Monday, 20 June 2016

Growing families in faith

When we enrol a new child at St Joseph's Catholic school in Oamaru, we say we enrol the whole family. We place emphasis on building quality family relationships and recognise the important knowledge parents have as their children's first teachers.

Our Special Catholic Character Committee discussed ways to be inclusive and supportive for new and existing families in the area of Catholicity and faith development. This conversation flowed on from our new parish based approach to Sacramental meetings for parents. There was a need to ensure that families understand that when they commit to enrolling in a Catholic school, they are committing their full support for a Catholic education for their children.

Some of our families asked for explicit guidance on how they could support their children in the Catholic faith. Some families wished to become involved in the Church and weren't sure how to go about it.

We decided that attending Welcome (Induction) meetings would be a good starting point for our families before committing and completing the formal enrolment process. These meetings reflect the Catholic ethos of the school. The meetings begin and finish with a prayer and link to gospel vision and values.

This is the process that we follow at our meetings: Our Parishioners (also Proprietors Rep on our board), school chaplain/ parish priest and the principal are all present at the meeting.

Welcome and introductions. Each participant has a nametag. Set up a prayer table and ensure a welcoming environment.
Prayer - Induction prayer
Share reasons for wanting your children to be part of St Joseph’s school ( in small groups if large group is too big).
School Vision and Values (linked to scripture) & children's induction cards
What does it mean to be Catholic?
-  We believe in God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit
- We believe in the creator of the universe
- We give thanks to God for everything
- We worship as a community
The school is a Praying Community
Prayer takes place a) in the classroom b) the hall c) the church Special Catholic character permeates the whole day
Ways you can support your children
- Talk with children about prayer Family Prayer p13 Family Whanau Book
-  Read the weekly special character blog to keep informed
-  Support the Religious Education Programme
Religious Education Programme
How can we support you and your children in your faith journey?
Family Prayer (from the Family Whanau Book)
Signing of the enrolment papers

As a result of having a couple of these meetings, the school and the Parish have built important connections with the families. Some of our new families have been interested in attending the Baptism Information meetings and have begun to attend mass on the weekends.

We understand that small steps of support and encouragement lead to new learning and opportunities for planting and watering the seeds of faith. We need to be proactively listening to our families and work collaboratively as school and parish to ensure relationships with our families are faith filled.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Reaching out through baptism

Reaching out through baptism
Here are the steps we followed with our first baptism meeting.
A letter from the school and parish went out to our community. Our school chaplain and principal spoke to the children about the letter and baptism during morning prayer visits to classes. They recorded the names of any children interested in becoming baptised. Our Catholic Character team followed up with phone calls to families. We were also aware that sometimes, children and adults are already baptised in another faith. They can also become Catholic through participation in a Profession of Faith.

Meeting guidelines
Prepare a prayer table and some reflective music. Include water and oil, white stole and other symbols.
Begin with introductions and a prayer.

Kia ora my Friend God.
I give to you the voyage of this day,
that to be which is already yours,
adding to it my rejoicing,
a shout of praise. Amen. Amen.
You are the wind: fill up my sails.
You are the water: run fast beneath my keel.
And I will sing in the wind
and dance over the water,
God my Friend, oh God my Friend.
You are the light: enfold me,
You are the darkness: embrace me.
You are pain: hollow me.
You are love: overflow me.
The storms of change are you,
and the peace of tranquil waters.
You are all these things Friend God,
and I thank you. Amen. Amen.
May I journey without fear
through all your seasons.
In emptiness let me find fullness.
In imprisonment let me find freedom.
Render me passive in your will
and I shall be most active,
moving with you in everything,
seeing you in everything
knowing you in everything.
Amen. Amen.
Joy Cowley "Aotearoa Psalms" c 1989 Catholic Supplies (N.Z.) Ltd.

- What is the reason for the purpose of the meeting? Let families share their reasons for being there too.
-Share Catholic Baptism in 60 seconds
-The difference between being baptised and not being baptised.
-Share this slideshow of one of our Year 7 boys who chose to be baptised.

