From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 16 November 2018 | Fr Jack McLain SJ
A Community of Service and Love
This week, two things that make up our community as Church are the highlights for me. First, the Parents & Friends held their annual general meeting which featured their installation of their new leadership for next year. It was an opportunity for those of us who gathered to reflect back on the many things that they do that add life to our community.
Late last week, Bruce Turnbull (OR1995) visited the College to speak to the First Nations boys about the opportunities that accrue from an education at Riverview, despite the challenges that are part of leaving home at a young age to board and being immersed in a demanding educational program. Bruce, who is one of the earliest graduates of the Indigenous Bursary Program (as it was then called), is currently the Aboriginal Education Officer at Bourke High School. His second daughter is enrolled at Loreto Normanhurst, forming part of a family and generational change that is aimed to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, one that the College has been committed to over the last 20 plus years.
This week I’m conscious of the contribution that First Nations men have made to our College community for many years. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner honouring Bruce Turnbull (OR1995), the third First Nations man to graduate from the College. Bruce lives out his call to be a man for others by teaching in the First Nations community in Bourke, NSW. It’s these small changes that we choose to make each and every day that will build the Kingdom of God.
The 1st XV Rugby over the weekend – the great historical clash with Joeys – was, in its own poignant way, a metaphor for life. In the final moments of the build-up to the big game, the unprecedented happened as the upright goal post at the southern end of First Field lurched and capitulated under the unseasonal wind, snapping off at the collar that held it firmly to the ground. In disbelief, the crowd of approximately 10,000 who were waiting expectantly for the teams to enter the playing arena hushed, wondering what would follow.
Over the weekend another chapter was written into the unfolding history of the College with the Official Blessing and Opening of the Therry Building. Four years in the making, between the Master Planning process and the building phase, this project is the consummation of an enormous collaborative enterprise between the architects, the builder, project manager, and a committed group of staff who have given shape and direction to a building that was decommissioned in late 2016 and is now a state of the art educational facility.
Staff Services has completed another busy term and work continues through the break. The Staff Services team is responsible for the human resources across the College including recruitment, induction, staff professional learning and formation, leadership development, staff review and development, work health and safety, child protection, talent management and succession. As Deputy Principal Staff, I have the privilege of working with all staff in the College.
As the end of term looms on the horizon, we can look back on another week that enlivened the hearts and minds of the students. The first groups have already left for Year 10 Service Week whilst the remainder of the cohort will commence next Monday. We thank Jesuit tertian, Fr Rafal (pictured left), for sharing with the boys his personal experience of serving others, and we look forward to seeing these young men return having reflected upon their own experiences of service through a variety of contexts.
This week I attended the Year 11 Drama performance of Lord of the Flies, the grim, cautionary tale of how thin civility and morality can be. The performances were outstanding and it was a technically brilliant show. In particular, I was impressed with the amazing set design of Mr Kirk Hume. The reversal of the audience on the floor of the theatre and the players in the mountainous jungle set was truly brilliant.
Term 2 traditionally marks the beginning of the ‘subject selection’ season for students from Years 7 to 10 when each young man at Riverview begins or continues to form his learning journey by choosing the subjects with which he will engage in the following year.
This week we shared in the annual Friends Listen Assembly, an opportunity for one member of our community to share their experiences of struggle and support. The name of the assembly is vitally important, reminding us of both our obligation and the opportunity to lift one another up when we’re dragging along. Friends do indeed listen.
So, on Monday after our staff prayer, I followed the buzzing crowd of boys as we began the first wave of students occupying the new Therry building. Walking along, watching classes getting started, watching young men lay claim to the title of ‘First!’ in using a brand new learning facility, seeing all the hard work of the planning and building come to fruition as students excitedly entered the building and classrooms was really energising to witness.
This week has been about the power of dignity and reconciliation. At the Reconciliation Day Assembly, the men of the First Nations members of our community reminded us that history can have a sad and bitter edge, but despite that, there can be joy in remembering who we are and where we come from. The best thing about the day for me, personally, was how much of it was run by students, for students.
Meet Yarna… our newest enrolment in the Health Care Centre, who has entered the College under the watchful eye of Matron, Leanne Neal. We were all saddened to lose our much loved therapy dog, Sally, late last year. A faithful and loyal friend, Sally held more of the boys’ secrets and shared more of their distress than any other on the campus.
This week, I attended the funeral of Father Anthony (AV) Smith, SJ, a former teacher here at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview and the longest serving Principal/Headmaster at Saint Aloysius’ College. The first time I met him, he’d retired from education and was the Pastor at Saint Mary’s parish, North Sydney. We met in the kitchen and he immediately filled up the room with a larger than life presence and his trademark “I gotta tell ya’!”
