Brother Nicholas Harsas has just taken up the post as principal at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School at Carnes Hill after long and successful stints at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School at Fairfield and, previously, St Therese Catholic Primary School covering Sadlier and Miller and Patrician Brothers’ Primary School at Fairfield. The Patrician Brother is a longstanding popular figure in Catholic education here in the south-west and has had the responsibility and blessings of being involved in the lives of families right across the region.
How does your move into Liverpool compare with your move 11 years ago into Fairfield? And how has the last 11 years tempered your approach to the job, the staff and the students? It’s extraordinary really as 11 years ago I moved from Liverpool where I was principal at St Therese Catholic Primary School to take up the position at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School at Fairfield. In 2019 I’m doing the reverse, moving from Fairfield back into Liverpool as principal of Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School.
I’m very fortunate that the transition to Holy Spirit School has been very smooth and the support and welcome by the school community has been seamless. I’m very grateful. They’ve made me feel at home at Carnes Hill very quickly.
The last 11 years has really only confirmed and affirmed what I’ve known for the past 31 years – that teaching is a wonderful ministry and belonging to a vibrant, positive school community is life-giving and a real joy. Working with students, staff and parents in a school community is a privilege and something I look forward to each and every day.
Working with students, staff and parents in a school community is a privilege and something I look forward to each and every day.BROTHER NICHOLAS, Principal
What experiences have left an indelible mark on the way you do your work? For me it’s working with teachers and students and seeing their growth. For teachers, moving from being inexperienced, straight from university, and witnessing their development into passionate, proficient teachers who do so much, educationally and in other ways to support the students in their care.
Observing the growth in students is also a joy. Student growth is a proud moment for the students themselves, their parents and their teachers. This growth can be around confidence, language acquisition, settling into Australia, learning English, wellbeing and learning.
In primary schools here students are so accepting and welcoming of each other and proudly call themselves Australian, whether they’re from an Anglo background, born in Australia, Indigenous or newly arrived. Truly, there's 'unity in diversity' here.BROTHER NICHOLAS, Principal
What have you learned from working in south-west Sydney, perhaps the most multicultural region anywhere in Australia. I’ve learnt we have such a dynamic, cosmopolitan and multicultural community and this diversity enriches the lives and experiences of children and adults. Communities such as Liverpool and Fairfield promote acceptance of cultural and ethnic differences and provide experiences not enjoyed in many other parts of Sydney and Australia. In a primary-school setting the students are so accepting and welcoming of each other and proudly call themselves Australian – whether they’re from an Anglo background, born in Australia, Indigenous or newly arrived in the country. Truly, there’s “unity in diversity” here.
How does one encourage acceptance of diversity – whether race, heritage, culture, gender, sexuality – among modern youngsters? Through wellbeing programs, Personal Development, Health and Physical Education units, Religious Education units and values education, acceptance of diversity is encouraged. In Catholic schools students are taught that all are made in the image and likeness of God, and if this is so, all peoples regardless of their diversity are to be treated equally and with respect. This also comes through in the daily interactions, prayer and life lessons in schools each day.
What battles have you fought (and won or lost) in teaching the Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? The Golden Rule is a wonderful maxim to live by for all in society but it is a principle that underpins all relationships and programs in a Catholic school, including here at Holy Spirit School.
For children who may have a disagreement it’s a good starting point for reconciliation between them and as a restorative principle. It gives the students something to think about and what Gospel values Jesus would advocate in such a situation. For teachers it is also a great concept to keep in mind as another encouragement to always do their very best for each and every student in their classes.
How important is a personal faith to youngsters today? How can you help children turn a faith inherited from their parents into something they make their own? Personal faith is important and significant for young people today. Most people need something to believe in and guidelines to live by. Faith gives us this.
Life experiences, prayer, deepening understanding of faith and beliefs, good-quality liturgy and spiritual experiences can help to ignite the faith life of young people. When young people see the real connections between faith and life it can very much deepen a personal faith.
Our wider region is very religious, though a mix of many faiths. The Catholic church is the biggest faith but must share the space with other religions. How do you do that? And without compromising what you believe and teach? In a Catholic school we teach the values and teachings of Jesus as expressed through the Catholic church. All in the school community – Catholic and non-Catholic – agree to uphold the Catholic ethos. At the same time students are exposed to other faiths and other religions without prioritising one over the other. The Catholic faith is practised and other faiths are recognised and respected, especially in the wider local community.
How can parents work with their child's school to get the best relationship and support, growth and education for their child? A strong partnership between home and school is vital for the success of a child. Research indicates that a student performs better when the parent is actively involved in the life of the school and in their child’s education. Parent engagement is encouraged, especially engagement in the child’s learning. For this reason at Holy Spirit School parent workshops and forums are held regularly in ways parents can support their children in literacy, numeracy, religious education and much more. And we run parent programs on safe use of the internet, wellbeing and much more throughout the year.
Parents are invited and encouraged to assist the school as volunteers in the classrooms with reading and maths groups, gardening, being involved in our Advisory Parent Group, sports events, fundraising and more.
Strong communication between home and school is also fostered and encouraged with the fortnightly newsletter, parent-teacher meetings and use of the parent portal.
The teachings and values of Jesus inspire me to lead the way I do and for this school community to run the way it does, encompassing respect, compassion, mercy, trust, love, joy and forgiveness.BROTHER NICHOLAS, Principal
How relevant are the teachings of Jesus today? The teachings of Jesus are extremely important to me and it is for this reason I joined religious life 25 years ago, in 1994, as a Patrician Brother. The charism of the Patrician Brothers is “to see Christ in all” and this is what I try to do each day – to see the person of Jesus in the students, staff and parents I engage with in my role as principal of Holy Spirit School. The teachings and values of Jesus give me my inspiration to lead the way I do and for this school community to operate the way it does in ways that encompass respect, compassion, mercy, trust, love, joy and forgiveness.
Describe your own personal faith, what it means to you, how you practise it daily. How does it limit you? How does it expand you? My own personal faith was given to me by my parents as a child at baptism and has been nurtured and developed over many years in school, with family and friends, at university, in the schools where I’ve worked and in my vocation as a Patrician Brother.
My faith is important to me and called me to live the religious life, taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The vows do involve many sacrifices but also bring many blessings for which I’m so grateful. Living in a community with other brothers challenges me to be faithful to the call of Jesus and our mission as Patrician Brothers. In this way life and faith are very much interwoven.
My faith is my guiding light and this belief in Jesus directs my actions in the school environment and my daily life. This living and valued faith is then shared with others and, hopefully, enriches the lives of others.
What are the greatest rewards for you as principal? It’s the privilege of working closely and enthusiastically with teachers, staff and students in creating a happy, positive school community where all, especially the students, find success. I’m heartened and excited in seeing a wonderful school like Holy Spirit School doing all that’s possible in raising expectations to achieve greater success in learning and teaching. This gives me great hope.
Just coming to school each day and being approached by happy, friendly, kind students gives immense joy and satisfaction to what can otherwise be a very demanding role in a school. The co-operation and support of teachers and staff in our collective goal of providing the best for students is equally rewarding.