Threading faith through everyday life is at the heart of everything Bernice Wong does.
So much so the Family Educator at St Francis of Assisi Primary School at Paddington has introduced beading as part of the Year 2 students’ preparation for their Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The students, with the help of their families, make a string of seven colourful beads which are designed to represent each day of the week and the positive choices they can make. A crucifix, a prayer card and a leather string and a medal of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the school community, are also attached.
The Good Choice Beads are then blessed by popular parish priest Fr Paul Ghanem ofm to be used for daily guided reflection as well as kept as a memento.
While the concept is very simple, it’s reaping some pretty huge rewards.
Fr Paul is forthcoming in singing the praises of the work being done by the quietly spoken educator.
He said he has seen a marked change in the Church community and the closer relationship enjoyed by its parishioners – both young and young at heart.
“Bernice is a Godsend, her role is something that’s been needed for a long time,” he said.
“It’s been a huge success because she is a verb, she’s a doer, which is what the role requires. She is leading by example and showing parents how important it is for children to learn from their behaviour.
“My ego can certainly handle the fact she is making me look pretty good.”
Bernice said her role was one of connecting, reconnecting and enhancing each families faith and the Good Choice Beads was just one of many initiatives implemented at the school to achieve that.
She agreed that while “sewing mends the soul” it also brings families together.
“The students have gained so much from the beads, both in the making and in what they represent,” she said.
“It’s a tool enabling the family to celebrate the sacrament together, everyone can actively take part.
“But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the family do so long as they do it together.”
Seven-year-old Tessa D’Souza said the beads were really special as it was something she shared not only with her parents but devoted grandparents Saturn and Geraldine.
“Everyone is so busy at night, but when I get out my beads everyone knows it’s time to stop and come to my room and say a prayer,” she smiled.
“I like saying a prayer at night as it helps me go to sleep with my family around me. I am very lucky that my poppa and nana especially like saying prayers with me.”
The Family Educator Project was piloted in Sydney Catholic Schools in 2010 with just six people and today has grown to more than 100, offering opportunities for families to come together and grow their faith in 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.
For Bernice, her role is not only a way for families to connect with their faith – but also with each other.
“I am very fortunate in that the school community, and in particular the principal Nicole Harris, has been very supportive of the role,” she said.
“Hearing the students come to me and tell me how excited they were to not only pray together but spend quality time together is what it’s all about.
“During Lent I sent home a very simple recipe for pancakes and the number of not only students but other family members telling me how much fun they had made me so happy.
“I think families forget THEY are the most important things in life, it’s what they do together that makes it so special.”