by MICHAEL OTTO
Three Auckland secondary schools are thankful for their Catholic character, which helped inform their responses to the recent deaths of students.
Robbie Taylor, 17, from St Peter’s College, was killed in a car crash in January in Auckland.
St Mary’s College is mourning the loss of Abby Allport, 18, who died peacefully in Starship Hospital after a battle with cancer.
And in the final months of last year, a McAuley High School student was tragically lost.
St Peter’s College principal James Bentley said that once confirmation of Robbie’s death came, all parents and staff were contacted.
“Our Catholic character has helped us enormously in our response to Robbie’s death,” Mr Bentley told NZ Catholic.
“The support offered by [school chaplain] Fr Tony Dunn, senior staff, and our strong faith, has enabled us to grieve for Robbie in ways that couldn’t happen in a non-Catholic school,” he said.
Mr Bentley said that a few days after Robbie died, the school held a liturgy in the college chapel, led by Fr Dunn.
More than 100 boys, staff and parents attended. Fr Dunn, senior school leadership and school counsellors spoke to the boys about the stages of grief and the importance of reaching out to staff for help if they needed it, Mr Bentley said.
McAuley High School principal Anne Miles told NZ Catholic that the school followed its traumatic incident and crisis plan when it learned of the loss of their student.
“Our Catholic character enabled us to survive,” Mrs Miles said.
She brought in additional Catholic counsellors to see the students and priests and chaplains were available to be with the students throughout the day. Students were never left alone for the whole day, she said.
“We informed the students in Catholic character helps schools in time of loss their classes and had a special
liturgy and opened up the school chapel,” Mrs Miles said.
Students who were too upset were allowed to go home. The student who died had a younger sister and the impact was felt across year levels.
Mrs Miles said there were letters written, prayers said and songs sung.
“You don’t get over something like this in a day,” she said.
Subsequently, outside agencies like Special Education Services and Whirinaki Child Family and Youth Mental Health worked with the school.
“Priests, chaplains, counsellors did amazing work,” Mrs Miles said. “They worked with students and family members.”
St Mary’s College principal Bernadette Stockman said parents and student have been kept in the loop after Abby’s death.
Counselling support has been offered where needed and the school worked with family and friends in arranging the funeral and managing the needs of one of Abby’s family members who is still at St Mary’s.
An effort has been made to identify students who might be struggling.
This has been done through observing those who went to the funeral, monitoring comments on social media and keeping lines of communication open, Mrs Stockman said.
“The deans will carefully monitor those students who have suffered the death of a family member or close friend, meet with those at risk and counselling will be offered to students who may need it,” she said.
“We keep records of students who have suffered a loss and always increase our awareness of them at such times.”
Mrs Stockman added that Abby and her family will be remembered in prayers at assembly and at the school’s inaugural 2016 Mass.
She said the St Mary’s community is “privileged that the Catholic faith provides a scaffold on which to grieve”.
The faith handed down and the promise of the Resurrection offer security and young Catholics “naturally turn to places of prayer to spend time grieving”.
“The chapel becomes a focus area … ,” she said.
St Mary’s pastoral care team provides wraparound care for students at such times, wrapping them in the spirit of compassion and Mercy, she said.
“In the Mercy tradition, we approach pastoral care by focusing on the whole person …,” Mrs Stockman
Catholic student Hamish Rieger, 17, died last month after he was swept off rocks at Mt Maunganui.
by MICHAEL OTTO