Sean Scanlon CEO

Sean Scanlon, who was recently appointed the first-ever Chief Executive Officer of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, is very much a born-and-bred Novocastrian. He is also the first person in any Catholic diocese in Australia to have the title of CEO. Prior to being appointed to this new role, Sean was Vice Chancellor Administration.

Q: Which Catholic schools did you attend and when?

I attended St Patrick’s Primary School Cessnock and then Marist Brothers Maitland which became St Peter’s when I was there.


Q: Why did you (or your parents) choose Catholic schools for you?

My parents had attended Catholic schools and we were part of the Catholic Community so that’s what we did.  I did attend a local state school for kindergarten because I was very young but the sisters relented the next year and I started in Year 1.  That change was tough but it worked out well.


Q: Are your children attending Catholic schools – if so, where and why?

Both of my children attend St Joseph’s, Merewether.  It’s a great school with excellent teachers and staff as well as a great community who are very sociable and involved with what’s happening.  This was not even a decision for us, so we didn’t have to think about the ‘why’.  They were always going to a Catholic school because that’s who we are, it’s what we believe and the children love it.


Q: What do you consider to be the main benefits and/or lessons learned as a result of your Catholic education?

I heard someone recently talk about independent thought and I believe that this was something I developed during my Catholic education.  I think it was also encouraged by my parents, so the education I received complimented this.  I think a lot of people learnt independent thought through their Catholic education which is probably not what others might naturally believe our education system supports, but it does. 


Q: How has this helped you in your career and how will this help you in your new role?

Sometimes independent thought can get you into trouble.  It probably makes you a bit outspoken but in the end that willingness to seek out the truth or be prepared to challenge the status quo is what allows you to take the lead on an issue or a problem and that’s critical to being able to make a difference.  I think it also gives you a clear moral basis which can guide you in decision making.  That comes from family as well but the thing about our Catholic education is that it supports the things you gather from family, from the community and the church and makes you a well-rounded person.


Q: Have any of your classmates from your school days surprised you in regard to the successes they have achieved in their chosen fields of endeavour? Can you name them and detail what they are now doing?

The power of Facebook means it is reasonably easy to keep in touch with people these days.  My Year 12 group had a school reunion recently (30 years) and it was a great night.  I see a lot of people are working in areas that make a difference in their communities.  In medical and education areas ranging from locally to various parts of the world.  Some are even leaders in their fields or business leaders.  I have seen some of the guys playing in NRL grand finals and am aware of many others working in third-world countries and feeding starving children.


Q: Do you ever run into any of your old teachers, if so, who are they and what are they doing now?

I have run into many of my former teachers.  Plenty of them are still teaching.  A certain Mr Mascord was one of the teachers at Cessnock and he’s now Bishop of Wollongong.  I showed an old school photo to some primary teachers recently and they said my Year 5 teacher Michael Caesar was still teaching.  I often see Richard Rocca at the CDF.  He was a great chemistry teacher and I still rattle off the periodic table to amuse my children thanks to him. I learnt English from Tracey Edstein who edited Aurora until recently.  She also had the misfortune of teaching me Religious Education – but look where I ended up!


Q: Our research tells us you are a keen Newcastle Knights fan. I believe quite a few of them are products of our Catholic schools?

Yes, there’s Andrew and Matthew Johns who both went to St Peter’s in Maitland as did Billy Peden, Alex MacKinnon went to St Joseph’s in Aberdeen, Mark Sargent was at St Pius Adamstown, Mark Hughes went to St Peter’s and St Mary’s in Maitland while Robbie O’Davis, Owen Craigie, Danny Buderus and Adam Muir were all at SFX – to mention a few that spring to mind!

I like footy and knew a few of these Knights players before they were famous. Those brothers from Cessnock - it’s kind of natural to see where they have gone.  They were both characters but great players even as kids.  Apart from the Johns’ boys, I really enjoyed seeing Bill Peden do well.  I never would have thought he’d score two tries in an NRL grand final but he did and it was well deserved.


Q: If you look back over your career at the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, what do you consider to be your major achievements?

The Diocese has been going through a lot of change in the time I have been here.  I gained a great sense of satisfaction seeing the schools opening at Chisholm, having been on that journey since day one.  I have also enjoyed turning around the CDF following the GFC in 2008.  It is now a strong part of the Diocese that supports the work of the church in a significant way. 

Perhaps the one area I have felt the greatest sense of achievement is with St Nicholas Early Education. That started as an idea and we now have six centres with more on the way.  However, whilst I have played a role in many of those things, it has been through the hard work and dedication of many people that they have been delivered.  What I like is that the things we do as a Diocese are about our Catholic community and they leave a lasting legacy.

Q: As the new CEO, what do you see as being the major challenges the Diocese faces in 2019?

2019 will certainly start to show how the church has responded following the Royal Commission, we will need to prove that things have changed.  As a Diocese we will be consolidating on changes we have made over the past couple of years.  This will improve governance and decision making and prepare the Diocese for the years ahead.  We still have new schools to build and early education centres to develop but, more importantly, the question is: How do we rebuild the place of the Church in our community through the actions we take? This means making a difference to the lives of the people in our communities through parishes, community activities like the Development and Relief Agency (DARA) as well as education and care agencies.  Rebuilding trust with our community is the real challenge.


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John Kingsley-Jones

John Kingsley-Jones was the Head of Diocesan Communications from September 2017 to July 2019. 

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