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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview With John Thomas

Gordon: when did you attend University of Newcastle, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?

John: I completed my Master of Theology from the University of Newcastle in 2012. I had already done some theological studies through the AustralianCatholic University at Masters level but felt the need to extend my studies. I realised that the more I explored the theology the less I actually knew. I began to realise the breadth of the possibilities within theology. At the time I was very much involved in the development of a new Senior Secondary Curriculum in Study of Religion and was keen to ensure that I had the background that I needed to be able to inform the course development. I studied a range of units as part of the course but probably the most significant for me was the unit of Advanced Old Testament Studies. Having done some work in Old Testament previously this depthed study really opened my thinking to the possibilities that Old Testament studies would be for students but also for my own development and spirituality.

Gordon: What was your first job and what were your primary responsibilities?

John: I first started teaching at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace in Brisbane in 1980. Being a first year teacher was very exciting. I taught a Year 6 class that year. At the time I was responsible for the curriculum in all areas with the exception of Art and Physical Education. It was a wonderful place to begin my teaching career. The college was run by the Christian Brothers and I got to work with some amazing religious men whose devotion to their work as educators was inspiring. I grew up in a family which was very involved in sport so Gregory Terrace allowed me the opportunity to continue that in the school context. It was also a wonderful way to engage with students outside the classroom. I look back very fondly on my time at “Terrace”.

Gordon: When did you serve as Assistant Principal at St Thomas More College, Sunnybank and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

John: In total I spent 17 years at Sunnybank. I was first appointed as the Curriculum Deputy Principal in what was then a very small secondary school which was struggling for enrolments. I worked as the Curriculum Deputy Principal for a period of 8 years. The Assistant Principal: Religious Education role became available. I had been an APRE in my previous 4 schools and when the opportunity to go back to this role I took the chance and was appointed to the position.

For me, it was like coming home. I had loved my time as Deputy Principal but working in religion curriculum and developing opportunities for students to engage in spirituality was where I was most at home. For the 9 years I worked as APRE I was able to work very closely with our local parish: Ours Lady of Lourdes, Sunnybank. We did a number of things jointly – the OLOL Youth and the STMC students. These included World Youth Day in Sydney, the 4 Australian Catholic Youth Festivals and the Ignite Youth events. With the assistance of the local parish priest and some retired priests we were able to have a regular Thursday morning Mass at the school at 8am.

Prior to COVID this was a parish Mass, so parishioners attended as well. We bought a disused country Church and had it moved onto the school property. After much renovation it became central to what we were doing. The Chapel was placed in the centre of the school and stands in contrast to the model buildings around it. Senior students led a variety of activities in the chapel at break times: Christian meditation, Rosary, scripture study, prayer circle. It became very important to have people in our community gathering for prayer and reflection. I really loved the fact that w could be in the Chapel for Mass or some other prayer or reflection and we could still hear the noise of the school around us.

Gordon: When were you Casual Academic Staff: School of Education at St Lucia Campus and what did you teach?

John: For about 10 years I was a Casual Lecturer in Study of Religion at the University of Queensland. This was in the School of Education. I had previously done some work with the academic staff in the Religion Department at the University and many of my students had done their undergraduate studies with the Religion department. I often thought some of them knew more than I did about a number of topics. The students were looking to take positions in Catholic Schools. Study of Religion is a subject for senior students and explores the 5 World Religions. This breadth of knowledge needed for teaching this course in secondary schools is quite diverse. The students loved exploring other religious traditions and then bringing their understanding back to how do Catholic Christians operate. The discussions in the tutorials were quite amazing and very engaging. I have had the privilege of working in schools with a number of these graduates. They have embraced their teaching of religion with great vigour.

Gordon: What did you enjoy most as Deputy Principal Mission, Hawthorn?

John: As my contract neared its end, and having spent 17 years at Sunnybank, I felt it was time to allow someone else to take Sunnybank to the next part of its journey. I was fortunate to be appointed as Deputy Principal: Mission at Lourdes HillCollege, Hawthorne in Brisbane. Lourdes Hill College is part of Good Samaritan Education. Until quite recently the College had been run by the Good Samaritan Sisters – affectionately known as the “Good Sams”. The Good Sams are an Australian Congregation of Religious Women founded by Australia’s first bishop: Bishop Bede Polding. Polding was a Benedictine from England so the Sisters follow the Rule of Benedict. The full title of the congregation is: The Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict. For me, moving into this new context meant embracing a different charism. The Rule of Benedict informs the way the school operates and the way interactions occur. I have really enjoyed being part of continuing to bring this to life in the College.

Gordon: When were you appointed Senior Deputy Principal: Head of School, Head of Senior School, Lourdes Hill College and what are your primary responsibilities?

