Bushfire hero Serge Rosato awarded medal from the Pope

 Principal Serge Rosato (right) shares a light moment before the ceremony with Faulconbridge brigade volunteer Vincent Hurley. Mr Rosato has repeatedly praised the actions of the emergency services who worked tirelessly on the day to save lives and property.
Principal Serge Rosato (right) shares a light moment before the ceremony with Faulconbridge brigade volunteer Vincent Hurley. Mr Rosato has repeatedly praised the actions of the emergency services who worked tirelessly on the day to save lives and property.
Serge Rosato, St Thomas Aquinas Primary School principal, who walked 500 students to safety at the height of the Linksview Road fire only to discover his home had been destroyed was awarded the Gold Papal Medal on Friday.

Serge Rosato, St Thomas Aquinas Primary School principal, who walked 500 students to safety at the height of the Linksview Road fire only to discover his home had been destroyed was awarded the Gold Papal Medal on Friday.

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher conferred the Benemerenti medal on behalf of Pope Francis in recognition of his singular service to the Christian life .

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher conferred the Benemerenti medal on behalf of Pope Francis in recognition of his singular service to the Christian life .

St Thomas Aquinas school principal Serge Rosato was honoured with a "rare" medal from the Pope on Friday during a moving service at the school to commemorate a year on from the fires.

During the ceremony, Sydney Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher, delivered a message from Pope Francis honouring the "heroic" Mr Rosato by awarding him the Gold Papal Medal, the Benemerenti medal, for his "exceptional" service and "great leadership to his community" while his own home burnt to the ground. It was originally an award given to soldiers in the Papal Army and has been bestowed since 1832.

Archbishop-elect Fisher said he had only learned that morning of the medal.

"I asked for it and we had heard nothing - incredibly it arrived today," he told the Gazette after the service.

"It's a very unusual [honour]. In Rome they got a sense that something special happened here."

Mr Rosato lost his home while he was evacuating the 550 children from St Thomas's. The fire had come through a valley between St Columba's Catholic College [where Mr Rosato's 17-year-old twins were in lockdown for five hours] and St Thomas Aquinas, and was believed to be started by powerlines in Linksview Road.

Mr Rosato said he "had a strong sense that we didn't have a lot of time before it would be at the school".

He led his students and staff on a 2.5km walk to safety while flames closed in around the school, walking past Paulwood Avenue and on to Hawkesbury Road where several homes burned and out to the Winmalee Shopping Centre. Three children had asthma attacks and one disabled child had to be carried by a teacher almost the entire way during the exodus out to the shops, where donuts and other goodies were offered while they waited out the firestorm.

"The actions of Mr Serge Rosato were heroic and exceptional," said Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher.

"I know Serge would say, has said, he was 'just doing his job'. While people tend to be acknowledged for doing extraordinary things, too rarely in life, I suspect, are they recognised for doing ordinary things, things in the course of their ordinary duties, extraordinary well," said Archbishop Fisher.

Students at the school held on to teddy bears and cuddly toys, things they held dear, during Friday's thankgiving ceremony, where they were praised for their "resilience, grace and maturity" by the Archbishop-elect.

The fire calamity had had a lasting impact, and in the lead-up to the anniversary, Mr Rosato told media that "a child spoke to me the other day about wanting to take pictures of all his toys so that he has a record of those just in case there is another fire," he said.

A plaque to the teachers was unveiled and some 50 trees planted, all donations from the school's parents, to pay tribute to the actions of the staff who kept their cool at the height of the fires. And the Faulconbridge RFS brigade gave "five or six classes" a turn on the high pressure hose beforehand to remind the children they were also there in good times, one fireman said.

Mr Rosato, who was named Blue Mountains Citizen of the Year in 2014, said plans for his new home were being processed by council and his whole family was looking ahead.

"Everyone in the household has had a say [about the new house]. They either weren't born or were very little when we built the other one [in 1991]. We've got the builder ... and we're really looking forward to something coming out of the ground."

The fires destroyed 196 homes and caused significant damage to 132 more homes.