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Faith experiences bring personal touch to family educator role

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As Anne-Marie Julian and her 10-year-old daughter Lauren walked home one Saturday in November 2020, they noticed oddly that the doors of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Darlinghurst were open.

Closed most of the year due to COVID, this was an “unexpected invitation into God’s house.”

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They returned for Mass next morning, where Fr Brendan Purcell asked Lauren to ring the bell during consecration.

But when he noticed later Lauren herself hadn’t received the sacrament, Fr Brendan asked if she had made her first Holy Communion.

Lauren was scheduled to make it in three months with her classmates, and Anne-Marie passed up Fr Brendan’s proposal for first communion.

Yet only 6 weeks later in December, Lauren passed away suddenly from a fatal heart arrhythmia.

“It was something I really struggled with as a mother afterwards,” Anne-Marie told The Catholic Weekly.

“I felt I had been given a message from God and didn’t take it up.

“Speaking with Fr Brendan again later, he said to me the important thing was that she was baptised and that she went straight to heaven. I said I remember her in the sound of those bells. He told me she was with Jesus in the Eucharist and at those holiest times during Mass the bells draw our attention to that.”

After the loss of her daughter Lauren, Anne-Marie Julian is bringing her faith and family experience to her new role as a family educator.

Three years on, Anne-Marie is using her experiences of faith and family to great success in her newly appointed family educator role at McAuley Catholic Primary School.

She is one of nine new family educators across Sydney Catholic Schools appointed in 2024.

“In a way I feel I’m retracing Lauren’s life journey through the sacraments, school, children and their parents,” she said.

“When an opportunity like this presents itself, I often feel it’s God-directed, so I followed it.”

It’s a welcome change from 25 years in the corporate industry for the Irish-born mother who arrived in Sydney in 2010 amidst the ongoing financial crisis in her home country.

She hit the ground running in her first term as family educator, which included a welcome family Mass and BBQ for students and parents in March with a surprise appearance by Hollywood actor and Catholic, Mark Wahlberg.

Yet Anne-Marie appears to have already left quite a “mark” in more ways than one—rather 18 of them, after she helped students across the school and parish be received into the Catholic Church in Baptism.

New family educators across the SCS network

“I had been talking to a parent in Year 3 who expressed interest in having her daughter baptised and thought there could be one or two other classmates also,” she said.

“I spoke to the principal, REC coordinator and Father, and sent out an invitation in the newsletter about an information session, which received great numbers.

“The children were so excited. They’re going to Catholic school, they see all their friends preparing for the sacraments and they want to be a part of the great mystery.”

She said the entire objective of the family educator program aligns perfectly with her hopes to connect children and parents with their parish and community.

“I often reflect on my own journey with Lauren and my own childhood and know how beautiful it is to have your faith.

“I want to bring as many people to Mass and to the sacraments as possible, and it’s clear that helping families cope with life while building community is a great way to make that happen.

“I’m always prompted by Lauren. All throughout this I remember her. Parents are the first educators of children and what they see is what they model.

“They should see that faith is built off community, and it’s contagious. Anything I can do to facilitate that and support families is a great bonus.”

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