Archbishop William Goh commissioned three new principals of Catholic schools at a special mass on Saturday, 23 January 2016.
Over one hundred educators, students, principals and friends and relatives of the new principals – Rev Fr (Dr) Adrian Danker, SJ (St Joseph’s Institute), Mrs Woo Soo Min (Maris Stella High School) and Ms Imelda Anthony (Magdalene’s Kindergarten) – attended the mass held at Montfort Secondary School.
“How can we be instruments of mercy according to the vocation we are in?” Archbishop Goh asked during his homily. In line with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, he reminded Catholic educators to be exhibit the virtue of mercy in their profession.
Reaching out to the poor
Archbishop Goh commented that the students who need the most help, are those who are intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally poor. “They are not loved or accepted, and come from broken families.” He noted that many students today come from broken and troubled families, which in turn negatively affects their behaviour.
He added that these are the pupils who most need our help, reiterating the long-standing objective of Catholic schools to serve the “poorest of the poor”. As such, teachers must pay close attention to students exhibiting negative behaviour in class. “They are like that because they are broken, wounded, or neglected.”
“If students are poor, it is because parents are poor.” He encouraged teachers to keep in touch with parents, and be informed of students’ family situations. “To take care of a child, you have to take care of their parents, brothers, and sisters because they are interrelated and interdependent.”
He emphasized to teachers that the ultimate mission of education is to provide holistic education, and form people of character and integrity. “We want to form people who will continue to give back to society, to the Church, and to those who need help.”
“Not just intellectual, but education for life.”
Role of principals
The Archbishop then highlighted the role of principals as leaders. He likened them to being “bishops” of schools, responsible for the well-being of multiple groups of people including students, parents, and teachers.
One of the important tasks Archbishop Goh talked about was to pay attention to teachers. “The teachers need your support, your listening ear, and your encouragement,” he told the newly appointed principals. “If you don’t empower and heal your leaders – teachers in this case – you cannot do your work. If they have a problem, you have to attend to it no matter how busy you are.”
Recognising the huge task that educators face in their profession, he actively encouraged stronger networking between schools and Church committees, so that teachers and principals can be more effective in their mission. “Today, I am encouraging networking with parents, with priests, and with the Church. You can’t do this mission alone,” he exhorted. “If only we support each other, then the Catholic schools will stand out.”
To this end, he praised the initiative to form Council of Principals, where they can come together and encourage each other in their journey, “Principals must come together to share their joys and sorrows, their challenges and successes.”
At the end of the homily, he blessed the three principals. Fellow principals also renewed their commitment to the education mission in a prayer.
The new principals
Rev Fr Adrian completed his theology studies in Boston. He holds a Masters of Divinity, and a license in Sacred Theology for the Church. Before joining the religious order, Fr Danker worked at the planning division at MOE HQ.
The 50-year-old Jesuit priest is humbled with his appointment, and is deeply inspired by the achievements of SJI in the past years. An SJI alumnus himself, Fr Danker aims to keep the school on track in addressing the needs of Singapore’s Catholic population. Noticing the richness of different charisms in local Catholic education, he shares the Archbishop’s hope in getting the different schools to collaborate more closely.
Mrs Woo, 46, looks forward to being a part of Maris Stella, and building upon the school’s values and culture inspired by the Marist Brothers. Before this appointment, she served as Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School’s principal.
“I think it’s important to chart the ten-year education for Marists,” she said, referring to the transition from primary to secondary education for the students in the full school. She also commented on the need to help new students entering the secondary section to integrate into the Marist school culture.
Ms Imelda Anthony will be leading Magdalene’s Kindergarten. A CHIJ alumna, the 33-year-old noted the benefits of being in a mission school, “The school really played a part in moulding our characters and making us better decision-makers.”
Having worked in a PCF Kindergarten for 12 years, and serving in a leadership position for seven, Ms Anthony is familiar with the early childhood education scene in Singapore. She is concerned about the overall declining enrollment rate in mission-based kindergartens.
“Many parents only place their children in mission schools when they reach the Primary level.”
She shares with us Magdalene’s Kindergarten’s plans in attracting more parents to enroll their children, “We’re trying to reach out to the churches and spread what we are doing at the Kindergarten, and how good it is for the little ones to learn values and character-building at an early age.”