-What does it look like to be a baptised person ? 
- Share the video interviews with Sebastian (now Year 8) and Molly (baptised in Yr 6 and now Yr 7). 

Here are the preparation questions and Molly's answers :
1. What do you think helped you to decide that you would like to be baptised into our Catholic faith?
When I first started at St Joseph’s, I really enjoyed the RE and I wanted to learn more about Jesus and God.  I thought that I could learn more, by getting baptised and going through the steps.
I talked about it with Mum and Dad and Fr Wayne and everyone was excited for me to be baptised and keep learning.
It means that I can be involved in the services, receive communion, have a prayer partner and I am now learning to be an alter server. It brings you closer to God.
2. Explain what part of the baptism with Fr Wayne felt special for you or the most memorable part of the experience.  
I liked going through this experience in front of the school because the whole school was so supportive and I felt like I belonged to the Catholic Faith.  
3. Is there anything else you would like to add yourself ?
It teaches you to pray and helps you be a kind person and God and Jesus support you through your journey.  

-What will becoming baptised mean for us in our lives ? Turn and share.
-Sacraments are signs. We are making a conscience decision to join the Catholic Christian community. This becomes an outward sign to journey with Christ and become more Christlike.
-Lightly touch on the symbols of baptism - water cleansing, life giving, anointing
-Final reflection and brief details about the next meeting. It will involve preparation towards baptism.
Ensure you are available to have a cup of tea and talk with the participants after the meeting. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

A Prayer for Leaders in Catholic Education

This is my first attempt at writing a formal prayer. I wrote it while staying at the Burns Lodge Convention Centre in Mosgiel, originally known as the Holy Cross Seminary during a two day leadership seminar. You can read about the seminar led by Brendan Spillane at this link. 
The Otago Southland Catholic Principal's Association planned to have a meeting during the second day of the seminar. After a day of learning with Brendan Spillane, his words resounded in my head as it touched the pillow within the walls of the sacred seminary. The challenging message to leaders from the NZ Catholic Bishops (NZCBC) in their 2014 document, The Catholic Education of School - Age Children also featured. I woke up in the early hours of the morning of the meeting and was inspired to write this prayer.
Please feel free to adapt and use the prayer or offer suggestions to improve it.

Loving Father,

Bless us as we meet here today within the walls of the former Holy Cross Seminary.
For almost 100 years, this building was a sacred place for deep prayer, study and reflection.

Through the Holy Spirit, help us to feel a strong connection to the faithful and committed Catholics who dedicated their lives to carry out your work.

We are here as leaders of schools but not ordinary schools. You have called us to do the extraordinary work of leading your Catholic schools.

We know that at the heart of the Catholic character of our schools are the Catholic hearts of those who work in our schools [1].

Pope Francis has been calling us to imagine with freshness who we are as God’s people.
"We are not living an era of change but a change of era " [2].
He said “we can walk [and talk] as much as we like, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ … we are not the Church …and everything is swept away” [3]. 

Our NZ bishops have reminded us that the encounter with Jesus is at the centre of Catholic education. Our schools are at the heart of every parish or pastoral area’s evangelising mission [4].

We know that the primary goal of Catholic education is "above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others" [5].

As Catholic leaders and teachers we must play our part in enabling every teacher and every child in our schools to use their God-given talents in promoting the good of society and the spread of the kingdom of God [6].

Help us to have the courage to maintain, strengthen and safeguard the Christ centred uniqueness of an authentic Catholic identity in our schools.

We ask that you give us the strength and the courage through our own prayer, study and reflection, to be open to understanding how we can help guide the children in our care to carry your transforming love and light into their future.


