Old Paradians' Association President Dr. Paul Shannon has taken time out to briefly ponder life beyond 2021 when, as was the case with Andy Kuppe at Parade last year, he formally becomes the first lay Principal (of sorts) at Mulgrave's Mazenod College.
Paul takes on the Principalship in January, three months after completing his year-long secondment to St Kevin’s College as Acting Deputy Principal and a further month as Director of Learning at Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA).
Reflecting on his recent years in education, Paul said there was a period around five years ago when he first harboured thoughts of seeking a Principal’s role – until the landscape shifted.
"Things changed for me a little bit after being Deputy Principal at St Bernard’s for about seven or eight years, when I was appointed Director of Learning at EREA,” Paul said.
"That involved visiting every EREA school in the country and completing a research report into what was happening in teaching and learning in schools. For me that was a little bit of a departure from the path I thought I was on, and at the same time I was doing my doctorate.”
Paul’s return to College life at St Kevin’s rekindled his interest in pursuing a Principal’s position somewhere – and it came by way of Mazenod, a Catholic all-boys secondary school striving to live the charism of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Missionary founded by Eugene de Mazenod, who was canonised in 1995 and whose portrait appears alongside this story.
The College, which boasts over 1400 students, was established in 1967 and temporarily operated out of St Joseph’s Primary School, Springvale, before relocating to the present site in Mulgrave the following year – the same year Parade completed its relocation from East Melbourne to Bundoora.
"There wasn’t much movement through 2020 and I still wasn’t really sure,” said Paul of his prospects as a future Principal, “but I knew there’d be a lot more availability in 2021 and when I had the first interview for the position at Mazenod I really knew it was something I wanted to do”.
Paul, who has confirmed his intention to continue as Association President, replaces the outgoing and long-serving Mazenod Principal and Oblate Priest Father Christian Fini, who was asked to head up the order’s Oceania Province half way through his contract. The Deputy Principal Tony Coghlan then took on the Principalship for the duration of that contract, which expires at the end of this year.
"In some ways Tony and I share the honour of becoming the first lay Principals of Mazenod College, which is a great honour and very exciting,” said Paul, a final year Parade College student of 1985 and for four years from 2007 the Deputy Principal – Organization at Parade under the late Dr Denis Moore’s watch.
"The story of St Eugene of Mazenod grew out of France in the mid-1800s, a little bit after Edmund Rice’s time, but it was similarly a time of need,” Paul said.
"There was a lot of poverty and dysfunction there, and St Eugene saw a great need to reach out to the margins as Edmund did . . . so there are a lot of similarities.”
When asked what he sees as his greatest challenge in taking the chair at Mazenod from 2022, Paul said: “The biggest challenge is that Mazenod is an all-boys school, and like each and every all-boys school it’s under a lot of pressure from secular society to maintain its identity”.
"I don’t believe a single school starting up tomorrow will be single sex, and there has been so much media coverage in recent times about toxic masculinity – the negative side of what it means to be a male – which is pretty confusing for the young boys and young men of our schools at the moment,” Paul said.
"The challenge therefore is to navigate that space, to ensure that our programs address that issue by adopting a holistic approach towards education - as what we all want at the end of the day is for our boys and girls, whether in single sex schools or otherwise, to graduate in a compassionate, loving and understanding way who are going to make a positive contribution to society.”