Our Year 12 Gatherings with the Bishop were an opportunity for thousands of our Year 12 students across the Diocese of Wollongong to join together as one community and share their experiences, thoughts and ideas with each other and the newly-ordained Bishop Brian Mascord.
Several students spoke eloquently about the life-changing opportunity of Catholic education in the Diocese of Wollongong. Their offerings were insightful, heartfelt and a testament to the many special gifts and great benefits that a Catholic education has given them and their peers - in learning, faith and beyond.
Some highlights of these wonderful testimonies can be watched and read below...
Angus Massie - Corpus Christi Catholic High School, Oak Flats
“Catholic education gives us many opportunities. It affords us the opportunity to lead, to speak and to learn - learning content, yes, but also about how to learn and how to approach problems.
"Going to a Catholic school also introduced me to a different way of operating. I found it to be a very welcoming environment [and one] heavily based on community and servant leadership. We learn about figureheads like Jesus who welcomed the poor and the downtrodden in society, sought to heal, and loved all people - and we are encouraged to do the same.
“There’s a funny thing that happens when you help someone: when you make someone feel happy, chemicals are released in your brain that make you happy too. Jesus said it in three words: ‘love thy neighbour’. You can do this through a structure of faith, a core belief in social justice or just out of kindness, but it is something we should all do. This is the main thing Catholic Education has taught me.
“School is a major part in our lives; it’s where social lives start, direction is gained and our lives begin to take shape. We are shaped by what surrounds us and if that is a place that emphasises love, community and social justice, I reckon that’s pretty good.
“The laptops are cool too, but even that shows a real investment in our learning by the Diocese.”
RHYS EVANS - MT CARMEL CATHOLIC COLLEGE, VARROVILLE
“I consider it an honour to have had a Catholic education. Being a Catholic in this Diocese doesn’t change who you are - it reveals who you are. Being a Catholic is what motivates me to get up every morning, to keep going, to say ‘how?’, not ‘why?’ and to reach that ultimate goal we are all trying to achieve, in spreading God’s call of goodwill.
“I discovered a place to grow, learn and to develop my faith and knowledge. In today’s world, where materialism seems to be centre stage, it is our faith and belief systems being constantly challenged to remain disciplined and guided and to follow in the footsteps of our spiritual leaders both past and present. Being mindful and helping others enriches our lives. When we focus on others, materialism becomes less significant, and spiritual fulfilment and happiness prevail.
“Catholic schools form good leaders. It is often said what lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. I entered my school to learn and I now leave to serve.”
Connor McFarlane - Magdalene Catholic High School, Narellan
“The sense of community is a big highlight...as is a little friendly rivalry between houses! The teachers are very supportive - they go the extra mile for the students, whether it is before school, lunchtime or after school. They’ve always been there to help us, throughout all our six years of high school and especially now, during our final HSC year.
“Being in a Catholic school in the Wollongong Diocese makes you feel proud. [One reason is] the countless fundraising and advocating that Magdalene and other Catholic schools do for social justice issues in society. We are also taught valuable lessons that will be useful through our whole lives, such as not worrying about the little things and the power of forgiveness.
“From my experiences at school I have gained more confidence. Extra-curricular activities, making new friends and meeting new people has contributed to my new-found confidence and is what has helped me to stand here today to give a speech in front of everyone.”
Elisa Pesavento - Holy Spirit College, Bellambi
“Our educators teach with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is a gift to us. [Through] our Catholic education, God lights the way.
“We are also offered once-in-a-lifetime experiences by our church and our Diocese, that have definitely changed my life and the lives of many of my peers. Like last year, when I and twenty other students were lucky enough to travel to Cambodia with Catholic Mission to experience life in a developing country.
“This immersion changed me for the better and allowed me to reflect deeply on my life experiences. From that time, I knew God had shown me my vocation. I now know that I am being called to teach - not only in a school environment, but to teach the love of God, teach the reality of developing nations and teach how we can make change.
“These kind of opportunities have not only shaped our life journeys, but will forever hold a place in our hearts."
Alex, William and Eleanor Petricevic - St John the Evangelist Catholic High School, Nowra
Eleanor - “My journey in a Catholic school has been encouraging, humbling and inspiring. Being a part of a Catholic school has given me opportunities to participate in many activities, such as being an active member of multiple social justice groups. It’s given me a platform to explore my faith and be of service to others.
“Embracing all opportunities my school has provided for me, I’ve learned the importance our two core school values - peaceful, just relationships and excellence in learning.
“I’ve met some pretty awesome people and shared amazing experiences with them. I’m excited to step into the next chapter of my life after school, with the challenges, knowledge and achievements of life in a Catholic school to help propel me forward.”
William - “Catholic education granted us the opportunity to make many moments within our school life - that we will reflect on in our lives, forever. For example, the Timor-Leste Program, which sees students take a pilgrimage throughout the country to provide resources to many communities while experiencing the local culture and history. On arriving home, the students were inspired by the experience to do greater things for their school and community.
“The school motivates you to be involved with your community - far more than I thought possible. None of it would be possible without the dedication and encouragement of the teachers and staff within our schools.”
Merhawit Gebregzabhier - St Patrick’s College, Campbelltown
“I can proudly say that I understand Catholicism to be more than what we learn, but rather what we do. It is the value on service and the emphasis on community participation and giving back, that sets a Catholic school education apart from the rest.
“I’ve learnt about the life of Jesus and the history of Catholicism; I’ve read passages from the Bible and learnt about the importance of service in the Catholic faith. But what differentiates just learning about religion from truly experiencing a Catholic education lies in the opportunities presented to us here at school.
“By attending a Catholic school, my Catholic education has transcended the books and the lessons, manifesting itself in the acts we are encouraged and prompted to fulfil. We are provided with experiences that allow us to develop as Christians, by taking what we learn, applying it in real life situations and implementing it in all that we do.
“Constantly supported by inspiring, Christ-centred faculty and staff, this is an environment that never fails to challenge us to be better people. It instils a desire for life-long service within all of us [and] provides our education and experience with an overarching direction and focus. These values have been especially beneficial in ensuring we all receive the most holistic, wholesome and all-rounded education possible.”
Mia Specia - St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong
“Why a Catholic school? For one, because of a high exposure to social justice. Even the simple ideas that stem from the period of Lent, which focus on consciously bettering ourselves, are the purest form of social justice because they start with our life choices. Later, they build up to focus on our impact on the people around us. Social justice is a practical way of navigating the world and being independent thinkers that can organise productive change in our communities.
“I am grateful my education has given me so many opportunities. I could go on all day about the benefits of a Catholic education in creating socially aware, employable people - but that’s not what stands out most to me. [It’s that] moment in every one of our assemblies where the room goes totally silent for prayer. A prayer does this to people because in its simplest form, a prayer is a big group of people hoping for something together. But as soon as someone does the sign of the cross, you’re now a group of 1,000 or so people all hoping for the same thing, at the same time.
"You have to experience faith - whether it be in God, or in people, or in life itself - it’s not something that you can learn. I can’t ever get over the beauty of that idea, because it is so peaceful and so timeless that it defines my education beyond anything I can be tested for in an exam.”