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Cathedral full of love for Br. Kelvin retirement Mass


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08/06/2009: Australia


hspace=5You could certainly feel the love in the room. From the moment that Hanna Urquhart and Lauren Kava from St Brendan’s Primary School, Annandale, led the procession of banners into the more-than-full cathedral, right through until the echoes of the last chorus of Daniel Bell’s You Raise Me Up had fallen silent, everything about last Thursday’s Mass to celebrate the achievements of Br Kelvin Canavan’s fms ministry in Catholic education said “class” – exactly as it should have been.

On Thursday May 7, the Catholic clan gathered to pay a last and enduring tribute to Br Kelvin’s contribution to Catholic education over so many years – maybe not quite the 100 that Cardinal Pell jokingly quipped during his homily, but it has been at least half that. They came from everywhere, and from all walks of life.

No fewer than 12 bishops, led by the cardinal, and more than 40 priests concelebrated. There were politicians from both sides of politics, representatives from all Sydney Catholic schools – systemic and congregational – as well as from Catholic tertiary institutions, Religious Institutes and educational organisations. The Brothers, Sisters and priests of the teaching orders were there in large numbers as were the school principals and teachers, current and retired, as well as representatives from various educational authorities, Catholic and otherwise.

And parents were there, too, hundreds of them. Every available seat in the cathedral was occupied. Some of the children even sat on the floor just to the side of the altar. And many stood along walls or at the back of the basilica because it was important to them that they were there – seat or no seat.

The music was exquisite. Led by conductor James Long with a CaSPA orchestra and choir drawn from Catholic schools across Sydney, a soaring harmony filled the cathedral. The solo performances of Nicole Hoerndlein, Daniel Bell and Brendan Hay will be long remembered.

In her welcome, Natalie McNamara, director of human resources at the Catholic Education Office, Sydney, spoke of the importance of the occasion “to acknowledge the outstanding leadership contribution of Br Kelvin”, but noted also that “this acknowledgment is situated more broadly in a celebration of Catholic education in Australia and, in particular, in the archdiocese of Sydney”.

In his homily, Cardinal Pell left none in any doubt that Br Kelvin has been a colossus in Catholic education for many years, and that his retirement was “the end of an era” in which he oversaw the transition of a collection of schools that relied almost entirely on the sacrifice of so many religious, to a highly organised school system that is now made up almost entirely of lay staff. And he also spoke directly to the many students in the congregation, encouraging them to pray for their teachers and to give some consideration to one day taking on the career of teaching themselves.

The legacy of Br Kelvin Canavan – Marist Brother, teacher, broadcaster, administrator – is an extraordinary one. His influence is everywhere, most noticeably in the 147 systemic schools that make up the archdiocese of Sydney. He has also had a very real impact – both direct and indirect – on the lives of many within the Catholic community, with the needs of the least advantaged always his highest priority.

Copyright © 2008. Catholic Weekly – Sydney

Brother Kelvin Canavan fms began teaching in 1960 and taught at Parramatta, Dundas and Eastwood before his appointment in 1968 as Inspector of Schools. Cardinal Gilroy was Archbishop of Sydney, the CEO occupied four small rooms at the end of the Housie Hall in CUSA House, Sydney and schools were still waiting for the introduction of government financial assistance.

He subsequently served a Director of Primary Education before his appointment by Cardinal Freeman as Deputy Director in 1982. Following the establishment of the new diocese of Broken Bay and Parramatta in 1986 and the reorganisation of Catholic /education in the Sydney Archdiocese, he was appointed Executive Director of Schools in 1987. Cardinal Clancy renewed this appointment in 1992, 1996 and again in 2001.

In 2006, Cardinal Pell extended this appointment until January 2009. Brother Kelvin concluded his term in the Catholic Education Office on 9 April 2009.


Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Education

Young Catholics in Sydney have been educated in Catholic Schools continuously since the early 1820’s. In the early decades the schools were led and staffed by lay men and women anxious to make a difference to the lives of young people.

After the withdrawal of government funding in about 1880, Religious Sisters and Brothers, many from Ireland, England and France, responded to invitations to accept responsibility for the struggling Catholic Schools. For more than eighty years, most Catholic school teachers were Religious women and men committed to assisting parents develop the Catholic Faith of their children and who were effective through education, in assisting many young people to break out of the poverty cycle and to take their rightful places in the community.

Government financial assistance to students in Catholic schools was reintroduced progressively from the late 1960s. The next forty years saw the transformation of Catholic schooling with lay teachers and principals again accepting responsibility for Catholic schools. Today, these women and men continue to build enthusiastically and generously on the work of the Religious founders of earlier generations.

Recent decades have seen the emergence of strong systems of Catholic schools, complemented by schools conducted by Religious Institutes.

Catholic schools today capture the long tradition of providing quality teaching and learning in the Catholic tradition, in learning environments founded on the person of Jesus Christ and enlivened by the Gospel.

Catholic school enrolments in Sydney and Australia are now at record levels.

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