[1] NZCBC, Par 47.
[2] Pope Francis, 2015 via Spillane
[3] NZCBC, Intro.
[4] NZCBC, Intro.
[5] NZCBC, Par 11. Pope John Paul, 1979.
[6] NZCBC, Par 18.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Catholic Kete; Sharing our Culture

"At the heart of the Catholic character of a school are the Catholic hearts of those who work in the school, principal, teachers, chaplains and other staff " (The Catholic Education of School - Age Children NZ Catholic Bishops Conference 2014)
Studying a paper called Identity and Mission by Lyn Smith through the Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand, drew my attention to the importance of the whole staff understanding their role when working in a Catholic school. The whole staff includes everyone our children and families come into contact with: our office staff, teachers, teacher aides, caretakers and cleaners. They are all equally as important as each other.
Although not all of our staff are Catholic, just like our families, all staff members sign an agreement to support the Catholic character of the school.
Job descriptions and copies of guidelines, explain expectations for employees. How often do we go the extra mile and support staff to understand the traditions, rituals and Catholic culture of our schools? I remember returning from an Ash Wednesday mass and a caring support staff member, drew my attention to the smudge of dirt on my forehead. We laughed and I briefly explained that the cross on my forehead represented the start of Lent.
Our children need to be supported to grow their Catholic faith in an authentically Christian environment where each and every staff member understands that the 'ethics of the school are rooted in Gospel values and the teaching of the Catholic Church' (Christ at the Centre, The Diocesan Schools Commission, 2005).
In 2015, we welcomed all staff to the new year by presenting them with "well being bags". We ensured there were some prayers and links to our Catholic character but the main focus was on staff well being. 
A Maori flax kete. Image from
This year, we decided to support staff to understand more about the Catholicity of our school with the creation of Catholic Ketes. A kete is the Maori word for a traditional flax basket. These are used to store cultural materials. Although our ketes were made of paper and weren't as beautiful as the flax ketes, they were filled with items that link to our Catholic cultures and traditions. They were gifted to staff during morning tea prayers on Ash Wednesday. Special thanks to the very dedicated Paula Brien our office assistant who was rostered on staff prayers together with me and helped to prepare this reflection and our Catholic Ketes. Here is the reflection:
Prayer Reflection
Light the candle, bless ourselves and begin with this Lent video (from the Education resource page on the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin website). 
Present the Catholic Ketes and ask different staff members to read a sentence from the list of contents.
Our Catholic Ketes around the prayer table in the staff room.
Contents of our Catholic Ketes
-  Bottle of Water (This reminds us of holy water and our baptismal invitation to be part of God's family.)

-  Easter Egg (Chocolate is traditionally given up for Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Can you save your chocolate egg for the end of Lent on Easter Sunday ?)
The definition of the Catholic Kete contents

-  Green blessing card  (These days we focus on our thoughts and actions during Lent. Do something thoughtful for the person whose name is on your card for a week during Lent.)

-  Rosary Beads (Rosary beads help us to keep track of our prayers when praying to Mary. Hold on tight to your beads and pray when the going gets tough.)

-  Pencil (A pencil with a special message from God for you and a rubber to erase your sins. Going to reconciliation regularly is a way to be forgiven by God for our sins.)

-  'Give God the glory' message card ( Pass this to the person on your right for them to read and keep God's message in their hearts. When we say 'we will keep you in our prayers', we promise to pray for someone in need.)

-  St Joseph's medals ( A keepsake to remind you which school you are working at in case you can't remember or you get lost!! St Joseph was the loving father of Jesus and a role model for all fathers.)

-  Dominican Prayer card (This helps to remind us of the Dominican sisters who founded our school and the charism of Jesus. At St Joseph's we say JJ. This means Just like Jesus and Journey with Jesus.)

-  Another Chocolate Treat with a twist - You will have one of these bars in your bag for nourishment. Once more, hold out for forty days and nights, just like Jesus did when he fasted in the desert before beginning his ministry. Can you last or will you be tempted ?

