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Bishop Michael’s Letter

19 February, 2024
Diocesan Director Leesa Jeffcoat (far left) and Bishop Michael McCarthy (far right) pictured during a visit to St Anne’s Catholic Primary School, Sarina with (left to right) Principal, John Ballinger-Oches, students, Assistant Director: Schools – Northern Region, Michael McCusker, and Fr Anthony Nguyen

For these past few weeks, I have been travelling through the Diocese with Leesa Jeffcoat, the Director of Catholic Education and visiting our Diocesan schools and colleges. It was back in 2015, just after I arrived in the Diocese, that I travelled with the Catholic Education visiting the various regions of the Diocese beginning with Barcaldine, Emerald, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Mackay and finally Rockhampton. After two weeks, the principals and staff of the schools and colleges had undertaken Bishop’s Inservice Day, which began a few decades earlier under the episcopal leadership of Bishop Wallace. It was a marvellous opportunity to connect with our principals and teachers at the beginning of the school year. In 2019, our last Bishop’s Inservice Day in that format was delivered and Leesa and I looked forward to setting up the 2020 program until COVID descended upon the world and all travel and connections were curtailed. Video conferencing replaced our travelling and the Bishop’s Inservice Day was streamed from the office in West Street. After three lost years of pastoral connections because of COVID, and hip replacement surgery, Bishop’s Inservice Day has been refreshed.

Leesa and I set out on the first day of school and visited St Anthony’s, St Joseph’s Park Avenue, St Mary’s, St Peter’s, St Paul’s, St Joseph’s Wandal and  The Cathedral College and Emmaus College. With six schools and two colleges visited in the Rockhampton City, we completed our first week after being in many primary classes, a few college classes and meeting with principals, teachers and support staff. The first week of the new format of Bishop’s Inservice Day was underway. The highlight of the week was meeting with all of our teachers and their support staff and being in the classroom. It became a marvellous opportunity to get to know our primary school children and their ever bubbling stream of questions and experiencing the secondary students in their classes. It was over this week we had that developing sense of the great young people who will be our leaders into the future. An invitation was extended to join with The Cathedral College Boarders on the Saturday evening after Mass for tea and it was a lovely night with our welcoming young people.

The second week became a 820km trip, starting with visiting St Joseph’s Biloela, and St Theresa’s Monto. We experienced the wonderful country hospitality and enjoyed being in the two schools of the Valleys Region. It was becoming obvious that the word had gone around after the first week in Rockhampton,how much the Bishop and the Director enjoyed the morning teas and lunch, and so the contest had begun. After Monto, the road took us over the border and into the Archdiocese of Brisbane passing through Mulgildie and Mt Perry. An afternoon storm and heavy rain slowed us a little, but the wet road was well negotiated by Leesa, who seemed to enjoy driving the Bishop’s car.

In Bundaberg, we were welcomed as we visited St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s and St Mary’s schools and Shalom College. One of the features of our gatherings is to have a meal with the principals and clergy of an area, and here we gathered on the Tuesday evening and listened to the great holidays our principals had during their summer vacation, while we enjoyed the view of the Burnett River.

It was then a long drive up to Gladstone via the highway as the road through Baffle Creek was closed due to flooding. Once again, we were welcomed to our primary schools – St Francis, Tannum Sands, Star of the Sea and St John the Baptist. Leesa and I both enjoyed the red carpet welcome at Chanel College, accompanied by the school band as we drove up the driveway. Thank you, Chanel, for a memorable welcome to the College. Now with 14 primary schools and four colleges visited, it was back to Rockhampton to join The Cathedral College for its opening College Mass in the Cathedral. Through these past weeks, we were guided through our schools and colleges by Mike Kelso and Stephen Dale, Assistant Directors who assist Leesa with supporting our many teachers and staff.

At the end of week two, I was a little low on energy and after a three-day respite break, Michael McCusker greeted and welcomed us at the Mackay airport to get ready for week three. This was the week in Mackay with its many schools and colleges all competing for our attention. The visit began at St Joseph’s North Mackay then St Brendan’s, MacKillop, St Mary’s, St Anne’s Sarina, St John’s Walkerston, Emmanuel and the colleges of Holy Spirit, St Patrick, and Catherine McCauley and finally Francis Xavier school. The total becomes 22 primary schools and seven colleges. Since my arrival in the Diocese in May 2014, Mackay has gained a new primary school and a college. The latest college, Catherine McCauley, now provides Catholic education for years 7 to 9 and with the latest addition (stage 2) providing more classrooms for the growing student population.

The past three weeks a part of the Bishop’s Inservice Day program has afforded me with the opportunity to meet our many teachers and students of the Catholic Education family and meet most of our teachers and to appreciate the incredible job in their education of our young people. We were joined over these past three weeks by the priests of the parishes and I appreciate their connection with our schools and our young people.

Next week, we turn to the Capricorn Coast and then to find a space in the diary for the schools and college of the Central Highlands and Central West. That is 31 primary schools and eight colleges, and then including St Ursula’s, St Brendan’s and the EREA Flexi learning centre that makes 42 all up.

May all our principals, teachers, staff and students, along with our Catholic Education Office under the leadership of Leesa have a great 2024.

Bishop Michael