Sydney Catholic Schools’ unique faith-based service program Pope Francis Award has, for the first time, expanded into secondary schools.

Pope Francis Award is a way our Year 6 students can earn an award by volunteering their time before and after school to complete community service. 

When Sydney Catholic Schools initiated this program in 2017, only 17 schools participated in the pilot program and 220 students graduated. 

Today, 105 primary schools across the Archdiocese of Sydney deliver this program, supporting students to develop mindsets of ‘giving back’ while contributing to their own success by developing new experiences that will aid them in the long run. 

Plus, for the first time, the program has been expanded to include Year 7 students from the following five secondary schools: 

“I love that it’s growing so much,” Sydney Catholic Schools’ Education Officer: Church Engagement, Cheryl Fernandez, said.

From small beginnings

A Sydney Catholic Schools’ alumni, Ms Fernandez has overseen the system’s Pope Francis Award program since its inception.

So, she was elated to share that the program would be offered to every Year 7 student in all 33 of our Sydney Catholic secondary schools from 2023.

“It was always the dream to go into secondary school … there’s a need to connect the students with parish and to encourage the students to do service,” Ms Fernandez said.

Our Graduates

2017: 222 students

2018: 473 students

2019: 696 students

2020: 980 students

2021: 1,142 students

TOTAL: 3,513 graduates


The Pope Francis Award supports students’ growth as a whole person including their social, spiritual and emotional learning and wellbeing by encouraging the involvement of students in their school and local parish.

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Education Officer: Church Engagement, Cheryl Fernandez

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Education Officer: Church Engagement, Cheryl Fernandez.

It supports students to find their voice and be a powerful influence for good, no matter their academic ability, within the nurturing environment of their school and parish community.

“The yearlong program will help your child recognise the importance of respect and caring for others, while encouraging them to be compassionate open-hearted service leaders who ‘never see a need without doing something about it’,” Ms Fernandez said.

As Pope Francis says, “Jesus didn’t stay out on a balcony. Instead, He got involved. Follow Jesus’ example.”

Sydney Catholic Schools similarly invites students to stop being couch potatoes and to put on their boot lace shoes and leave a mark on the world. 

Primary school students each receive specially-designed certificates and medals after completing 20 or more hours of self-driven community service in their school and parish communities before and after school, including during lunch and recess. 

Past Pope Francis Award recipients from Sydney Catholic Schools

Past Pope Francis Award participants with their medals.

Secondary school students are completing 30 hours of self-driven community service, divided in their school, community and parish. Plus they attend a retreat.

“The secondary students each received a badge to wear, so people could recognise they were contributing to their community”  Cheryl Fernandez

Supported in-school initiatives of past participants have included assembly presentations, collecting money for Project Compassion, helping set up liturgies, running various clubs at lunchtime (e.g. art and sporting clubs), looking after the school’s vegetable garden.

The Award also recognises service in the parish which may take the form of altar serving, participating part in the Liturgy of the Word (the part of the Mass where there are readings from Scripture) or offertory procession, and helping with the Children’s liturgy (when the children leave the congregation to celebrate and reflect on the Sunday Gospel reading in an age appropriate way) and in nursing homes.