                           -  Moro Bar to give you the extra energy when required
                           -  Boost Bar to give you a boost after the 2.00 pm drift
                           -  Picnic Bar to give you a light meal after 3.00 pm
                           -  Bubbly Bar to keep your bubbly personalities afloat
                           -  Flake Bar - to savour each bit of yummy chocolate after a great day at 
                           -  Crunchie Bar - a golden reward for all of your hard work
                           -  Dream Bar - when you are short of inspiration
                           -  Caramello - when you need some liquid gold before 5.00 pm and then at 5.00
                              pm you can enjoy the other liquid gold!!
                           -  Turkish Delight - to remind us that everyone is a delight in our school
                           -  Cherry Ripe - a yummy bit of fruit to include in our tally of 5 fruit and vege a 
                           -  Dairy Milk Chocolate - to remind us that a plain outside is not 
                              necessarily what you get in the inside

Conclude with this Lenten prayer adapted from Matthew Kelly's book: Rediscover Lent 
God of goodness and mercy, hear our prayer this lenten season. Let us be honest with ourselves as we look into our hearts ad souls, noticing the time we turn away from you, then seeking to repent and return to your love. May humility guide our efforts to be reconciled with you and live forever in your abundant grace. Amen.

Share other Kelly resources available for staff to loan: Rediscover Catholicism, Rediscover Jesus and explain about the daily email reflections from Dynamic Catholic during the forty days of Lent.

Let's support all of our staff to understand more about the Catholic school they work in and the role they play in creating an authentically Catholic environment where we "help to form Christ in the lives of others" (John Paul II quoted in Catholic Education of the School-Age Children, NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, 2014).

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Spiritual Nourishment: Creating and Walking a Labyrinth

Thirty members of our staff and board came together for a prayer retreat led by our Catholic Education Advisor, Katrina van de Water. When Katrina asked us to have skipping ropes ready, some of us we were worried about our fitness ! Little did we know, we would use the ropes to create our own labyrinth.

After I welcomed the team with a reminder about the unique focus of our Catholic schools and shared a poster from Lorraine Frances-Rees, Fr Wayne Healey blessed us during this first, full staff gathering in the new school year.

Lorraine's poster

Katrina shared the history of labyrinths dating back to 2500-2000 B.C.E. During the Middle Ages, complex designs could be seen in the Gothic Cathedrals (acknowledgement for these notes & guidelines to Katrina). The most famous remains in the Chatres Cathedral in France 1200. Walking the labyrinth is likened to walking a pilgrimage, on a journey to becoming closer to God. The four arms of the cross provide significant Christian symbolism.

General guidelines for walking a labyrinth are:
1. Focus: Pause and wait at the entrance. Become quiet and centred.
2. Experiences: Walk purposefully. Stay for some time when you reach the centre and focus.
3. Exit: Turn and face the entrance and acknowledge the ending with and "Amen".
4. Reflect on your experience.
5. Walk often
The Labyrinth floor at Chatres Cathedral (image acknowledgment)
The next step was for us to have a go at drawing the Classical Labyrinth. This has seven circuits and is associated with Christianity because of the cross at the starting point.

Some of us found it easier than others to draw the labyrinths.

After that, the purpose of the skipping ropes was revealed. We were to work together to create our own labyrinth and then have a go walking it. Here are some photos (see below) of our labyrinth experience. Everyone collected a few items of significance to place along the path of the labyrinth, to help us reflect on our personal spiritual journeys.

We all participated and found the experience spiritually empowering in our own unique ways. We would love to create a more permanent labyrinth to share with our students in our school grounds.

This was my very first experience of walking a labyrinth. Have you walked one before ?

Thanks Katrina for providing a spiritually nourishing, reflective time away from the busyness of our beginning of the year preparations.
Staff take notes in their  Labyrinth and Prayer booklets
Katrina demonstrates how to draw a seven circuit labyrinth
Staff and board work together to create our labyrinth  
Staff walk and share the sacred space created in our labyrinth

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Spiritually Connected: Collectively we can achieve more than individually

"Spiritually connected" were the words that resonated with me from Fr Wayne Healey's homily last weekend. The simple act of standing and listening to the Gospel, connects us spiritually with millions of Catholic Christians across the world and from our past.
New Facebook Page to connect NZ Teachers & Leaders in Catholic Schools
In 1 Cor 12:12-13, Paul uses the image of one body, with many parts and applies this to the church. In one Spirit, through baptism all, despite diversity of ethnic or social origins, are integrated into one organism (The Catholic Study Bible p1616).