During the week the educational supplement in The Australian published an article entitled Colleges pump out cohort of ‘egotists’. While the substance of the article was directed at universities in the United States, the theme holds direct relevance for all educational organisations that share responsibility for the formation of young men and women. It referred to ‘the contagion of self-possessed graduates whose lack of empathy or interest in the broader community [is] a threat to future societies’. Furthermore, the research team who had been commissioned to investigate the culture of university life asserted that there was ‘a concerning trend of diminishing empathy and community consideration in 13 to 19 year olds’, and, that when messages associated with concern for others are sent out they ‘are drowned out by the frequency of messages from parents and the larger culture that emphasises individual achievement’. This is in stark contrast to the educational program in Jesuit schools and particularly Riverview. Central to the educational platform and to Ignatian spirituality is the drive to form men for others – men who will take their place in the world and make a meaningful contribution to it. Each and every boy at the College is required to complete 70 hours of community service by the time that they enter their HSC year. It is not tokenistic nor is it a shallow expectation, for the forms of service the boys engage in can be very demanding; working with disabled children, distributing meals on Night Patrol, assisting the aged, infirmed and elderly, and, embarking on overseas immersions to support the marginalised in countries across South East Asia. These are exercises in humility that promote reflection and growth, aimed to improve the fabric of community for those who are benefactors of the service activities, and, to engender a deep awareness of faith in action for those who render service. It is core to what Jesuit schools aspire to and to what our families commit to through their enrolment.
The very first Rugby clash between Riverview and Joeys is etched into the history books back in 1907 and the Alma records ‘The game was fast and fearless, and played from start to finish in admirable spirit.’ In a match that was a portent for the future, it ended in a draw – 11 All. This wonderful tradition was continued under magnificent autumn skies at Hunters Hill last Saturday in front of a crowd of approximately 6,000, and the descriptor of its historical counterpart was as relevant as the clash was 109 years ago. While the contest contained a fierce but fair competitiveness on the field, the pageantry and theatre of the war cries that have echoed for a century resonated with emotional impact off the field. Chants of RRIIIVEERRVIEW were countered with the Sub Tuum; the latter synonymous with Marist schools throughout the world. It was one of those gala occasions, like the perennial Gold Cup and Head of the River, where the entire community became involved and the spirit of both the GPS and the respective schools was on abundant display. It was a salient reminder of the rich tradition that exists in schools such as Riverview and Joeys along with the rallying cry of the community to produce such a wonderful contest and a memorable spectacle. Congratulations to all, the boys on the field who got over the line after a titanic struggle, and, the many who supported the occasion.
The freshness of the holidays has already been folded into the routines of classes and study. There is a palpable sense of purpose about the school and this is obvious in the intensity with which the boys are approaching their assessment regimes, which loom large over the weeks ahead. While some of the exciting initiatives in STEM continue to evolve across the Regis campus, the boys in Year 12 are processing their End of Semester Examination results and what that means for future consolidation of core course principles and priorities. Term 2 is characterised by little down time and at the end of the second week it is clear there is much to be accomplished over the coming weeks in preparation for examinations and major assessments.
In my Jesuit training, we had to take two years of philosophy. Alas, much of it I have forgotten, but I do remember learning about a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. He believed that everything changed – the world was in a continuous state of flux. Heraclitus used to say, "You can’t step into the same river twice." That is to say, the river may still be there, it’s still made of water, it’s still this geographical feature between two banks, but it’s never quite the same river it was an instant ago. And we can live with that understanding.
While the holidays provided time for some welcomed rest and relaxation, they also afforded an opportunity for the boys to review and calibrate goals and priorities over the term ahead. More than simply change uniform from summer to winter and adjust to the organisational transition to another term, it is important in an Ignatian school where the inner impulse for the magis – that which speaks to a depthed and highly reflective approach to life, can be pursued with insight and zeal. It is a challenge that is issued to each and every boy as they return to take responsibility for their own learning to ensure that they achieve on a level fully commensurate with their God given potential and abilities, and in so doing, contribute to a culture and a community where aspiration takes primacy of place.
A veritable flurry of activity has rounded off a busy but very rewarding term. The final fortnight was bisected by Riverview in Bowral, which provided the opportunity to re-connect with generations of Old Boys and their families who have had long term associations with the College, as well as spend time with a number of current families who have boys in boarding. One of the more interesting revelations on the weekend was that one young man – Charles de Lauret (OR 1882) from Goulburn in the Southern Highlands, was one of the original 26 students in the first class at St Ignatius’ in 1880, and that tragically, he was the first student who died while on holidays on his family property at Wynella in 1882. One senior statesman, Dr John Roche (OR 1944) attended with his wife as part of the Roche dynasty whose enrolment over many generations spanned 1891 to 1996. As is always the case on such occasions, the sense of community was palpable and it was memorable and enriching to spend time with the boarding community and their families in their own regional context. Special thanks are extended to Christine Zimbulis who coordinates these functions and to Cathy Hobbs, the College archivist, whose meticulous work enables Riverview to draw on its rich past.
The week leading to Easter begins with the account of Palm Sunday where Jesus is caught up in that rather triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowd, first ecstatic with joy and hope, then has a mood swing. It is a story that has long fascinated me.
