Long-time south-west Sydney educator Brother Nicholas Harsas was recognised for his service to education and to the Catholic Church of Australia with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the recent 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School Carnes Hill principal is known to go above and beyond for his school community and lately can be found with hand sanitiser in hand welcoming pupils at the front gate. Br Nicholas, who celebrated 25 years as a Patrician Brother last year, has taught at four schools in Fairfield and Liverpool.

The Champion caught up with the former Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School principal to talk about his latest accolade, his highlights and the challenges caused by the coronavirus.

It came as a huge shock to me when I received a letter of notification regarding the award. I was thrilled and humbled at the one time. My ministry as a Patrician Brother is in Catholic education and so to be awarded the OAM for service to education and the Catholic Church was very affirming.

For me, to be recognised for this award I did gladly, not only for myself, but for all those Religious men and women who for almost 200 years have provided Catholic education for young people in schools throughout Australia, and often in and under very difficult circumstances. It was for these committed Sisters and Brothers, including Patrician Brothers, who have gone before me that I was pleased to accept the recognition.

Also, for me I could not be recognised for service to education and the Catholic Church without the support, cooperation and collaboration of the school communities where I have ministered – the students, staff, parents and priests; and of my own religious community.

It was the inspiration and example of the teachers I had at school, both in primary and secondary school, who inspired me to be a teacher. I could see in their work and commitment how a teacher can make a difference in a child’s life, education and future.

There have been many changes in education over the past 34 years that I have been a teacher or principal. The curriculum has become more intense and the documentation more onerous; yet many of the changes over the years are to ensure that the students are safe, their learning is engaging and relevant and teaching is geared to meeting individual student needs.

COVID-19 has been a very challenging time for teachers and students, but also for parents. Thrust upon us without much warning or time we entered a new era of remote learning that necessitated all stakeholders embracing technology in ways we were not expecting. Parents were great in their support of their children and of the work of teachers. The teachers were simply amazing in what they were doing, often on the spot, to assist their students and the parents.

There are so many highlights over my 24 years as principal. In each school I have been blessed with the communities I have served. I have grown as a person, as a teacher and as a leader from the interactions/opportunities/experiences with the students, staff, parents and priests in each of the school communities. I have always felt that I was meant to be principal of the school where I was at that point in time.

To keep doing all I can to the best of my ability so, with the cooperation of the school community, ensuring it is a thriving Catholic learning community.

Build rapport and relationships with the students in your class, get to know them, because by doing so great learning will happen. Teaching is not the easiest of professions but it certainly is most rewarding.

Education is a means of equipping young people to be happy, faith-filled, successful learners so that they have a strong foundation to be happy, faith-filled successful adults who can contribute positively to society in the future.

Working in Catholic education has been a great joy to me, yet I am well aware, I could not have achieved anything without the support of those working alongside me. It is to all these wonderful people – children and adults – that I offer my humble thanks as I receive this OAM; and it is to my current school community of Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School, Carnes Hill, my appreciation and gratitude extends.