Faith, family and a first for the Archdiocese

OLMC year 7 student Georgia Shelly making a gingerbread house with mum Sharon.
OLMC Year 7 student Georgia Shelly making a gingerbread house with mum Sharon.

Our Lady of Mercy College at Burraneer has become the first high school within Sydney Catholic Schools to trial the Family Educator program.

An overwhelming success in primary schools, the program designed to strengthen family faith and bridge the gap between the church and the home is now being piloted in the secondary school.

Established in 2010 with just six people, today it has grown to 102, offering opportunities for families to come together and grow their faith.

Latest figures show that four out of five families don’t attend Mass, yet send their children to Catholic schools, so the program was designed to engage families with their parish.

Activities such as prayer meetings, morning teas, parent craft sessions, times of reflection and meetings for parents with toddlers are regular events aimed at parents who can then share their faith with their children.

Meredith Lemos, Family Educator Project Team Leader, said trialling the program in high schools was an obvious next step due to the outstanding results it had already achieved in primary schools.

She said they were answering the call from parents and teachers alike who wanted to extend the program to teenagers and assist with growing their faith.

“Implemented eight years ago, the Family Educator Project is now woven into the culture of over 100 Sydney Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney,” she said.

“Parent feedback from formal surveys in primary schools has been very positive with an average of 8 out of 10 parents declaring they are significantly or extensively more engaged in the faith life of the school and parish, due to the initiatives and gatherings facilitated by the Family Educator.

“The contribution of the Family Educators in promoting a welcoming, authentic Catholic community and raising the awareness of our Catholic mission and identity is undeniable and can’t be overlooked. It just seems the natural progression to have someone focus explicitly on family faith formation and evangelisation in our high schools.”

Students are rolling out their faith with the help of the Family Educator.
Students are rolling out their faith with the help of Family Educators.

The program, which has begun at OLMC in the past few weeks, has kicked off with a special parent/daughter Gingerbread House-making initiative just in time for Advent.

And while it’s meant to be a fun activity, it is also aimed at encouraging special family time for parents and their children, to reflect together on what’s important.

OLMC principal Ann Freeman said she was delighted to be the first high school in the archdiocese to trial the program as there was a real need to offer opportunities to foster faith within families.

“They do all this good work in primary schools and then the students get to high school and all of a sudden it stops, the groundwork is done and then seems to come to an end,” she said.

“For us it was a natural conversation to have, we enjoy such a great relationship with our feeder primary schools as well as the Family Educator who actually already works at our school one day a week dealing with social justice issues.

“Our FE Lisa Overton is already such a positive force in our community and that will only grow in her new role and offer our girls something different in an increasing secular world.”

Lisa Overton agreed on the benefits of the program and said she is thrilled with the opportunity to be able to create enduring relationships.

“Whether it’s making connections for others (matching like-minded people and their families), building school and parish communities or making close wonderful friendships for myself that I know will be life-long, it will be such a positive initiative for the whole community,” she said.

“Spreading the joy of the Good News to others is so life-giving and life-changing.

“I am thrilled to be the first Family Educator in high schools within the archdiocese and look forward to the program extending throughout the network.”

Sydney Catholic Schools will monitor the program and re-evaluate its viability at the end of the trial period.

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