For Kay Herse, education enables people to engage with the mysteries of life, to ask the questions that need asking about the way things are and, as a result, to contribute to the building of a more just, compassionate and peaceful world.
BY Stephanie Thomas
In a career spanning more than 35 years as an educator and leader in Queensland schools, Kay Herse says there have been many memorable moments. But the ones that stand out are those revolving around the growth and achievement of individual students or school communities coming together during times of celebration or sadness.
Kay also names as career highlights the experiences of personal growth when she has moved into positions of additional responsibility, such as principal, or in her current role as Executive Officer of Good Samaritan Education, the new ecclesial entity established to oversee the canonical governance of the ten Good Samaritan colleges.
“These have involved meeting increasing challenges in the delivery of high quality, modern education to students through working at various levels of management and governance,” she says.
Kay fervently believes in the power of education to transform individuals and communities. For her, education opens up the individual to personal growth, to understanding of others and to knowledge of the world.
“It enables the person to engage with the mysteries of life, to ask the questions that need asking about the way things are and, as a result, to contribute to the building of a more just, compassionate and peaceful world,” she explains.
“To be part of that journey with students is a great privilege.”
As a principal, Kay says she was often “humbled by the efforts” that some families made for their daughters to acquire an education. She remembers particularly a young Indigenous girl from a remote community in North Queensland who boarded for Years 11 and 12.
“There was great celebration upon her graduation, both by her family and by the community, as she was the first girl to achieve this goal from that community. She and they were aware that she had opened the minds of other girls to the possibility that they could also finish Year 12 and obtain the employment prospects that would bring.”
Kay’s passion for education was absorbed, in part, from her parents. “[They] were passionate about education, for their daughters as well as for their sons, and for this I am very grateful as it wasn’t necessarily the norm at that time,” she says.
Born and raised in Gympie, Queensland, about 160 kilometres north of Brisbane, Kay was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St Patrick’s College. From there she went to university and into teaching. She spent a number of years in Queensland schools, both Catholic and Government, before moving into senior management and leadership roles, such as Deputy Principal of St Rita’s College, Clayfield, a secondary school for girls run by the Presentation Sisters.
In 1992, Kay was appointed Principal of Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane, a position she held for 11 years. This was her first encounter with the Good Samaritan Sisters, and now looking back, she recognises that this relationship has influenced her approach to life and deepened her spirituality.
“From my first contact with the Good Samaritan Benedictine spirituality of the sisters I was drawn to it. It fits very comfortably with my own spirituality and I feel very blessed to have been part of this story for almost 20 years now,” she says.
Kay has great admiration for the sisters and says she has worked with some “wonderful Good Sams” over the years. “I find them a forward looking, hope-filled group of women making pragmatic decisions about the future, but always with a firm hold on the beliefs and values of the tradition and a trust in the Spirit,” she explains.
“We are so blessed to have [Kay]!” says Good Samaritan Sister, Catherine Slattery, who has worked closely with her over the past few years as Chair of the Good Samaritan Education Council. Catherine needs little prompting to sing Kay’s praises.
“Kay continues to make a very significant contribution to our Good Samaritan education community,” says Catherine.
“Kay is passionate about Catholic education and recognises the great gift of the Good Samaritan Benedictine spirituality that is our shared legacy. She is respectful, considerate and always inclusive in her approach to people and to structures and she understands that good relationships are foundational to good practice and to life-giving community.”
Catherine adds: “Kay is a great exemplar of the Benedictine notion of mutuality and actively invites others to contribute by sharing their own giftedness so that together we achieve the best possible outcome”.
After finishing at Lourdes Hill College in 2002, Kay moved into consultancy work and also served on the Good Samaritan Education Council until 2005, when she took up the role of Executive Officer to the Council (now Good Samaritan Education). Six years on, she still finds this role “very rewarding”.
“I enjoy being connected with the vibrancy of the school communities. There is nothing quite like the energy and enthusiasm that is generated by young people working in a supportive and challenging school environment and our Good Samaritan schools certainly provide that,” she explains.
Married with a son, two daughters and eight grandchildren – “all beautiful” – life for Kay seems pretty busy. But she manages to engage in regular physical activities such as walking, gym and pilates, and is an avid reader across a broad range of areas.
So what inspires Kay about life in 2011? “People inspire me,” she replies. “Their ingenuity, their generosity, their innate goodness (generally speaking)”.
And conversely, is there anything that troubles her? “There are any number of things that I could list, for example, the global economic uncertainty, the deplorable health and education situation for remote Indigenous communities, the many wars in various parts of the world, the seeming lack of integrity in Australian political life, inequality of income distribution,” responds Kay.
“However, I wouldn’t say I am troubled by life in 2011. I believe in working towards justice and compassion within my sphere of influence and trusting in the Spirit for the rest.”
As an educator, Kay is in the right place to make a significant difference.