Newsletter 10: 30 July 2019

Dear Colleagues

As Term 2 came to its ragged conclusion across the nation, three significant retirements of Principals were celebrated. Brother Robert Sutton, Brother Michael Flanagan, and Mr Rick Sidorko brought to conclusion an astounding, combined total of 127 years of service and leadership to Catholic education. Each experienced heart felt farewells from their current school communities and expressions of deep gratitude were made for their work throughout their long and fruitful years in schools.

At Saint Francis Xavier College, Hamilton in Newcastle, Brother Robert was acknowledged for the example he consistently provided through his intelligent leadership and humble contributions to every school in which he worked and led. Robert has always been a practical man, gifted in crafting furniture and building, and extraordinarily generous with his free time. For more than 40 years, in every school in which Robert ministered, he physically transformed their landscape. On weekends and in school holidays, Robert could always be found quietly beautifying some part of the staff or student areas to make it a more welcoming, attractive, pleasant and respectful place for people to be with one another. All of this was done with a quiet humility and happiness. Robert led a succession of Marist Schools: Marcellin College Randwick in Sydney, followed by Saint Patricks Marist College Dundas and then Saint Francis Xavier College Hamilton. Robert is fondly remembered by many from his time working at Saint Joseph’s College Hunters Hill, affectionately referred to as “the Black Santa”, due to the luxurious black beard he sported as a younger Brother in those happy times.

Brother Peter Rodney, who joined the Brothers with Robert in January 1972, spoke in praise at the farewell assembly. Peter said,

At every stage, in every place, Robert has lived out in action all that Marist Educators aspire to be:

• present in the midst of the school community,

• a humble and encouraging presence,

• using a variety of means to create a spirit of family,

• putting in his own creativity and hard work, so that every member of the community, both student and staff, can develop their potential.

Brother Michael Flanagan’s selfless and driven leadership over the past six years, has enabled Red Bend Catholic College to flourish, and the College enjoys a high demand for enrolment from families throughout the Wilcannia Forbes Diocese and other regions of NSW. Through Brother Michael’s creativity and tenacity, the College’s facilities have been transformed, importantly creating attractive spaces in which students engage enthusiastically in their learning. Critically, the overall learning growth of Red Bend students has consistently improved during this time due to the concerted efforts of staff and students. Michael introduced a range of organisational and management practices and has attracted quality new teachers to this most committed staff.

Brother Michael’s contribution to Catholic education over 44 years has been characterised by determination, perseverance, compassion, and total dedication to the Marist ideal of making Jesus known and loved in the way of Mary. He has been a highly successful teacher and leader in many Marist schools. He founded The John Berne School at Lewisham in 1998, which he led for 10 years, and was recognised for his outstanding contribution to Catholic education in 2007, when awarded the prestigious Brother John Taylor Award.

Michael was farewelled at a moving special assembly, and the affection the students had for him was obvious. In particular Michael’s ready sense of humour was repeatedly highlighted by the student speakers. A Year 7 boarder commented that it was her practice when speaking with Michael in the yard with other students, to wait until the older students laughed at one of his jokes - just to be sure!

Mr Rick Sidorko concluded his time as Principal at The John Berne School at the end of Term 2, bringing to an end over 40 years of distinguished contribution to Catholic and Marist education that has been a constant source of inspiration and example to those with whom he has worked and importantly to colleague school and Catholic system leaders. Rick’s passionate and faith filled leadership has been characterised by wisdom, compassion and principle. He is someone who has brought imagination and surety to his leadership, both in fulsome measure. Marist education in Australia and the Pacific, has been the beneficiary of Rick’s insight, skill and vision as an educator of exceptional quality.

Having concluded at Marist College Canberra at the end of 2017 after 12 outstanding years as Head, Rick made a commitment to bring his immense experience and capacity to our smallest Marist school in the country, The John Berne School, which provides a pathway and hope for young people who have struggled in mainstream schools. Rick’s work with staff in particular over that 18 month period will prove to be an ongoing formative influence on the nature of teaching and learning at Berne for many years.

The combined contribution of these three people is remarkable and cause for deep gratitude. All three commenced their vocations in Catholic education as young men fired with faith and enthusiasm, filled with joy to be Marist Brothers. Thousands of students and staff members have been influenced by their goodness. It has been my privilege to meet at random in different circumstances past students of Marist schools led by Robert, Michael and Rick. The admiration, appreciation and affection expressed in relation to these fine leaders has always confirmed Saint Marcellin’s oft quoted observation that it is God’s work we do as Marist educators.

Just last week, the Provincial Brother Peter Carroll announced Brother Greg McDonald will be concluding his leadership role with Marist Youth Ministry. I am sure all in Marist schools across the country join me in thanking Greg for his incredible energy, vision and enthusiasm in fostering expressions of Youth Ministry in our schools over the past 7 years.

We wish Greg every success in his important work in East Timor which commences next year.

I wish to also draw your attention to the launch of the Bridge Builders programme of the Marist Association of Saint Marcellin Champagnat, led by Brother Chris Wills. Bridge Builders has been designed to facilitate important volunteering experiences in various Marist ministries. More information can be accessed by visiting this link.

Sally Dillon