The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Making a positive difference in Catholic schools


A botanist with a passion for orchids, a wizard mathematician and a champion of the arts in regional SA are among 12 educators recognised in the annual Catholic Education Awards.

Print article

Also receiving awards this year were the teams behind two innovative school programs and a dedicated school volunteer.

Now in their third year, the awards are presented as part of Catholic Education Week (May 13–19 2024) and recognise outstanding achievements and contributions by staff and volunteers across South Australia’s 101 Catholic schools.

Paul Belton, principal of St Paul’s College, Gilles Plains, was recognised for his Leadership Excellence and his contribution to Catholic education in SA over 43 years, including teaching and leadership positions at Blackfriars, St Michael’s Marcellin and Rostrevor colleges.

Accepting the award, Mr Belton expressed his gratitude for the “extraordinary support” he had received from “lots of people”, including his family.

“The beauty of this award is that it is far from an individual one…it is not only recognition for all the individual leaders whose shoulders I have and continue to stand on but in particular to the amazing St Paul’s community,” he said.

“It is an incredibly special place that very much lives the real meaning of the word catholic, namely universal, and with 47 languages spoken in our family homes, is so inclusive and welcoming to all.”

Mr Belton said the role of Catholic education had never been more important than now in these troubled times for our students and families.

“We must continue to be Catholic, be universally accepting and live that in everything we do.”

Winnie Fitzgerald

Winnie Fitzgerald a primary school teacher from Samaritan College, Whyalla, was also acknowledged in the Experienced Teacher category (Primary) for her 43 years of service.

She was described as “working tirelessly with thousands of students in the performing arts” in a community where such endeavours have not always been the priority. She has also been a choir trainer for the Catholic Schools Music Festival since 1998.

In her acceptance speech, Winnie read a letter from the parent of a young child whose participation in the school musical Annie had been one of the best experiences of her life.

Others honoured include:

A new category was introduced in 2024 to recognise the outstanding work of religious educators within Catholic schools.

Two recipients received this inaugural award: Mirella Romeo, from Nazareth Catholic College and Lucina Loro Parham from St Mary’s College.

Two innovative school programs were also recognised.

The ‘Limitless Possibilities’ Program was developed by a team within Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) to inspire students to become social entrepreneurs. Melanie O’Leary, Marcia Burgess, Louise Murphy and Deborah Hansen designed and implemented a model of social entrepreneurial learning that empowers teachers to address complex societal issues through purposeful engagement with their communities.

The ‘Being Church Together’ Program from St John the Baptist School and Plympton parish was created to strengthen the bond between the school and parish.

This included the transformation of shared spaces to promote inclusivity, inspiration and a sense of community. For example, the office of the Assistant Principal Religious Identity and Mission (APRIM) now resides within the parish administration area, ensuring convenient access for both school and parish members.

A dedicated teaching staff member from the school has assumed the role of sacramental coordinator within the parish, a position previously held by a pastoral associate and now supported financially by the parish.

From left, Port Pirie Diocese director, Catholic Education SA, Nichi Mardon; Archbishop O’Regan; Education Minister Blair Boyer; Catholic Education SA director Neil McGoran and South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools chair John Neate.

The awards ceremony was held at Hilton Adelaide on May 16 following a Mass at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral led by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan. The event was attended by Education Minister Blair Boyer, Catholic Education SA executive director Neil McGoran and South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools (SACCS) chair John Neate.

Dr McGoran said across 11 categories the standard of entries this year was exceedingly high, “a testament to the outstanding educators we are privileged to have in South Australia”.

“The impact that these educators and volunteers have on their school communities is huge,” he said.

“They are going above and beyond in the work that they do, and it is important that we recognise and celebrate their achievements. They are instilling so many important values in our students.”

More News stories

Loading next article