO GO TO UNIVERSITY”

Professor Campbell said his life-changing formation in Catholic schools is an experience shared by countless others around the world in a network estimated to educate a remarkable 60 million students.

In Australia alone, the Vice Chancellor emphasised that Catholic schools educate approximately 785,000 students, making up one fifth of all students, including many schools in rural and remote areas and reaching out to students with disabilities and also many students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The Director of UNDA’s Institute for Ethics and Society, Professor John Lippitt asks a question at a Scholarship at the Cathedral event, “Promoting Catholic Education”, 17 May 2022. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Professor Campbell believes what makes Catholic education distinctive from other school options is its focus on educating the “whole-person”, passing on strong values to students as well as academic knowledge and practical skills to succeed in society.

“Catholic education can be summed up as expanding each person’s capacity for love, so that we develop the whole person, nurturing body, mind and spirit”, he explained.

“So choosing a Catholic education not only forms good citizens, but it also nurtures a healthy society. Catholic schools are not just motivated by the latest Key Performance Indicator, fad or gimmick. Rather, the approach stems from centuries of insight about the human person and their dignity as being in the image and likeness of God”.

You can watch Professor Campbell’s full address on the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s You Tube channel here. 

For information on upcoming Scholarship at the Cathedral event, visit its website here.

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