One of EREA’s ground-breaking founders bows out

Br Paul Oakley, an early architect of Edmund Rice Education Australia, retires from EREA’s Council on 31 December 2020.

This message is a reflection on Paul’s prolific and ground-breaking early work with others in developing the model for EREA, his leadership in the establishment of EREA as a Catholic educational mission and an acknowledgment of his service as a Christian Brother.

As part of the establishment of EREA, Paul worked in a team on the creation of canonical and civil structures for the new organisation. He then led the enactment and implementation of those structures through the EREA Council, established on 1 October 2007. Paul later became the Council’s  inaugural President.

Under Paul’s leadership, the Council worked with the EREA Board and built the groundwork for the establishment of EREA as an organisation to continue and develop the Catholic educational mission of the Christian Brothers.

Paul was an excellent choice for the challenging role of stewarding the creation and nurturing of EREA and its mission. Those on the EREA Council, EREA Board and the Executive who have worked closely with Paul describe him as a passionate educator, patient and considered, generous of spirit, able to see both sides of an argument, inspiring, wise, and skilled at building relationships for the common good.

Importantly, Paul fostered ways for EREA to work more collaboratively with diocesan Bishops.  EREA is a Ministerial Public Juridic Person, a legal entity under Canon Law accountable to the Holy See, and this concept has taken much patience and explanation in raising understanding and acceptance across the Catholic Church in Australia. Paul has led diplomatically on this.

His vision and commitment over many years helped support EREA schools in providing a Catholic education in the tradition of Edmund Rice.  EREA is now an Australia-wide educational organisation that enjoys a growing reputation for education and mission.

EREA began with about 38 Christian Brothers’ schools in 2007. During Paul’s time in leadership, EREA has grown to 54 schools with 39,000 students.  The EREA community today includes parents, school staff and leaders, administrators and governors sharing in the education and care of these young people across all of Australia.  The special character of EREA schools derives from a faithfulness to the EREA Charter and the Touchstones, offering a liberating education, based on a Gospel spirituality, within an inclusive community committed to justice and solidarity.

Paul was Principal of several NSW schools from 1982 to 1996 and then served on the Christian Brothers leadership team in NSW until 2007.  From 2000, he was a member of planning committees that led to the establishment of EREA on 1 October 2007.

In more recent years, he also served on various State and National Church bodies, including the NSW Catholic Education Commission, and was instrumental in establishing the Association of Ministerial Public Juridic Persons (AMPJP) and the Federation of Religious Institute and Public Juridical Person Catholic School Authorities in NSW and the ACT. Paul also chaired the initial Councils for both AMPJP and the Federation.

Paul was the inaugural President of EREA Council and Chair of Trustees of Edmund Rice Education Australia, serving in these roles until 30 June 2020.  He served on Council and as a Trustee for more than 13 years, from August 2006. His term on the Council will now conclude at the end of 2020, after a six-month handover to his successor.

We acknowledge the contribution of Paul Oakley to much of what makes Edmund Rice Education Australia what it is today.  His legacy will live on not only in EREA, but in Catholic education across Australia.

We wish Paul well, and hope he remains in contact with the EREA community. His wisdom and presence will be greatly missed.

With best wishes.

Graham Goerke

On behalf of the EREA Council