Shaping lives through education

Roisin McVeigh is Assistant Principal at St Paul’s Catholic College, Booragul. Hailing from Belfast, Roisin’s career path is inspiring. Central to the story is her passion for learning and Catholic education.

The youngest of nine, Roisin left school at 15; “bright, but never engaged”. She began work as a cleaner before becoming a make-up artist. One of her older sisters encouraged Roisin to finish her education. She went to TAFE, then university to complete a degree, followed by a Masters in History and then her teaching qualification. In her ‘first year out’ she received a national award for best new teacher. Her early classroom experience included teaching young offenders and high security prisoners.

With two siblings in Sydney, Roisin travelled to Australia. She first worked with the Patrician Brothers in the south-west where, “92% of the kids had English as a second language, 25% were refugees and 20% came to school without shoes.

“It was the best teaching experience. A lot of the kids had nothing but they were hungry to learn. There was a real moral obligation to those kids in the school’s culture. It helped me learn that Catholic education isn’t about what we do or how we do it – it’s why we do it that’s most important,” said Roisin.

In 2010, Smarter Schools funding allowed the Catholic Education Office to create 14 ‘Leaders of Pedagogy’. Roisin was selected and, with a Masters of Educational Leadership, she was soon working in schools in low socio-economic areas of Sydney. 

“We were teacher educators. We worked solely with teachers on pure pedagogy – what does authentic leadership and learning look like? The results were tremendous,” said Roisin.

The program ended in 2013 and Roisin was offered the role of Director of Teaching and Learning at SCECGS Redlands. However, she “longed to get back to Catholic education.”

The St Paul’s role became available. Despite never having visited Newcastle, Roisin applied and was appointed.

Her dedication to being a lifelong learner is evident with Roisin recently completing a Masters of Theology.

Roisin’s parents loom large in her stories about people who have had a positive impact. Her mother encouraged her fortitude and resilience and her father, a boxer, encouraged her to ‘stay off the ropes’ and ‘get back in the ring’. She credits many of the nuns who taught her for understanding “the power of education for women.”

Roisin is creating professional learning communities at St Paul’s and at the term four professional development day, teachers led 11 different workshops.

“My role involves building capacity in teachers. No profession shapes a life like a teacher’s. How do we upskill and practise our craft?” she said.

“The children are so beautiful at St Paul’s. They’re happy here and I have been amazed by the kindness of the school community. It’s obvious the teachers love what they do.”

While it’s wonderful for all students to see a woman as Assistant Principal, Roisin says it influences girls positively, with many saying they’re glad to have a female deputy. Teaching Year 11 and 12 Catholic Studies “energises” her. She’s on the playground daily, discussing the latest trend in eyebrows with the girls and talking about Conor McGregor and Manchester United to the boys!

Despite St Paul’s not having an official charism, Roisin believes one exists.

“We have St Paul’s charism – the complete transformation of a human being. So whether you’re a child, a teacher or a leader, you have the capacity for complete transformation for the betterment of others and yourself,” said Roisin.

Roisin’s email signature highlights this: “If you are a light to those in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth, then you who are teachers of others, will you not teach yourself”? (Romans 2:17-29)

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Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.