Peter Turner embodies what Catholic education is about
Turning a bunch of paddocks and chicken sheds into a first-class Catholic college in Sydney’s south west is just one of the highlights of Peter Turner’s career in what he says is a most noble profession.
The former director of schools for the Diocese of Wollongong received the 2021 Br Kelvin Canavan FMS Catholic School Leadership Award. The prestigious award recognises teachers who have moved into education administration in New South Wales.
Educated at Marist College, Kogarah, Mr Turner still contributes to Marist schools as a member of the Marist National Schools Council. Mr Turner said a highlight of his career was his seven years as the founding principal of Freeman Catholic College, Bonnyrigg Heights, followed by the same role at Aquinas College, Menai.
“The opportunity to start something from scratch is a wonderful privilege to be given,” he told The Catholic Weekly. “Also, working with wonderful people, great men and women who worked so hard for the young people we were given to care for and to educate.
Mr Turner, who wanted to be a teacher from around age 13, said he felt very honoured to receive the award, particularly in Br Kelvin’s name. “In my view, Kelvin would be one of the finest Catholic educators in the history of this country and is also just a very fine man,” he said. “I served as a teacher and school principal and then as a regional director of the southern region under his leadership, and I learnt a great deal from him and admire him enormously.”
Stephen Sedgwick, chair of Catholic Schools NSW presented the annual award to Mr Turner at the Catholic Schools NSW Education Law Symposium held online recently. It acknowledges leadership through example, personal faith and discipleship, commitment to growth-oriented support of others, and a focus on the benefit of all of the state’s schools.
This year the award especially recognises Mr Turner’s 45 years of exceptional contribution to Catholic education through tireless work as an advocate, negotiator and architect of authentic, effective Catholic schools and systems at the diocesan, state, national and international levels. It also recognises his “commendable” commitment to the learning, wellbeing, growth and nurturing of the faith of each child and young person.
The inaugural recipient in 2019 was Dr Anne Wenham, former principal of St Stanislaus’ College in Bathurst. Catholic Schools NSW CEO Dallas McInerney said it was not only right to honour past achievements in educational leadership but helpful as a guide for approaching the future.
“Br Kelvin essentially built the Catholic education system as we know it,” he said. “We wanted to capture those achievements and record of service by Br Canavan with an award, education award and a service leadership award, to honour people who have made significant achievement in those areas.
“Peter Turner was an easy choice given his long and distinguished career. But we’ve got such a depth of talent to draw from which makes Peter’s award so much more important and impressive.”
Br Kelvin said that while is not involved in the selection process, he was “delighted” to hear that Mr Turner had won the award.
Upon Mr Turner’s retirement from the Wollongong Diocese, Bishop Brian Mascord payed tribute to him, saying that he would be “forever admired as a wide communicator, a relational leader, a man of faith and of integrity, courage, honesty, stewardship and compassion”.