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Modelling faith and service

Michael Kenny
Michael Kenny
Michael Kenny is Executive Manager, Archdiocese of Sydney Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.
Pope Francis award students at their bake-off at St Declan's Penshurst.
Pope Francis award students from Marist College in Penshurst at their bake-off at St Declan’s Penshurst. Photo: Marist College Penshurst

The Pope Francis Award program gaining strength in secondary schools

Teachers and students have praised a popular faith-based service program which will be expanded to all Sydney Catholic Schools at the secondary level next year, saying it has helped nurture the students in their Catholic faith and strengthened ties between schools and parishes.

Under the Pope Francis Award program, introduced in primary schools in 2017, students complete 20 to 30 hours of community service across one year in their school and parish communities before and after school, including during lunch and recess.

The program is currently in place in 105 primary schools across the Archdiocese of Sydney and has been expanded to now cover five secondary schools this year, prior to being rolled out to all secondary schools in 2023.

Primary students must undertake 20 hours of community service over the course of one year, while secondary students complete 30 hours and must also attend a retreat.

The Religious Education Coordinator at Marist College Penshurst, Mrs Melissa Vassallo said her school is one of the five secondary schools that have benefited from the program this year.

St Declan's Parish's Pope Francis Award students.
St Declan’s Parish Priest, Fr Chris Ryan MGL with students from Marist College Penshurst in the Pope Francis Awards program. Photo: Marist College Penshurst

“We have seven of our Year 7 students involved and they recently met with Year 6 students also engaged in the program through our local feeder schools, St Declan’s Penshurst and Mater Dei at Blakehurst. So that sense of continuity is a great advantage and alongside that is the strong engagement we have had with local parishes where the students are involved in volunteer ministries from reading at Mass through to leading the offertory procession and then leading morning teas after Sunday Mass”, Mrs Vassallo explained.

At a Sunday Mass earlier this month, students from Marist College Penshurst led a fundraiser morning tea for a Year 7 student undergoing cancer treatment in an event which was strongly supported by Parish Priest Fr Chris Ryan MGL.

“We raised $1800 which was a great effort. But it wasn’t just about raising money. It was about service and giving back to the community while strengthening the link with the parish too, which is central to the Pope Francis awards”, Mrs Vassallo said.

Marist College Penshurst students at bake off at St Declan's Penshurst.
Marist College Penshurst students at bake off at St Declan’s Penshurst.

The other schools participating in the Year 7 program this year are All Saints College Liverpool, Champagnat College Pagewood, St Mary’s Cathedral College and Trinity College in Auburn.

The students have all benefited from a retreat day in August led by Sydney Catholic Schools’  Education Officers: Church Engagement, Cheryl Fernandez and Dominique Farah, exploring the importance of service in Catholic social teaching and why this is so important in the broader mission of the Catholic school and parish.

Year 7 student at Marist College Penshurst, Pablo Wilson, said one of the greatest benefits of the program has been the strong ties that have been forged with the local primary school, St Declan’s and the parish.

“This was really special because we not only got to attend Mass together but we also got to bake and sell some delicious items to the parishioners who were very generous. I look forward to continuing the program and hopefully I can do it again later in Year 9 or 10”, he said.

As one of the few K-12 Catholic schools in greater Sydney, All Saints College Liverpool has benefited from being able to seemlessly implement the Pope Francis Awards across both Year 6 and Year 7.

The school’s Dean of Mission,   Ms Carolyn Blinco said the program currently involves 15 students in Year 6 and 10 students in Year 7, who have been engaged in community activities from packing grocery hampers for Jesuit Refugee Services through to sandwiches for the St Vincent De Paul night patrol for the homeless of western Sydney which staff members are also involved with.

All Saints College Liverpool students packing sandwiches for staff to then hand out to the homeless during the St Vincent De Paul night patrol in western Sydney. Photo: Carolyn Blinco

Ms Blinco said the school is looking towards integrating the Pope Francis Awards program into a broader Faith in Action program across K-12 aimed at encouraging students to live out Catholic Social Teaching.

She said many of the students have also become more actively engaged in parish life through the program, whether as youth leaders, readers or altar servers.

“Sometimes it can spark the faith in the family because the families are the ones who bring the children back to the parish. Ultimately it’s our hope that once our students pass through the doors of our school, they will stay connected with their faith through a warm and welcoming parish as well”, Ms Blinco added.

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