“When I think back now, it was a remarkable thing for Mum and Dad to do.”
Carmel’s family also “conveniently” lived across the road from the Mary Immaculate Church at Depot Hill, Rockhampton.
“We had the keys to it … so the church didn’t open or close unless we did it,” she said.
“We also did things like clean the church.
“It was just the way we lived and even for me now – my mum only died a couple of years ago and my father has been dead for some time – we’re a group of nine siblings who love each other, who get along extremely well.
“Now we all live between Cairns and Melbourne and my eldest sister has taken on the role of a sort of conduit between us in the way my mother used to.
“We can’t catch up at Christmas but we’ve had a series of fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays recently.
“These things are part of being Church; it’s that love … it’s those things that keep you strong.
“With my own children now – Lauren, Brooke and Ryan – we’re all still very close even though Lauren lives overseas.”
Despite such an idyllic family life, experience from six years as a volunteer on the P and F state committee and 11 years in her executive role, has taught Carmel this is by no means the norm.
She speaks about issues of religious identity of Catholic schools and efforts to engage “time-poor” parents in the life of the schools.
She also challenged the notion that in the “golden era” of the Church that all parents were necessarily more involved in school life.
There was also talk of new initiatives such as a food nutrition education program at a Woodridge school and of “webinars” to train P and F members.
After leaving school in Rockhampton, Carmel started as a bank clerk.
She started with what was then the Bank of New South Wales and then Westpac before moving to Brisbane and other places.
Along the way, she met and married Peter and they moved to various locations including Biloela, Hervey Bay, Longreach, Maroochydore and Yarraman.
In Brisbane, her father-in-law had a travelling library.
“I got interested and did some study in that area,” she said. “When I took the job with the P and F state body I was actually the library supervisor at St Anthony’s in Rocky, where I’d been for about 11 years.”
Throughout her travels, now with three young children, Carmel kept a high degree of contact with their schools and even before.
“I was treasurer at their kindys,” she said.
“Then I was on the P and C of a Hervey Bay State School, there being no Catholic schools and then at Longreach where the two girls went to St Joey’s (Joseph’s).
“Then to Yarraman … again there was no Catholic school and I became president of the P and C there which was interesting, it’s quite different to how the P and F works.”
So, is there a “simple” description of the role the P and F plays?
“The perfect description is that the P and F is a conduit to supporting the school,” she said.
“The P and F is an opportunity for parents to be involved in decision-making – remembering they’re not often making the decisions, rather participating.
“When parents have a good relationship with the school principal he can say to the P and F, ‘I’m thinking about doing such and such’.
“They then talk it through, get a view, but realise the principal would have to usually talk with the staff, might talk with their diocesan office, might need to do some other research around it and might even want to talk to the kids about it.
“So the P and F isn’t a controlling body in any way … the buck stops with the principal.”
In many ways, the parents’ role at home was the most crucial of all in the educational endeavour, Carmel said.
“It’s about getting parents to realise the things they do at home are just as important, that they are the first educators,” she said. “It’s around the way they talk about school, the way they talk about people at school, the way they talk about education and how important it is …”
So, has there been a decrease in parent involvement at school P and F meetings over the years given our increasingly busy society?
“Look,” Carmel said, “there is a difference but I don’t think that ever, even when I was a kid, that there were groundswells of parents coming to meetings.
“And I sometimes think we need to think about whether we would want every parent from the school at P and F meetings which run for an hour or an hour and a half … nothing much would get done if that happened.
“We have to take it that parents do many things at school from helping at sport to doing tuckshop, working in the grounds, all sorts of things and what some parents choose to do is come to the meetings.
“Other people will come in to help when they know there are things to do.
“The optimum is to create an expectation that everyone will help and participate in some way to spread the load.
“Just One Thing is an approach we’ve had for some years – if every family did this, what a difference it would make.”
This same practical approach to educational issues as they arise is evident in other projects Carmel is overseeing.
“For example, in a recent survey one of the things that shocked us when we talked about Catholic identity in schools was that many parents didn’t see it as their role or that of P and F’s to be involved,” she said.
“We’ve changed things on our website and monthly newsletter to alter this perception through information on the sacraments and so on.
“Then there’s a Healthy Lunch program being run in conjunction with support from Nutrition Australia at St Paul’s School, Woodridge.
“We’ve also started running ‘webinars’ to train P and F executives – and anyone else interested – about the importance of the organisation to schools and the quickest and most effective ways to get committees up and running.
“In April we have our Biennial Queensland Catholic Schools Parents’ Conference which will provide professional development opportunities for parents across the state.
“Then there’s our input into the Australian Curriculum …
“Whatever the issues are, it’s all about ensuring the P and F continues to play a vital role in supporting Catholic Education as it fulfils its mission.”
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.