Representatives of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta’s 80 great local schools have gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the retirement of Executive Director Greg Whitby AM KSG. With Mass concelebrated by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, members of the Curia and Diocesan Priests, the memorable occasion hosted by the Diocese of Parramatta was a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life leader and his lasting legacy.
Greg has led Catholic schools across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains as Executive Director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta since 2006. He also served as Director of Schools at the Catholic Education Office Wollongong from 1999 to 2006. Prior to this, Greg was a teacher and school leader in government and Catholic schools. This included a period as Principal of Emmaus Catholic College Kemps Creek. Greg has also lectured in the faculty of business at Western Sydney University.
In a thoughtful homily, Bishop Vincent celebrated Greg’s dedication to education for more than fifty years, reflecting, with a “tinge of sadness” that “all good things must come to an end”. Greg’s “long and unstinting service to Catholic education” was characterised by “the best of civic and ecclesial values, standards and principles”, Bishop Vincent said. He praised Greg’s commitment to “education as a vehicle for social equity and inclusion” and for his educational leadership that has put Parramatta “on the cutting edge”, reminding all present that the Holy Father teaches that we must not be content with the status quo. The Bishop also commended Greg’s “dedication, integrity and a sense of Mission”, especially through times of challenge and encouraged all present to foster Greg’s strong legacy.
Fr Chris De Souza reflected on his 12 years working as Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation in the Diocese of Parramatta, thanking Greg for the legacy he will leave behind. He said three words best summed up Greg as a leader: “passion, compassion, and faithfulness”.
Fr Chris noted that Greg’s passion was particularly evidenced through his concern for equity and thanked him for helping in his own personal understanding of what compassion means in Catholic education. He also highlighted Greg’s faithfulness to the Gospel message, stating that he “challenged us to look more deeply at what education was, especially Catholic education”.
Greg Whitby then had an opportunity to address the many staff, students and family members present, extending heartfelt gratitude to have so many people there to celebrate the occasion. He thanked Jarara Cultural Centre colleague Josh Sly for the moving Smoking Ceremony prior to the Mass, a meaningful tradition reflecting Greg’s commitment to Reconciliation and deep respect for Aboriginal people, culture and spirituality.
Greg’s speech featured several entertaining stories of his own school years, especially his encounters with teachers. Students and staff giggled as he shared the story of his first day of school at St Monica’s North Parramatta, relating that he kicked Principal Sr Burkman (Sr Joan Keogh rsm) in the shins after his mother delivered him to Kindergarten. Fortunately, the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta showed mercy that day! Another memorable story Greg recalled was his mother complaining to his Year Two teacher Sr Rosarie that he was growing too fast, suggesting that she might “put a brick on his head” to which Sr Rosarie scolded Mrs Whitby: “You’ll do nothing of the sort to that beautiful boy”.
Greg completed his primary education at St Monica’s before going on to undertake his secondary years at Oakhill College Castle Hill. He joked that his well-known opposition to the HSC might well be related to having had to complete Year 12 twice! Greg went on to become a teacher (and still is, he reminded listeners!), then moved into education administration. Greg was visibly moved when he shared his pride in receiving a letter from his Year 5 teacher, Br Nivard (Br John Mitchell FSC) on the occasion of his appointment as Director of Schools at the Catholic Education Office Wollongong. Br Nivard had written about how much this news meant to the De La Salle Brothers.
Extending many thanks to his colleagues, Greg said he was proud of the growth and change he has seen in local schools. He also acknowledged the five Bishops he had worked with, with particular mention of Bishop Vincent Long’s vision and commitment to transformation. Greg thanked his family and friends for their support, especially his wife Sue who was seated together with his sisters Elizabeth and Susan. With a smile, he concluded his remarks by sharing some sage advice with students, drawing on the words of Micah 6:8: “act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God”.
As Greg took his seat after delivering this valedictory, a choir of CEDP staff and students from Catherine McAuley Westmead and Parramatta Marist High burst into a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel’s Messiah is a favourite of Greg’s, and he gave the performers a standing ovation after briefly pretending to be a conductor. “That’s the kind of music I’d like to go out to,” Bishop Vincent ad-libbed.
The Mass was followed by light refreshments and school groups and colleagues were keen to take photos with Greg, and share their best wishes. Catholic Education extends its thanks to the Diocese of Parramatta for organising a memorable occasion for schools to farewell a leader who has made such an impact for children and young people in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Greg’s service to education has also previously been recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and the award of a Papal Knighthood in the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2013. He has received a presidential citation from the Australian Council of Educational Leaders and in 2017, he was awarded the Sir Harold Wyndham Medal for his contribution to the education of young people in NSW.
A livestream recording of Greg’s farewell Mass from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, is available here.
With thanks to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.