POLICE chaplain Fr Paul Kelly chose working at a hardware store over packing his bags for the beach when his Schoolies week came around.
As his schoolmates were preparing to party on the Gold Coast after more than a dozen years of schooling, Fr Kelly was working hard stacking shelves.
“I couldn’t think of anything worse than leaving everyone only to be back with them for a week,” Fr Kelly said.
He thought he could successfully avoid Schoolies all his life, until a recent appointment placed him as police chaplain on the Gold Coast.
“I was quite happy to avoid Schoolies for the rest of my life,” Fr Kelly said.
“Now my job will have me right in the centre of it.”
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Tomorrow will be Fr Kelly’s Schoolies debut, but like his teenage self, the 46-year-old won’t be “rushing to look for trouble”.
What Fr Kelly does know about Schoolies is the provision of care police officers will give to the thousands of students headed to the Gold Coast.
“What I do know is the police, and other organisations, have organised Schoolies well,” he said.
“The police are primarily all about the maximum safety of young people.
“They are there to be a friendly presence but they will not tolerate anti-social behaviour.
“I have a great admiration for the way they do that.”
While police officers roam the streets during the days and nights at Schoolies, Fr Kelly will be on standby in case officers or their families require support.
“I like to think of us in the same way, and this might be a terrible analogy, how religious Sisters in hospitals worked – their motivation was spiritual, but their job was medical,” Fr Kelly said.
“If anything happens in Schoolies, or police are at some traumatic situation, I talk to them, and their families.”
Fr Kelly said he did have concerns about pastoral care models where volunteers and workers ministered to teenagers inside their accommodation.
“The models that are bewildering to me are those who follow them around, and go to people’s apartments making them breakfast,” Fr Kelly said.
“This doesn’t fit in with the Catholic Church’s or police chaplain’s policy of risk management.
“You don’t minister to people where they are living.
“I won’t have anything to do with that and will readily distance myself from these models.”
Queensland seniors will complete their last exam today before heading down to the Gold Coast or other destinations.
Schoolies runs for three weeks between November 19 and December 10 for Year 12 graduating students from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
By Emilie Ng