By Anthony Barich
CATHOLIC Education Office Melbourne is providing $1500 to schools for each family who has lost their home in the Victorian firestorm to offset 2009 school fees and charges.
Additional funds are also being provided to assist with educational and relocation expenses for displaced families, while CEO psychologists and counsellors are available to support teachers and students of Catholic schools in the fire affected areas.
An additional $1000 will be provided to parents per school child, via the school, for other educational costs including school uniforms, if a family has lost their home. CEO Melbourne director Stephen Elder has established an internal Emergency Response Team that has met regularly to coordinate responses as the impact and extent of the tragedy unfolds.
All Catholic schools across Victoria are now open and operating after primary schools including St Brigid’s, Healesville, Sacred Heart, Yea, St Mary’s, Yarram, St Mary’s, Alexandra, St Mary’s, Whittlesea, Lumen Christi, Churchill, St Joseph’s, Beechworth and Marist-Sion College, Warragul all closed within three days of the fires starting on February 7.
“Many of our staff and students are anxiously awaiting information about missing family members, neighbours and friends, while others have lost their family homes or been forced to evacuate them,” Mr Elder said during the first week of the crisis. While three State schools burned down, all Catholic schools were spared; though a Catholic school in Healesville was “under threat for a while”, according to a Melbourne diocesan spokesman.
“We were very fortunate indeed,” he said. “Teachers have lost homes and families, but our schools have been spared.”
There was no school in Kinglake and Marysville, where the local parish churches burned to the ground. Blood and cash donations are being sought from Victorian Catholic school students and staff.
The Catholic Church’s presence in bushfire affected communities during the initial crisis and recovery stages will need to go beyond its normal and ongoing presence as represented by the “faithful and committed” parish communities, their priests, pastoral associates and religious who are “there for the long haul”, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said.
“The Church in Melbourne is committed to a sustained effort to meet the pastoral, welfare and education needs of the affected communities and to the rebuilding of those communities over the coming years,” the prelate said.
It has also been announced that Fr Greg Bourke, who Archbishop Hart appointed as the Bushfire Recovery Chaplain, will also arrange extra assistance that may be needed for funeral services.
This adds to Fr Bourke’s list of duties that already include liaising between State and civil authorities, key Catholic agencies such as the Catholic Education Office, Centacare Catholic Family Services and the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the parish priests and pastoral teams embedded in the affected communities.
Archbishop Hart visited communities in the fire zones around Healesville, Tarrawarra, Alexandra and Yea on February 17, following his visit to communities in Whittlesea the week before.
In Healesville, he spoke with emergency service personnel and told them of his “enormous admiration” for their work.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called on parish communities to pass on their prayers and condolences to those affected.