Friday 28 April 2017

A Hermetic Bubble?

Over the break we were gifted with some truly glorious autumn weather – sun drenched days against a backdrop of pacific skies with truly stunning sunrises and sunsets. It was Sydney at its finest with the raw beauty of the city set amid the waterways and the striking topography of the land, demanding that Ignatian virtue of gratitude for the many blessings to live in a country, no matter how imperfect, governed by the rule of law and democratic freedom. Not so in so many regions of the world. In Syria the war continued unabated while in Afghanistan, Paris and and Pakistan indiscriminate terrorism took further toll of life, wreaking tragedy in the streets and homes of innocent civilians. Across the North Pacific, the United States and North Korea waved nuclear fists at each other while ISIS proliferated its activities across a vulnerable Middle East. One needs to be mindful of the fact that the north shore of Sydney can, at times, be a hermetic bubble that has its own reified reality, removed from a world that is subject to such hardship and despair. As we return to another term, let us not take for granted the fortune and endowments of life, as well as the rich array of opportunities that are afforded by the educational program at the College.

While some spent the holiday break recharging the batteries in preparation for a busy term ahead, a number of the boys undertook a range of extension activities. A contingent of senior secondary boys journeyed to Greece and Rome where they saw the Ancient World at close range. Visiting the very cradle of Western civilisation, the tour took in the great sights of classical antiquity – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and of course the Vatican in Rome. Further south, the tour of Greece took in the Acropolis, the Temple of Delphi and the Agora in Athens along with myriad other sites that gave witness to the power and strength of societies that have given birth to many of the conventions that we have inherited in the contemporary world. This includes the institutions of law, justice and government, in addition to the value systems and ethics that underpin many of them today. In all, an experience that produced learning of the highest order.

While some boys exercised their minds through the disciplines of History and Philosophy, others winged their way to the United States to participate in the Jesuit Rugby Tour. This was a chance to touch base with Jesuit schools in New York, Washington and San Francisco, on a sporting and social level. A couple of the highlights not only included the interaction among the students and their host families, but spending the afternoon with Australia’s Ambassador to the United States – Joe Hockey, who is a Jesuit Old Boy from St Aloysius’ College. Yet another was the opportunity to work with students in the Elementary School in Harlem, teaching students of disadvantaged background the fundaments of rugby. The boys were wonderful ambassadors of Riverview and built bridges of understanding between Jesuit schools on both sides of the world.

Another of the holiday activities centred around AFL, which saw Xavier College in Melbourne – one of Victoria’s great AFL schools, send a large number of boys to Sydney to play against the Riverview boys. As one would expect, the spirit between two of the largest Jesuit schools in Australia produced its own engaging chemistry, particularly as the Xavier boys spent most of the week in and around the boarding precincts of the College. The contest on the field was complemented by the camaraderie off the field and both schools benefitted immensely from this interchange. Many thanks are extended to the staff who accompanied the boys on various activities, be they in the Europe, the United States or in more localised venues.

Despite the break, the College was well represented at the local ANZAC Day ceremony, which was held in Lane Cove on April 25th. Two senior students joined students from other schools along with various community groups to acknowledge the sacrifice made on that fateful day in Gallipoli, which resulted in the loss of so many lives in a foreign land. Solemnity and sobriety captured the profound sense of sadness that saw so many young men, a number from this school, perish in a campaign which has become synonymous with the military history of the nation. History records that Fr Tommy Gartlan, the Rector of Riverview during the war, would gather the boys in the Refectory at night and read the list of Old Boys wounded or killed, occasionally with a faltering note to his Irish accent as yet another of the boys he’d taught at Riverview would never be returning. 2016 was a particularly difficult year, with 21 Old Boys losing their life alone, particularly in places not heard of before, but those that now hold their own sacred significance: Poizieres, Amentieres, Paschendaele, Fromelles. A School Assembly commemorated this on Thursday, ensuring that the sacrifice of those who committed to a cause that they believed noble and just at the time, is not lost.

The term ahead has its own distinctive character. It is intense as classes in most of the school move towards their End of Semester Examinations, which begins with Year 11 in just 11 teaching days. Other classes cascade into the examination process as the weeks unfold, so the need to ‘hit the ground running’ is abundantly apparent in the aftermath of the break. Term 2 is also renowned for the intensity of the co-curricular program which will keep the boys busy on the training track and also in their programmed fixtures over the next nine weeks. Add to this the advent of colder weather and some of the health issues that often accompanies it, and there can be exponential challenges that don’t find the same expression as other terms.

Very best wishes as we settle into another term of teaching and learning. May it be an enriching period as we take up the principles of Ignatian education in earnest, but, may we also be mindful of the bubble that we can sometimes believe is our immutable reality, and in the process, be grateful of the graces that are part of daily life.

Dr Paul Hine