John: At the end of my first year at Lourdes Hill College the principal of 13 years and the Senior Deputy Principal both retired. I was asked to take the role of Senior Deputy Principal through the transition period with a new principal. After 43 years of teaching I thought there could be nothing new in schools for me – how wrong that has proved. In my first year I worked with students very closely and I managed curriculum. In this new role I oversee and have influence in many more areas especially within staff. Much of what I now do is about compliance. I still teach a Year 12 class. I’m still involved in a number of elements of my previous role – I figured that I have been doing this for a very long time and did not want to finish my teaching career not being involved in spirituality and religion curriculum. As the Senior Deputy Principal I deputise for the Principal when her role means she can’t be at school or engaged in the day to day life of the school. I see one of the most important things I have to do is to bring to life the Rule of Benedict in all aspects of College life.

Gordon: When did you start serving as Secretary/Treasurer of the Confraternity Rugby League Carnival and share with our readers some information about the organization?

John: My involvement with Confraternity first started in 1986 when I was teaching in Mackay in Central Queensland. The carnival moves around different cities in Queensland and it was being hosted in Mackay that year. I come from a Hockey (field Hockey) background. Both my parents were what we would today describe as Sports Administrators. Our Saturdays were spent at the Mackay Hockey Fields. When the Confraternity Carnival came to Mackay I was asked to run the Carnival – I can run a Rugby League Carnival but not play Rugby League. I became involved in the St Patrick’s College, Mackay team for a couple of years.

My teaching took me outside Queensland and so my involvement in Confraternity ceased for some years. When I returned to Queensland I realised that the same group of men were running the organisation. I decided to put my hand up and assist them. I was appointed the Secretary/Treasurer – a position I have held for a number of years. The competition started with 6 boys teams in 1980. 4 of the teams came from Christian Brothers schools, one from a Franciscan School: Padua College, and the final team was an Anglican Boarding school from ChartersTowers: Blackheath & Thornburgh College. In 2023 the competition now includes girls’ teams as well as boys’ teams. We have 52 boys’ teams and 12 girls’ teams. Each team is a squad of 21 players. From one very small carnival on a weekend in 1980 the competition has grown to 2 carnivals – a boys’ competition and a girls’ competition which is run over 5 days.

The thing that attracted me to this carnival is the fact that it is centred on the notion of confraternity – brotherhood. It is about bonding together and about looking out for your mates. It is about playing hard and fair and respecting the officials and your opposition. We have little tolerance for anything that does not align with this thinking. At the beginning of each Carnival it is stressed that this is what the carnival is about. It is a participation carnival – while we select a representative team of boys and now girls - it is an honorary team. Our focus is on participation. Many of the best players go on to play at higher levels of the game but this is not our priority. At the 2022 Carnival over 50% of the players played in their first competition. Whilst it is not a Catholic competition we have not lost the fact that that is its roots. We commence each Carnival with an Opening Mass. In 2023 it will be attended by about 1700 players and officials. The Mass will be celebrated by the Archbishop of Brisbane: Archbishop Mark Coleridge. The host school organises the Mass and ensures that schools have the songs well in advance so players and officials can be familiar with the music. This sends a very clear message of inclusivity and what’s central to the Confraternity family.

My involvement is about setting up for the Carnival in terms of budgets, bill payment, organisation with host schools, training of officials, and the registration of the 1300 players. During the carnival I manage the draw and the finals series for each division. For me, this is a labour of love. I work with an extraordinary group of people on the Management Committee whose commitment to the development of the Carnival and the safe operation of the Carnival are without question.

I am no longer at a “Confraternity School” but have been made a Life-Member so I am able to continue to be involved. I am very much looking forward to the 2023 Carnival which is being hosted by St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane.

Gordon: Who is you favorite rugby player and why is he your favorite?

John: My favourite player is actually someone I have not seen play Rugby League. Lionel Williamson played Rugby League for Australia in 1968. Lionel is the “Spirit of Confraternity”. He was the inspiration for my involvement in the Carnival. Lionel has served as a member of the Management Committee of Confraternity since the very early days of the Carnival. It was seeing Lionel proudly being involved as a coach and administrator that prompted me to get involved. Lionel is currently very unwell and most likely will not be able to attend this year’s Carnival. Lionel is retired in Cairns, North Queensland. Meeting up with Lionel at meetings and at the Carnival have always been so inspiring for me. Most importantly, were our conversations about our spiritual reading … we were both reading material from Richard Rohr – Lionel was very happy to stop and sit and chat about his thinking and his spiritual reading and his prayer life. So for me, my favourite Rugby League player is Lionel Williamson.

Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.

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