Recalling the joys and challenges of leadership
Almost 50 years ago, a young Gerard Mowbray threw on his Safari Suit and took up his first teaching post at St Mary’s High, Gateshead - an all-girls school led by the Josephite Sisters.
“I was 22 years old and very green,” he said. “Very quickly I became aware of how challenging the profession was and still is but it soon dawned on me what a privileged position I was in, helping to shape the lives of young people, and that’s stayed with me ever since.”
Gerard made history that day as one of the first men ever to teach at St Mary’s and now 46 years later is just a few weeks away from concluding his career as the Director of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
In his final term as Director, Gerard has set his sights on meeting with every one of the Diocese’s 58 school communities. “It’s important for me to let them each know how much I respect them and value the work they are doing,” he said.
His final lap of honour isn’t just lip service. Having joined the Catholic Schools Office as an Assistant Director 14 years ago, Gerard’s distinctive snow-white hair and matching beard have been a common sight for many years at schools across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie as well as further afield in the Manning and Upper Hunter.
“It’s so important to build relationships that are based on genuine interest and authenticity,” Gerard said.
While Gerard currently holds the highest position in the Diocese’s education system, it was an appreciation of history that first drew him to the teaching profession.
“My first love was history, and so initially I just thought of teaching as a steppingstone on my path to becoming an academic.”
Gerard’s leadership qualities were recognised early and by age 29, he had accepted a role as assistant principal at St Joseph’s High School in Aberdeen, effectively ending his plans of becoming an academic.
Refusing to rest on his laurels, over the next 24 years Gerard held various leadership roles in schools across the Diocese including St Clare’s High School in Taree, San Clemente High School in Mayfield, St Paul’s High School in Booragul and All Saints’ College, St Mary’s Campus in Maitland.
“As a principal you are leading the school community and I really felt that was a great honour.”
His appointment as an Assistant Director in the Catholic Schools Office in 2009 was initially meant to be temporary, but he stayed on and eventually rose to become Director of Catholic Schools in 2019.
“I always felt that I would end up, where I was intended to end up, that I would be guided by the Holy Spirit … and so I am really thrilled that I am able to finish my career at the highest level I could in Catholic education in the Diocese.”
Asked if he still experiences challenges like he did in his early years as an educator, he says that he does, but the nature of them has changed.
“The key has been to remember why I am doing the job - my love of students - and that guiding principle has always seen me through.”
“I have always been deeply motivated by a commitment to students’ learning, formation and wellbeing,” Gerard said.
An optimist by nature, Gerard said he had always been passionate about seeing the ‘glass of life as half-full’ and sharing the concept with his colleagues and student leaders.
“Leadership is a life-giving experience that has the potential to positively shape the lives of others. Your world view translates into the behaviours, attitudes and values that you bring to your role and so I found the ‘glass half-full’ analogy translates into incredibly powerful, positive and relational leadership that can also influence the moral framework that students can take into their adult life.”
The Diocesan community will farewell Gerard at a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral on 6 December, however, he is adamant he is not retiring.
“I am just moving into the next phase of my life.”
He plans to spend more time with family, undertake consultancy work, partake in spiritual formation and even write a book on the lessons he has learnt throughout his career.
“Teaching and learning are a big part of what makes me ‘me.’ It’s my vocation, and I don’t see me giving that up any time soon,” he said.
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