This Award is made to a person whose life and ministry in education embody the essence of our Gospel and the highest aspirations of the Charter for Catholic education in the Edmund Rice tradition. It is my great honour to present this special award to Chris Straford from St Kevin’s College.
Chris, your great friend Michael McGirr has told me a story. I hope you don’t mind if I share it.
Michael said that he arrived at Mass one Sunday recently to find that you were leading the children’s liturgy as you often do. There were a dozen or more pre-school kids involved and the Gospel of the day was the story of Zaccaheus. The kids were excited and totally captured in your lesson. You were getting them to climb up on each other’s shoulders in a piggy back style to give the idea of Zacchaeus climbing up the sycamore tree to see Jesus.
There are a couple of things to say about this. The first is that it is a reminder that you are a most creative teacher and one of those masterful and tireless exponents of Religious Education who knows the value of surprise and creativity in your chosen craft.
The other thing that should be said about the children’s liturgy is that you were undergoing chemo at the time and hadn’t been feeling so well. Yet Chris, passing on that Gospel story was so important to you. You were present to those kids despite any personal discomfort you were experiencing.
Chris, you have been known to quote the words of the late Queen Mother who, when asked how she kept such a busy schedule, would often say: ‘I just put on my hat and I go.’
Well Chris, you are not one for hats. But you are one for going. There are students at St Kevin’s who say they have never seen you walk, only run. You understand their world and the very physical nature of adolescent spirituality. You are famous, for example, for putting prayers up in the gym during Lent. If this is where the kids are, you know that God will find them there.
Chris, at this year’s Year 12 Valedictory Mass, one of the students mentioned doing the famous bread run with you as part of the St Vincent de Paul Group. With your characteristic doggedness you pestered Brumbies until they were willing to bypass some code or other they have and give you unsold bread. Then on Sunday nights, along with the students, you faithfully take the bread to places of need such as the House of Welcome in Fitzroy.
Chris, you have a great heart for God’s poor, evident since the days you were working at The Way mission in the 1980’s. You have accompanied students on hundreds of encounters with the marginalised from St Albans, Sunshine, Dandenong and the City. You are always asking them questions. You open their eyes. On two occasions you accompanied students to World Youth Day. In Brazil, it was vitally important to you that young people had some experience of the poor favelas, as well as the beaches.
Chris, the way you live is an inspiration. You ask for little for yourself. You are extraordinarily generous. You love your four children more than we can say and they love you. It is wonderful that Anna is here as well. You met each other at Newman College when you were Dean of Students there. Anna may recall that at your wedding, as people sat down to dinner, the people at Newman College had prepared something special for you. It was a vegemite sandwich. Many feel that the image of the vegemite sandwich, along with the pushbike you ride everywhere, should be on your coat of arms.
You are extraordinarily humble. You hardly told anyone about your success on the over 50’s tennis circuit which, before your illness this year, was on the point of taking you to represent Australia in Helsinki.
Chris, the depth of your spirituality was surely nurtured in the eight years you spent in the Jesuit Order. Subsequently, colleagues you met working in business at Perpetual Finance still remember you as someone special, a rare soul in the world of finance. But teaching is where you have found a home and it is as a wonderful teacher within Edmund Rice tradition that we honour you today.
When your illness was diagnosed, you told friends that ‘there will be grace even in this.’ Your friends needed to hear that. If only we could all be so passionate, so faith filled, so giving, so much in love with the Lord who, in recent times, has chosen such a challenging path for you.
Chris, we wish you every grace and blessing as you continue the road to good health. You continue to inspire through your resilience, positivity and trust in God’s plan. Please accept this award not only on our behalf, but on behalf of all whom you touch with your care, humility and compassion. Well done good and faithful son of Jesus and Edmund.
Dr Wayne Tinsey
Edmund Rice Education Australia