The new Episcopal Vicar for Education, Fr Robert Riedling, hopes to be a “listening ear” in his ministry of Catholic Education across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
In his role, Fr Robert acts as the Bishop’s representative on matters of Catholic Education, outreaching and supporting Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese (CSPD), Community Ventures including Ambrose early education, and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) who outreaches to Catholic students in public schools.
“I’m hoping to bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the role,” Fr Robert told Catholic Outlook.
“I was a teacher for four years before I entered the seminary, and although that was decades ago, I understand what teaching is all about and empathise with them that it’s not just a Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm role.
“Over the first few weeks in the role, I have begun to familiarise myself with what has happened in the role up until now, but that is always secondary to talking with people and getting their perspectives and the real stories.
“I see my role as getting to meet as many people as I can, such as principals, deputy principals and Religious Education Coordinators and to be a visible face for the schools and the agencies.”
Deep connection between parish and school ministry
Ordained to the priesthood in June 2005 and serving most of his priesthood in the Diocese, Fr Robert is grateful for the opportunities he has had to work and minister in the local schools.
“Currently, as Dean and Administrator of the Cathedral, I’ve got a very good relationship with Bernadette Fabri [Principal at St Patrick’s Primary] as well as with Parramatta Marist, Westmead.
“We have a sacramental role in the school as listening to kids’ confessions, going into classrooms, seeing what they are doing in Religious Education, having free conversations with the kids and to also be a face to staff and to make ourselves available to them too.”
During the recent Diocesan Synod, Catholics across the Diocese spoke about the need for strengthened connection between parishes and schools, an area Fr Robert is looking forward to developing.
“We’re quite lucky in our Diocese that every parish has a priest. Speaking with other clergy, some have very good relationships with schools and some maybe don’t feel as comfortable.
“It’s important to explore what role the pastor has in schools, what role schools have in a parish and try to work out that relationship so that it can strengthen genuinely and work out what we can do in cooperation to build the Kingdom of God in this Diocese, which is what we are called to do.
“There’s something unique about the Christian faith and we make that manifest in our parish and school communities.
“We are called to be different and unique and showcase to others in our local community that people can be united, loving and compassionate.”
Diocesan Catholic Education called to live the Gospels
As Fr Robert settles into the role, he is looking forward to working with schools and agencies about what Catholic education means in the 21st century.
“CSPD has recently been working on Catholic identity and understanding what it means to be a Catholic school in our Diocese and in our modern society and how that determines who goes into schools and how schools are run.
“I’m not here to solve those issues and answer those questions, but I would like to be able to contribute to those conversations and understand who we are in the 21st century and once that is determined, what that means for how we operate as schools and parishes.
“I would like to see everyone in Catholic schools to be really living the Gospels, living out the mission to spread God’s love and seeing people united in schools and having the same vision of being Christ and building the Kingdom.
“I’ve experienced some of what our schools do in terms of being loving, kind, considerate, understanding and compassionate, but it would be great for people in the wider community to see that our schools are not just another school, but special places of Christ.”
Read more about Fr Robert when he was appointed Dean and Administrator of the Cathedral Parish.
We wish Fr Robert the best in his new role in supporting Catholic Education in the Diocese to live the Gospels.