Serving local families through faith and community

By Mark Smith, 27 July 2022
Gilroy Catholic College teacher Declan Horan together with students from the Class of 2021. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta/Supplied.


From the first COVID-19 lockdowns in the Easter of 2020 through to the present, thousands of teachers across the Diocese have witnessed the love and light of Christ as they responded to the profound and changing needs of local families.

While leading the remote learning for their students, many teachers helped their own children learning at home too. Many also shared the experiences of local families isolated from loved ones, particularly elderly family members. This created a strong sense of solidarity as school staff sought to support students and their families.

Our teachers have offered a calming presence of faith during times of fear and chaos. This has been a ministry of presence, walking alongside students and families as a tangible example of the pilgrim church called by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium 8).

Our teachers have lived the “call to holiness” as the saints next door referred to by Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World (2018). This call to holiness has involved many steps, often behind the scenes.

The following words from Anthony Matthews, a teacher and leader of Religious Education at St John XXIII Catholic College Stanhope Gardens, offer a special insight into these steps:

“The pandemic saw our role as educators become a continued actual fraternal opportunity where we had the awesome privilege to be able to respond and care for one another in a time of challenge.

“This opportunity bore witness in our daily life, moving to pastoral care conversations daily with families, staff fundraising and community support of one another, to the opportunity to be able to pray, hope and love – the new paradigm was endless.

“The most awesome experience was leading weekly and frequent prayer and liturgy opportunities online where not only the student, but the family were able to connect and be in communion with one another ‘actually’ not just ‘virtually’ as the presence of Christ is with us all.”

Isabella Plust, teacher at St John Paul II Catholic College at Schofields shares her experiences:

“It is safe to say that COVID-19 has not only reshaped our thinking of education but ministry and formation also. During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the call to respond to the needs of families and the longing for human interaction was increasingly evident. Students were restless with constant Zooms, classwork and screen time, that many would reach out to their homeroom teachers just to have a listening ear.

“As a religious education teacher and youth minister, I am forever grateful for the moments we were able to connect with students online and speak to ‘real-world’ events. Praying with students and accompanying them on their faith journey will be something I will cherish forever. Although the future may hold a sense of uncertainty, teachers will continue to strive to support students and dialogue with their families, during this time of accompaniment.”

St Mary’s Primary Rydalmere parent Anthony Ellard really valued the support from his daughter Caitlin’s school during the period of intense COVID-19 restrictions in Western Sydney. This included regular calls from Caitlin’s teacher for feedback on learning, providing valuable assurances about the way that her parents were helping with her schoolwork.

“Our teachers did a fantastic job to ensure families had the support that we needed during the lockdown, including parents like us working from home,” Anthony said. “The communications from the principal and teachers was phenomenal, really keeping families up to date and supporting kids during the break.”

What these many steps all have in common is that they are each encounters of love within the day-to-day lives of our communities. They are also evidence of teachers living a vocation – more than a job. Teachers have also done this together with their fellow colleagues as a faith community. Our teachers have prayed together and with their students, calling on God for guidance, comfort and inspiration. In this they have invited the Holy Spirit to be with their communities.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:19–20)

Our teachers have asked for the gift of Christ’s peace for students and families in turbulence.

In times of darkness and uncertainty, they have called on the light of Christ.

The pandemic is unfortunately not over and we can trust that our teachers will continue to accompany our families, guided by the light of Christ. So let us give thanks, pray for our teachers and remember the vital role schools hold in our communities.

Do you have a family member who may be called to the powerful vocation of teaching? It is a privilege that will challenge, and an opportunity to serve others in a truly powerful way. If there is someone in your family who you can see would flourish in this calling, why not invite them to consider it?

Mark Smith is a member of the Mission Team for Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.

This article was originally published in the 2022 Ordinary Time | Winter 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.


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