Those who are given to remark that the Gospels (or indeed the Bible) have little to say to us today – to these times and our issues – have most likely read or reflected little upon the texts. This Palm Sunday story paints an aspect of human nature that has changed little over the millennia.
Welcome back to another school year, one that holds so many opportunities for growth and development for each and every young man. We particularly welcome the 255 new boys and 175 new families, the majority of whom join the Regis campus in Year 5 and the Senior campus in Year 7. These are exciting times for the young men as they enter the College and settle into the culture at St Ignatius, one that will see them experience exponential growth over the coming years. It is not without significance that these boys and their contemporaries, will graduate in 2023 and 2021, respectively, and in the process traverse the great divide from boy to man. At the other end of the spectrum, the young men who are entering Year 12 will increasingly look back over recent years with the profound insights that are the corollary of life experience when viewed through an Ignatian lens of reflection and discernment. How quickly those years are passing for our seniors, as surely as those will be for the boys who take up their enrolment at Riverview in these seminal weeks. To all members of the College community, I extend my very best wishes for all that lies ahead in 2016.
After the ardours, the rewards, the low points and the highlights of the last four weeks, the Year 9 Challenge comes to completion today. That it has had its ‘challenges’ is abundantly clear, from drenching rain in the early weeks to the highest November temperature in a decade in the latter stages (which among other things, forced the evacuation of the Mentors program!!), with all of the corollaries in between. But, it is over and the boys remain the beneficiaries of the experience, largely through the development of pietas – that forging of character that will enable these young men to see the difficulties and the diversity of their world and respond accordingly. At the middle stages of adolescence, they still have much to forge, but, the imprint of this experience is strong and will remain part of their reflection over the weeks ahead, and, decisive in their formation as they progress into the middle and senior secondary years. Special thanks are extended to the coordinator of the program, Mr Adrian Byrne, to the teachers, parents and the supporters who assisted (at times cajoled!!) the boys across the line, and of course to the boys who participated with open hearts and open minds; the comrades in arms who helped each other across some of the most difficult sections of the program.
This edition of Viewpoint is penned from Asia. On Saturday, Fr Ross, Mr Masters and I left on a ten-day tour of the Riverview confraternity who live in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. The aim of Riverview in Asia is the same as that of Riverview in Dubbo or Mudgee, where the opportunity to spend time with families who are part of the community is so very important and so very worthwhile. It is also a chance to speak to the many initiatives and priorities that are consonant with the educational program at the College; in effect, a way of keeping our families who live at great distances well informed about the day-to-day events in the school. In addition to the social gatherings, a number of prospective boarding families were interviewed, those who have heard of the profile of the College and are keen to join a community that prides itself on a unique set of Jesuit and Ignatian educational principles. At different points across South East Asia, we were reminded that the first destination of the Jesuit diaspora was in China, where Matteo Ricci and Francis Xavier took the knowledge, the learning and the spirituality of the western world to exotic new frontiers, those that still remain today in historical buildings and records. Many thanks are extended to our host families who provided the best of Ignatian hospitality and shared in the warmth of community.
There has been considerable discussion this week about the interpretation made by Dr Christina Ho, from the University of Technology of Sydney, of the My School website data. In exploring the ethnic mix of schools, she last year suggested that there were Caucasian families refraining from sending their children to government selective high schools because of the high proportion of students there from non-Anglo students. This was a large claim to make from the data then.
This week Dr Ho comented on the low proportion of students with a language background other than English in schools on the lower North Shore compared with the State average. She lauds the benefits of a rich cultural mix in a school population. I agree with her entirely on this point. My time as Principal at Loyola College Mount Druitt underscored that particular value absolutely. But there seemed to be an implicit suggestion that a school like ours (which was named in her report) has either a deliberate policy of excluding the students of other backgrounds, or is not interested in responding to the challenge. Once again, she is drawing large conclusions from the data available.
In the aftermath of examinations, the boys in Year 10 are pursuing a Project Based Learning (PBL) initiative – a concept that is being explored in contemporary learning environments in schools and universities across the world. Launched by Fr Jeremy Clarke SJ, who was involved in PBL learning when teaching at Boston University in Massachusetts, the project is asking the boys to select, research, analyse, interpret and synthesise information using a process of heuristic, collaborative, and exploratory learning.
Many may not be aware that the Principal’s Office has a commanding view over one of the busiest places in the College – the 3rd Yard. While the nomenclature is not particularly exciting or symbolic, it is a veritable hub of activity that I have the pleasure of observing each and every day. Handball and basketball provide feverish daily competition as the boys recreate at recess and lunch: slashing shots of handball that ricochet back and forth, as well as some spectacular baskets from mid court, often ending a game that is precipitated by the bell that signals the return to classes.
Although only two weeks of the year have elapsed, the College has settled quickly into its embracing rhythms. The boys who were a little overwhelmed in the early days are finding their way around the grounds and the classrooms, exuding an appreciable familiarity with the structures and routines of College life.