Julie’s goodbye to Diocese of East Anglia after 19 years

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Julie’s goodbye to Diocese of East Anglia after 19 years

Julie O’Connor, the Diocese of East Anglia Director of Schools’ Service for the past almost 20 years has retired. Helen Bates pays tribute.

Julie has provided 19 years of dedicated and excellent leadership to Catholic Schools in the Diocese. She was appointed by Bishop Michael Evans as Director of Schools’ Service in June 2003, having been an Advisory Teacher in Norfolk County Council’s Schools’ Psychological Service.

Julie was in a team of one but was soon joined by Jane Delph as her secretary. Even before joining the Diocese, Julie was a strong advocate for Catholic education. She was Chair of Governors at Notre Dame High School in Norwich and supported catechetics in Wymondham, her local parish, which she continues to this day.

Julie has worked tirelessly as the Bishop’s chief adviser on education making sure that both priests and laity understand the complexities of the school system and ensuring a joint commitment to the Bishop’s vision for our schools. Her deep Catholic faith and conviction have underpinned everything she has achieved and can be seen in the pastoral way she has always carried out her work .

It is difficult to select just a few of Julie’s many achievements during her time with the Diocese, as she has been behind all the developments and successes of Catholic education across East Anglia.

She has grown the Diocesan Schools’ Team from one to a highly professional and effective team of four, and this small team covers an area of 5,750 square miles encompassing 26 state-maintained Catholic schools and two independent schools. During her tenure, Julie has led the creation of two successful Catholic multi-academy trusts in line with the Bishop’s vision for schools in his Diocese. Julie did this through clear guidance and a gentle collaborative approach that has brought schools along with her on this journey. Many other dioceses have found this process to be painful and divisive.

The fact that Julie remains highly-respected and much-loved by staff at all schools in the Diocese, is a testament to her skill and ability to lead through kindness, understanding, respect and a little bit of northern grit when required… that, and her unwavering commitment to organising the truly uplifting and life-affirming school leaders’ pilgrimages to Italy each year!

Recently, and supported by the Bishop, Julie has provided hope and vision to Catholic education in East Anglia through the opening in September, of the country’s newest Catholic school, St John Henry Newman Primary School in Peterborough. Though East Anglia is one of the smaller dioceses in England, under Julie’s leadership it has punched well above its weight in securing the only successful bid in the country for a new Catholic school in the last decade.

As if this wasn’t enough, when asked by a religious order running a private Catholic school within the Diocese to take their school into the maintained sector run by the Diocese, Julie took on the challenge wholeheartedly in the firm belief that this could only benefit Catholic children and education in East Anglia.

Julie led the Schools’ Team through all the challenges faced in opening a new school, from persuading the Local Authority of the need for a Catholic school in the area; asking existing Catholic leaders in Diocesan schools to be involved in the governing body, in helping with the design of the new school and in providing a public face in support of Catholic education – all without being paid for their help; to providing emotional and practical support, to everyone involved in a hugely complex and at times frustrating process.

 This school, Sacred Heart Primary in Swaffham, has now just started its fourth year as a state-funded school under strong school leadership that has been constantly supported and guided by Julie.

Part of the role of a Diocesan Director is to build strong relationships with the Local Authorities and other providers in the area. Julie has been a stalwart in this mission. She has been admired and commended by education leaders outside the Diocese over the last two decades. She has also made sure that the Diocese is well connected nationally through close contact with other dioceses across the country and working closely with officers in the Catholic Education Service.

Everyone who works within education will know that the landscape never stands still, even if we wish it would. Julie has provided a constancy in the ever-changing world of education that is underpinned by her deep faith and commitment to Catholic education. Whilst Julie has at times had to take a firm approach to certain situations, she has done so with grace and in such a way that everyone thought it was their own idea anyway!

Whilst she can now take her well-earned retirement, mainly in Italy, she is an asset that the Diocese will not let go of easily! Julie has agreed to be a Director of St John the Baptist MAT and to continue as a governor at Sacred Heart Primary School. We hope and pray that her influence and wisdom will continue in Catholic education in East Anglia for many years to come.

On September 28 Bishop Alan Hopes celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving at St John’s Cathedral for Julie’s work in the diocese. In the homily, Mgr Tony Rogers paid tribute to Julie’s “wonderful talent for bringing people together for work, for fun and for prayer”. He praised the way she had widened her circle of care beyond her own family, which she cared for so much, to the family of the diocese. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” he concluded. “Enjoy your retirement.”

Pictured top, Julie O’Connor and Flavio Vettese said goodbye to the Diocese of East Anglia curia team at a lunch on September 27. Julie is retiring and Flavio has become CEO of the Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Multi Academy Trust. 

See below for a picture gallery of a Mass held in Julie’s honour at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich on Wednesday September 28.


Julie O'Connor thanksgiving Mass