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Sr Cecilia Joseph OP: Catholic principals and evangelising leadership

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Sr. Cecilia Joseph, OP woth students at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park. Photo: Supplied
Sr. Cecilia Joseph, OP woth students at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park. Photo: Supplied

By Sr. Cecilia Joseph, OP

“For those who occupy positions of leadership, there can be a strong temptation to consider the [Catholic] school like a company or business. However, schools that aim to be educating communities need those who govern them to be able to invoke the school’s reference values; they must then direct all the school’s professional and human resources in this direction. School leaders are more than just managers of an organisation.” (Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools, 85) 

Principals wear many hats in guiding the successful operation of our schools. Leading teaching and learning, strategic planning, staffing, finance, marketing, and community engagement: these are a few items on the to-do list. There is much work to be done for the glory of God and the good of His people. I dare say, however, that the role of leading for evangelisation is the principal’s most important work as it speaks to the heart of the mission in a Catholic school. 

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In Australia, principals were historically supported in this mission by their local parishes, communities of religious sisters and brothers, and the faith-filled families of their students. From this vibrant community of prayer, fellowship, and formation came a natural impulse of evangelisation. As the years have passed, however, some of our schools have lost this support network. We have many policies and procedures designed to protect our Catholic identity and mission, but these cannot communicate the joy of the Gospel.

A student from St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park. Photo: Supplied
A student from St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park. Photo: Supplied

Fast forward to the present day. We see the steady rise of the ‘nones’ of no religious affiliation, low numbers registering weekly Mass attendance, increasing pressures to restrict religious freedom, and the prevailing culture that negates Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Is the glass half empty or half full? 

We have no small task ahead of us. Yet, I am challenged and energised by the opportunities offered in this present context. Now is the time to be creative and think outside the box. Now is the time to rekindle our efforts as leaders in evangelisation in our Catholic schools. 

Evangelisation does not need to involve a microphone and soap box, but it does require intentionality. When a school is mission focused, visitors are wrapped in truth, goodness, and beauty from the moment they enter the campus. Externals matter: from sacred art to a Marian grotto, from students wearing a Miraculous Medal to staff modelling charity in speech, act, and dress. These foster and protect the internal dimensions of mission: integrating the Catholic worldview across the curriculum, promoting the dignity of the human person from the art studio to the library to the sporting field, providing opportunities for Christian formation for students and families from a multitude of backgrounds. 

These intentional practices tell the world that everything we do is about a Person. Our schools do not exist for programs, curriculums, or social justice, although these are all worthy onramps to something greater. Truth, which we seek in all that we do, culminates in a Person. We are focused on a way of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. With this outward focus, we discover a unity which gives meaning to all our doing in the work of the day. Everything that we do in a Catholic school is meant to lead to a relationship with the source of all that exists, Jesus Christ. Everything in our learning, teaching, wellbeing, play, creativity and prayer is about an encounter with the God who loves us. The only worthy response is to give back everything as a gift to Him. As St. Augustine told us so many centuries ago, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” 

Please pray for school principals, all involved in leadership in our schools and systems, and for the families and students who attend our schools. May they come to know the fullness of life for which they were created and the God who loves them infinitely.

Sr. Cecilia Joseph, OP is the principal of St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park.

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