Each week, Fr Jack Green, Fr Regie Lavilla or Fr John Paul Escarlan from Mary, Queen of the Family (MQOF) Parish, Blacktown, take a short stroll down to St Patrick’s Primary School.
One could automatically think that it would be to celebrate Mass. But each week, one of the priests head down to the primary school to spend time in the classroom with students and their teachers to listen to their questions and offer responses to these enquiring minds.
Natalie Coghlan, Religious Education Coordinator of St Patrick’s Primary School, Blacktown, initially invited this interaction between students and priests to get to know the new leaders, who joined the MQOF community in January 2019. It quickly turned into something quite amazing.
“Kids just love to ask questions. You can’t prepare for the questions that the kids ask because they are so diverse. They love to see the priest as a ‘real person’ instead of just a figure at the front of a Church.” Natalie said.
“The priest brings in a different perspective to a normal classroom environment. The different face is a bonus for the children.”
Natalie explained how the experience has proved valuable. “It has strengthened the students’ understanding of faith, particularly in preparation for the sacraments.
“In this encounter, it is often the only experience some of these children have of Church and it also brings the experience of the Word of God to all students, Catholic and people of diverse faiths alike.
“Even when kids go to Mass, they rarely have the opportunity to have a conversation with a priest. The whole thing is very conversational. It is what the kids want to know. This enriches the faith formation of the children and engages in a deeper level – deepening their faith by having their questions answered,” she said.
Fr Jack Green has enjoyed the opportunity to visit the primary school on many occasions and sees this as an important connection.
“Having a strong and familiar relationship between the school and the clergy can provide the environment where real relationships occur between the clergy, the students, and the staff – relationships that are much thicker and broader than simply knowing ‘Father’ as the guy who comes and says Mass at the start and the end of the year.
“If students can come to know their priests as real people who love them and want to listen to and speak with them, then we can do two things simultaneously, I think.
“First, we can build trust where it has been lost by the wickedness of some clergy. Second, we can form children against a very common idea of our secular nation: that religion is something separate from and alien to normal life.
“If students can come to know their priests outside liturgical events – important as these are – then they hopefully will come to realise that these ‘religious’ people are not entirely foreign, and so, what they stand for and offer – God – is not entirely foreign. It sounds lofty, dreamy almost, but I have seen it occurring already in my short time as a priest,” Fr Jack said.
When asked what about some of the questions the children asked, Fr Jack responded, “Oh, they ask all sorts of questions, often very insightful and intelligent.
“Sometimes they ask me why I support Liverpool FC or where I live, why I don’t have a pet or something else ‘mundane’.
“But I think some of the best questions were about how God can know what we are going to do in the future – something old philosophers with grey hair still ask!
“They’ve also asked me about how God could know them before they were born, why Adam and Eve took the fruit, and why there is a little red candle in the church. The variety and relevance of their questions often leaves me with a sore head afterwards!”
Here’s to more wonderful conversations taking place in Term 4 and in the years to come as the students at St Patrick’s continue to grow in their faith and their relationship with God.
Lisa Bright is a Project Officer in the Pastoral Planning Office, Diocese of Parramatta.