St James General Learning Areas Redevelopment

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I am very pleased to be with you today.

It is always a great joy to visit the Huon Valley, and to visit this wonderful town of Cygnet. Cygnet is known for its strong Catholic heritage because there was a concentration of Catholics in this area from earliest days, many from convict stock.

By the 1840s there was such a strong presence of Catholics in Cygnet that the local Catholics sought to have a school established here because, they said, three quarters of the children in the town were Catholic. It is important to note that the families were very poor and the provision of education was always going to be a great challenge.

The first school here which began in 1856 was run by a layman, Mr McGowen but in 1896 the Josephite Nuns arrived and are still here today.

Later, in the 1920s the Christian Brothers established Lourdes Hill Agricultural College.

I am conscious that St James stands as part of a tradition of Catholic education here in Cygnet and in the Huon that stretches back some one hundred and sixty years. What has always struck me when I visit Cygnet is that the Catholic church, presbytery, convent and school are right in the heart of the town. Very unusual in Tasmania.

The efforts to provide a Catholic education here is testimony to the fact that the Church sought to provide education in more isolated areas, even when it was most challenging.

This remains true until today. Our Catholic schools have always sought to offer education to the poorer members of society. We have a policy of never turning away a child because the family cannot pay.

We are able to support our schools in rural or remote areas because we conduct our schools as part of a system. Schools who are managing better financially help those who struggle. This is the principle in Catholic Social teaching of commitment to the common good.

Thus, we are committed to supporting St James. And the government has also shown its commitment by making a significant contribution to this refurbishment. 

The Gospel reading chosen for this occasion is most appropriate. The Lord looks at his disciples. They are not people from the upper levels of society. Yet they have already done great things when he sent them out on mission.

With a heart full of joy he says, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants”. The Lord notes that it is the simple and humble souls who respond to him and his message. He rejoices in this.

In another place the Lord commented that it is those who are childlike who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is having a simple and trusting heart that opens the person to the blessing of God.

The schools here began among poor and simple folk. The schools provided for the education of children from struggling families. Long may this tradition continue. May St James continue here in the Huon offering a quality Catholic education.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 8 June 2017