As teachers and leaders in Catholic schools, we are spiritually connected through our unique goal. The Catholic school is first and foremost "a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth." It's primary goal is "above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others. That is the goal against which the effectiveness of Catholic schools must be assessed, because it is the reason for their existence (NZ Catholic Bishops, 2014).

Attending a national event such as the NZ Catholic Education Convention 2015, helps teachers and leaders in Catholic schools to realise we are all part of one body, the Catholic church. Speaking with colleagues from the primary and secondary education sector, we are aware we have similar challenges and joys in our schools. Being part of a Learning and Change Network helped me to understand that schools can achieve much more when they work together.

Many of our Catholic schools are geographically isolated. Imagine the potential for "communicating Christ" and for actioning our primary goal if we could readily share our gifts, talents and resources. Individually we can contribute to a vibrant, energised and spirited whole.

Following the lead of the successful NZ Teachers Facebook Page, my colleagues and I have launched a Facebook page for NZ Teachers & Leachers in Catholic Schools. This is an opportunity to connect staff from our Catholic pre schools, primary and secondary schools as we come together in many parts to form one whole. Please share this Facebook Page with colleagues and use it to ask questions, share resources, displays, prayers and photos.

Collectively, we can achieve more than individually, as we work together "to help to form Christ in the lives of others" in our Catholic schools across New Zealand.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Is the encounter with Jesus at the centre of Catholic education in NZ ?

During the school holidays, at Mercy College in windy Wellington, not far from the famous 'Beehive', a dedicated group of leaders from Catholic schools across New Zealand completed a four day intensive study unit entitled 'Identity and Mission'. Lecturer Lyn Smith's expertise, energy and passion for this topic, ensured we engaged fully with the aim of the unit: to critically examine Catholic identity and mission within the Catholic school setting.

This study unit reinforced the purpose for the very existence of our Catholic schools. Each of us were reminded about our responsibility to uphold the mission as stated in the New Zealand Bishop's Document 2014: "to communicate Christ and help to form Christ in the lives of others"(John Paul II, 1979). Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this goal in 2008: "First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth."

Previous to this unit, we spent four days focused on 'Leading Authentic Learning' with Professor Christopher Branson. We explored research around the role of shared moral purpose and agency and the concept of authentic learning in relation to leadership. In essence, when we apply an authentic learning framework to our Catholic schools, leading authentic learning can only happen if we are Christ centred institutions. Frances-Rees and I based our presentation at the NZ Catholic Convention in 2015 around the exploration of this theme and how we apply it in our practice.

The immediate challenge for us in 2016 and beyond is to be courageous and active leaders. We need to be fully alert to external influences such as performativity in relation to assessments. We need to ensure our students are immersed in engaging learning experiences that enable them to connect with more than their minds. We need to touch their hearts. We need to unleash a passion and love for life and learning based around the core beliefs of our Catholic faith. A faith based on head (intellect, reason) heart (love, passion) and hands (outreach, service).

Conversations with both primary and secondary school colleagues, highlight the lack of leaders and teachers who radiate passion and love for their Catholic faith. Often, our secondary schools are reliant on their dedicated Director of Religious Education to spread the Catholicity across the entire school. Jeremy Cumming (RE Advisor in Canterbury 2016) shares his thoughts in What is the purpose of religious education ?  Similarly, our primary schools face more and more challenges as they induct new teachers who often identify with being Catholic but who need to be guided "to being a committed disciple of Christ" (Duthie-Jung, Faith Amid Secularity 2011).

As leaders, we must focus on the reason for the existence of our Catholic schools. The person of Jesus is the heart and foundation of our schools and the framework for the school's way of being is the Gospel values. All principals, leaders and teachers in Catholic schools would benefit from studying a paper such as 'Identity and Mission of Catholic Education' to fully understand the importance of their role in relation to life at school, the local faith community and the wider vision of the Universal Catholic Church.

We need to ask ourselves as leaders and teachers: Am I bringing about the reign of God ? Am I bringing the gospel to others ? Am I enabling life to the full for staff, students and parents in my school ?