Deacon helps young people navigate life

Greg Kerr has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the General Division for “service to youth through a range of roles”. He will receive his medal in September.

Greg has taught and mentored thousands of young people in high Schools, Scouts and Army Cadets. He continues to support youth through his current roles as a Deacon in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and as a Chaplain at the University of Newcastle.

After finishing school, Greg undertook formation to become a Patrician Brother. He remained for thirteen years and his involvement with the Patrician Brothers community had a big impact. He states “hospitality was always a prime characteristic. There was a big emphasis on developing a strong rapport with the students and on developing young people who had a strong faith.” Today Greg continues to enjoy his roles and is dedicated to welcoming and helping others.

For 45 years Greg worked in Catholic high schools in the roles of teacher, science co-ordinator, year counsellor, school counsellor, assistant principal and principal. Greg was originally a maths/science and religion teacher but he diversified to teach geography/history to help the school timetable! In Australia, Greg taught at Fairfield and Blacktown. He then ventured overseas to work in Aitape, a missionary boarding school in Papua New Guinea, then moved to America to teach in California. On returning in 1983, Greg worked at St Francis Xavier’s College Hamilton, St Pius X High School Adamstown and St Peter’s Maitland, concluding his teaching career at St Paul’s Booragul in 2012.

Greg valued getting to know students and forming a bond with them, not just knowing them as “the kid who sat in the second desk on the right hand side of the classroom”. He would sit with students at recess and lunchtime and ask about their day. It was important to Greg that students never missed an activity such as an excursion or camp due to financial constraints. He took an interest in students’ out of school activities such as sport, drama and music and would sometimes go and watch them participate.

When Greg returned to Australia from California, his wife Terry, whom he had met in America, volunteered him to be a scout leader ‒ a role he undertook for five years. This involved training scouts and teaching skills such as tying knots, putting up tents, navigation and survival skills. He fitted in these extra activities whilst raising his children, Heather and Patrick.  

After participating as an Army cadet in high school, Greg went on to be an Officer in the Army Cadets for 34 years. This role, which he undertook out of school hours, was similar to being a Scout leader but with a military framework. As an Army Officer Greg taught navigation, first aid, bush survival skills, leadership skills and weapon safety. Most school holidays, Greg was involved in running camps and also promotions courses for people from all over the state to become junior or senior leaders. He was also an Army Chaplain for part of this time.

Greg derived great joy from seeing students grow and solve difficulties life presented. He loved witnessing the growth of young people such as “seeing the nervous, insecure 12 year-old build self-esteem and confidence to become a competent young leader by the time they were 16 or 17 years old”.

In 2009 Greg was ordained deacon in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle after he had completed a theology degree and formation. There are currently ten permanent deacons who serve the diocesan community in a variety of ways. Greg belongs to MacKillop Parish (Charlestown/Gateshead). He assists at Sunday Mass and sometimes preaches the homily. He has presided at the weddings of many of his former students and also at the baptisms of their children.

Greg is currently a chaplain at Newcastle University. This has been a logical progression from teaching. Many of his ex-students were attending the university and it was a good way to keep in touch with them. The chaplaincy aims to provide a safe place of support, advice and counselling where students feel welcome to stop by for a chat about where they are in life. There are sixteen people in the chaplaincy team from twelve different denominations, Christian and non-Christian. The chaplaincy provides services such as organising for a JP to sign documents, chatting to students during the pressure of exam week, the stress of coping with assignments or personal relationship or accommodation challenges.  

Greg was surprised and humbled to receive his OAM. Ex-students and cadets have congratulated him on his award, in terms such as, “If it hadn’t been for you I would have ended up in gaol”; “You are an amazing example for today’s youth to aspire to” and “I have been lucky to have you as a teacher and a role model.”

Affirmations like these give Greg incentive to continue to follow his calling.



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