Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address at the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta System Leadership Day 2020 at Rosehill Racecourse, Rosehill
“From Curiosity to Clarity: Catholic Education for an Age of Uncertainty”
24 January 2020
It is a privilege for me to be speaking to you this morning, conscious that this year we are celebrating 200 years of Catholic education in Australia. We are proud that besides being the food bowl of colonial Australia, Western Sydney was also the cradle of this Good News story.
The early Catholic educators took a prophetic stance in not simply providing affordable, quality education to the poor masses, but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times. They were pioneers and trailblazers rather than tail lights in leading their people. They were audacious in acting out of their love of God and God’s anawim, that is, the blessed poor and needy. They had the courage to launch into the deep. We stand on their shoulders and continue their spirit of missionary and innovative leadership.
I have been asked to speak this morning about the theme of these bicentenary celebrations: from Curiosity to Clarity. I am reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman who converses with Jesus at the well. You know the one who is a bit of a biblical femme fatale, with as many husbands as Zsa Zsa Gabor had, which was why the disciples were absolutely scandalised seeing Jesus alone with her. She begins the encounter as a curious inquirer and ends as a disciple of conviction. The conversation moves from her frustrating search for water, for meaning and happiness and finishes with her leaving behind her vessel, going into the city, and inviting the people to meet Jesus, whom she recognises as the Messiah. Hers is an extraordinary transformation story and it is the same journey of transformation from curiosity to clarity of vision that we seek to facilitate in every child entrusted to our care.
There are no doubt many reasons why people initially send their children to Catholic schools in our day and age. What sparks their curiosity? There are many points of entry into the system, many hopes and dreams: academic achievements, personalised learning, better facilities, smaller classes et cetera. However, it is our task as leaders to accompany them and help them see with clarity the true purpose of Catholic education. It is our duty to help form them through a caring Catholic community that provides for their holistic development as human persons and beloved children of God.
In a society that increasingly sees education as a commodity that can be bought, we must resist being used as vehicles for socio-differentiation and elitism. Catholic schools find their authenticity in the Gospel priorities of respect for human dignity, outreach, inclusion and special concern for young people at risk of being left behind. Ours are not schools that provide education for Catholics only but Catholic education for all.
Our Parramatta Catholic education system has been outstanding in doing just that: as it has built on the work of many religious and lay people over the decades. We are known to be at the cutting edge of innovative, inquiry-based, technology-oriented and above all Gospel-grounded education.
In a sense, every Catholic school community opens its doors to the local community every day – and invites them to join the journey of growth and transformation. Ours is a Christ-centred community that fosters not only on intellectual growth, but just as importantly young people’s emotional and spiritual growth. And if we are continue to build on the magnificent legacy we have we will all need much creativity and imagination in the task still ahead of us.
Yes, in an age of anxiety with enormous social and cultural changes and so much tumult, people are looking for leadership for transformation.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow.