From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Wednesday 6 December 2017 | Fr Ross Jones SJ
God so loved the world…
The medieval Franciscan philosopher and theologian, Duns Scotus, wrote that God intended to come among us long before any sin of Adam. So much did God love us. So much did God want to draw us into life in the Trinity. Our Judaeo-Christian claim of God who is called Emmanuel (“the God who dwells among us”) is a bold one.
The School Mass and Assembly, which was held on Wednesday to honour and thank Fr Ross for his outstanding contribution as Rector over the last seven years, had its own delicate balance of both sadness and gratitude. Preaching for the last time in a formal sense, Fr Ross highlighted the features of this extraordinary school that he will miss – the Riverview handshake, the friendliness of the boys, the residential boarding community and the friends that he has made over the years.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.” (Psalms 107, 118, 136)
I am on the tail-end of the Asian Riverview reunions. As always, the gatherings of Old Ignatians, current and past parents, in rural settings or overseas, have a common thread. It is gratitude. So many recollections of significant experiences, of formation in the broadest sense, of the cultivation of values and attitudes, of very personal and pastoral care – these inevitably lead to expressions of thanks.
As I left the precincts of the College during the week, I passed a group of Year 7 boarders who were moving from dinner in the Refectory to the Gartlan for a recreation period prior to study. As usual, these exuberant young men were approaching their swim and gym time with enormous happiness, chatting buoyantly about their day and the games they would play prior to their study period.
Anyone who has been part of the family of a Jesuit school or a parish will have encountered and absorbed many of the characteristics of what Ignatius referred to as “our way of proceeding”. That is, elements of our culture, our style, the way we approach issues, the way we act. High on the profile would be qualities, for example, like ‘finding God in all things’, the magis, discernment or reflection.
An exciting new initiative that has been progressively developed over the early months of the year is the Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT). This will be formally launched next week. Capitalising on research associated with the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) program in the United States that informs the teaching and learning process, student feedback given to teachers via SELT is designed to improve learning outcomes.
One of the challenges in a boys’ school in the Jesuit tradition is to find ways of putting generous and heroic women forward as role models for the boys. All the Jesuit saints are, of course, male. The only woman to live and die as a Jesuit is not on the way to formal sainthood – but that’s another story.
This week, the Smith House lads celebrated their patron, Shirley Smith (“Mum” Shirl). Very much a local hero.
The etymology of the word friend has a number of linguistic derivatives: from Old English the word freond means one who is attached to another by feelings of personal regard and preference...In accord with the student theme for 2017, My Brother’s Keeper, the Friends Listen Assembly on Wednesday profiled the importance of friends in a school, friends who have a deep and sincere regard for each other, friends who accept diversity and difference, friends who will celebrate success and rally in support when times get tough or adversity strikes.
John Sullivan SJ, saintly teacher, mystic and healer
At the end of term three last year, I accompanied five of our then Year 10 boys to our sister school (or is it ‘mother school’?) in Ireland, Clongowes Wood. We have an ongoing relationship with Clongowes with Gap student exchanges as well. But more importantly, our founder, Fr Joseph Dalton SJ, was there as both boy and Jesuit.
That was how the Jesuits in our first schools, in the Humanistic tradition, described one of the goals for their graduates: cultivating eloquentia perfecta, ‘flawless eloquence’. Mastery of the word (written or spoken) was seen as the foundation not only of one’s career, but more importantly, the bedrock of what it was to be a leader and a good citizen – that is, a person of integrity, moral probity and justice. Just as it is now, the word was the way to influence others for the greater good.
The Senior Refectory in the Arrupe building has been refurbished and renovated. This has both updated the food preparation area and provided more efficient ways of delivering the meals and cleaning up afterwards. At any gathering of Old Boy boarders, you can guarantee at some stage they will start to share reminiscences about how ‘crook’ and how scant was the food. Especially during the lean war years.
It is not uncommon to hear members of the Church’s hierarchy using phrases such as “this is the constant teaching of the Church”. It gives the impression of a rock steadiness, an unerring and unswerving direction, that sees the world timelessly in black and white. No need ever to review and reassess. But the reality is not always so.
As I pen this edition of Viewpoint, I look out of my office window in the Administration Centre as rain cascades from Sydney’s heavy blanket of nimbus clouds that hang low over the city. Dams are full and rivers have experienced the impact of the tides from the streams gushing from the land into the waterways. Landscapes have softened with the soaking and a deep green tinge has capped the ovals and gardens, lush with the combination of moisture and humidity. And, there is more on the way!
Last week I was invited to speak to our keenest Year 9 Science classes on the topic of ‘Evolution, the Big Bang and Catholicism’. And they were not backward in popping the penetrating questions! It always interests me that the boys at first can think it strange that someone could have a background in science, yet still be a priest.
One of the five domains of the Strategic Directions 2015-2020 document that was developed two years ago focuses on the strength of community; one which has reciprocal interest and involvement in the educational program from the immediate and extended community of the College. The events of the past week have highlighted how rich and integrated that human fabric is and the common vision that exists in relation to key priorities and futures.
When we speak about Jesuit education being a humanistic education, people’s eyebrows sometimes begin to knit. They look suspicious. That is because contemporary culture – indeed, the culture of a century or more – mostly thinks in terms of secular humanism. A humanism which is, more often than not, at odds with belief, with faith, with religion. Often aggressively so.
During the week, the School Assembly in Ramsay Hall profiled two key causes, both of which related to the primacy of social justice in the life of a Jesuit school. The first relates to the 20x20 Cricket Bash for Jarjum, which is a primary school in Redfern that educates 20 Indigenous children who have very significant needs. Monday 13th March is the date for the contest which will take place on the hallowed turf of 1st Field. A line up of celebrities will be part of the All Stars, which among others, include former AFL legend and Australian of the Year – Adam Goodes, Test Opening Batsman – Simon Katich and Australian Wallabies star – Phil Waugh. This perennial event is one of the many highlights of the school year, not only because some of the nation’s finest sportsmen give generously of their time to support local Indigenous children, but because the proceeds of the game yield appreciable gains for Jarjum. One of the ways that funds are raised is through the sale of raffle tickets, and emails were sent out to all families with the details this week. Please support this worthy cause as it responds to the acute needs of Indigenous boys and girls whose lives can be transformed through the quality of education that they receive in the foundational years.
On Tuesday, Cheshire House boys seized a seasonal opportunity to celebrate Pancake Tuesday. The proceeds were being directed to their particular cause, the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation ‘for the relief of suffering’, both here and abroad. Hundreds of boys descended on those doughy delights – nearly a thousand pancakes were cooked and consumed!
Pancake Tuesday (also known as Shrove Tuesday, when one used to have your sins shriven or forgiven) was traditionally the day to clean out the larder in preparation for the long Lenten fast beginning the next day. All the eggs and butter went into the batter. A good meal fortified you for the lean days ahead. That is why it was termed Mardi Gras or 'Fat Tuesday'. Often there was one last fling before the austerities came – hence a Carnivale (from the Latin, 'farewell to meat').
One can become a little disillusioned and dispirited by circumstances and perspectives that afflict the disadvantaged and disrupted. I, along with many others, have been given cause for pause by world events over recent times – the struggle and turmoil for those who subsist in sub-Saharan Africa, the catastrophic conflict in the Middle East, a Brexit which is producing its own uncertainty across Europe and the United Kingdom, and perhaps as concerning as any, the triumphalism of the Trump regime in the United States. In the case of the latter, embargoing religious and ethnic groups from entry to the much vaunted ‘Land of Opportunity’ seems incongruous in a country which has as its foundational story, those who migrated from other lands to seek a new life and a new future. That dichotomy seems doubly magnified when one looks at that symbol which has become stigmatic of the American Dream – the Statue of Liberty. At the base of that landmark on Stratton Island, etched into the stone, are the sentiments of Emma Lazarus, a woman of German-Jewish origin, whose words from her poem The New Colossus, could well provide a compass for the contemporary political discourse:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door”.
In days past, when people quoted the verse from Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”, it did little to enhance the educational process. Terror is no great starting point for learning. But here, ‘fear’ really means ‘respect’ or ‘reverence’. Therefore, in our Judao-Christian tradition, real wisdom has God as a core reference point, that is, a dimension laden with ultimate values and transcendent purpose. We now acknowledge wisdom as one of the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit.
One would expect that wisdom is a very bread-and-butter issue for any school. But not always so. In many quarters, people confuse knowledge with wisdom. Some might remember when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister he referred at one time to Donald Horne’s 1960s Australian classic, The Lucky Country. He went on to say that what Australia needed now was to produce “a smart country”. I used to cringe a little at that. Being smart only gets you so far. And sometimes it gets you into trouble. In a school like ours, knowledge is the starting point which then leads to understanding and ultimately wisdom. We need a “wise country” – and wise citizens.
Out of the sightline and behind the gated premises of the Therry precinct, a moment of posterity was enacted on Wednesday. Father Ross Jones presided at a ceremony that turned the first soil of the construction phase of the Ignis Project. Over the past two months the demolition works have proceeded unabated, despite the fury of the Australian summer and dislocations of heavy equipment and debris. That phase is now complete. Steel dowel rods are being inserted into the carcass of the building in preparation for the new floors and walls which will suspend from it and foundations that hold the extended infrastructure together have been formed into trench lines on the site. Part of the ceremony involved the sealing of a time capsule, which among other items, contained a copy of the service and the key participants, images of the House crests, some items of school uniform, a copy of the School Prospectus, the 2017 School Calendar, as well as letters from students about their hopes for the future of Riverview. Representative members of the College community were in attendance, including the Chair of Council, Mr John Wilcox, respective Presidents of the Parents and Friends (P&F), the Old Ignatian Union (OIU) and the Past Parents Association (PPA), members of the student body, as well as those whose generosity to the College has already led to substantial funding for the project. This was a glimpse of posterity – a chance to appreciate and record the significance of the moment that will be re-visited many times over the generations ahead as the Therry Learning Centre becomes the frontispiece of the College’s biggest consolidated building program in history.
Almost fifty years ago now, the General of the Society of Jesus, Pedro Arrupe, wrote to all his Jesuits in South America. Arrupe was the great renovator of the Society, the co-called “second Ignatius”, taking us back to our roots and core values. This was in response to the rallying cry from Pope John XXIII in the Second Vatican Council for aggiornamento in the Church – a combination of a renaissance and moving with the present times. In that letter, Pedro called for what he described as “a preferential love of the poor” in discerning and living out all our Jesuit works and ministries, be they school, parish, media, retreat work, missions – whatever and wherever.
Those who have been part of our community for a while know that there is a certain language we use – for example, magis, discernment, cura personalis. ‘Accommodation’ is another such word. It is not about an address, or place of abode. It has to do with adaptation or, in more recent parlance, enculturation.
People sometimes have the wrong impression about Jesuits or their modus operandi. We are often portrayed as ‘the Pope’s marines’, the stormtroopers whose vow of obedience is unwavering, whose mindset is programmed by years of formation, steely in inflexibility. But if we turn at the start to Ignatius’ Constitutions, something quite different jumps off the pages. We soon discover that after Ignatius proclaims a rule clearly and unambiguously, he will often add a coda, allowing a local superior – the man on the spot – to modify the rule “according to times, places and circumstances”. This is freedom and adaptability. The phrase “adapting to times, places and circumstances” is a leitmotif that runs through so much of Ignatius’ writings. It is not a mere whim or ‘anything goes’ attitude, but a discerned flexibility for mission, an ability to discern the means from the end.
While the first days of the year hold their own share of excitement, apprehension and anticipation, they move quickly into routines that form the cadence of school life. I am pleased to report that the boys have settled quickly into the rhythm of the year: familiarity with the location of classrooms, knowledge of and response to expectations of teachers, the meeting points during lunch and recess, as well as the many subtleties that underpin the complex operations of the College. The first major assembly in the form of the School Mass, was an exercise of logistics in itself, with the better part of 2,000 staff and students moving in orchestrated fashion to and from the Ramsay Hall. Home Rooms in Regis and Mentor Groups in the Senior School are consolidating into their own comfortable units and it is encouraging to see the boys open to new friendship networks that will become their close community over the years ahead.
We began the school year, as is our custom, with a College Mass. The focus took that theme for the year crafted by the boys’ leadership team: my brother’s keeper. We listened to the phrase’s source in the book of Genesis, where we have that rather puzzling story of the brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain feels rejected by God. There is some suggestion of his sinfulness in the background. But Cain’s jealousy of his brother leads to a cold-blooded murder. He then shakes off any responsibility with that slick and offensive response to God’s enquiry about Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The rest of the Bible which follows is a developing story proclaiming God’s close relationship with us, and the quality of relationship expected between us.
More than another turn of the page, 2017 holds its own unique share of challenges and rewards with new beginnings for many in the school community. We welcome 255 new boys to the College: 190 day boys and 65 boarders from various states of Australia and from different countries across the world. Of that number, 159 are families new to the school who will be entering a process of enculturation in a very large and fast moving school. In addition to the boys we welcome 29 new staff who will take up positions as teachers, administration, support and maintenance staff. Each and every person, staff, student or parent is welcome and as a College community we will work assiduously to support their full integration into the educational program.
Deeply embedded in Jesuit spirituality is the concept of creative fidelity. It recognises that while the past is important there is need to be mindful of, and responsive to, the impulses and the conventions of the contemporary world. This concept was very much apparent at the Aspiring Leaders Program last Friday, which saw 12 teachers from St Ignatius’ College join a small number of teachers from St Aloysius College, in presenting action research projects that has been conducted throughout 2016 to investigate and improve aspects of the educational program from teaching and learning and pastoral care to inclusive education, behaviour management and child protection. In each of these fields there has been considerable research and innovation in recent years; each having its own contextual expression at Riverview. As a Jesuit organisation that has a disposition for the best in contemporary practice, herein lies the encouragement for staff to undertake their own investigation into existing arrangements with a view to school improvement going forward. And, this is a collaborative process that enables staff to draw upon similar and at times disparate methodologies to interpret their findings to enable creative responses to the present and the future. So, while there is a fidelity to the ideals that underpin the educational program at the College, there is a predisposition for adaptation and renewal, both words of which form the lexicon of the Secretary General for Jesuit education, Fr Jose Mesa SJ, who encourages Jesuit schools and ministries to be creative in responding to the signs of the times.
The General of the Society of Jesus elected to follow Fr Pedro Arrupe, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, died last Saturday in Beirut, aged almost 88 years.
Fr Kolvenbach was born in the Netherlands. As a young Jesuit, he was missioned to Lebanon, learning Arabic and eastern culture, eventually specializing in the Armenian language and literature. He became a professor at St Joseph’s Jesuit University in Beirut, and then appointed the Vice-Provincial of the Near East. He then found himself promoted once again to be Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Fr Kolvenbach was “bi-rite”, that is, holding a not-too-common dispensation to be able to celebrate the sacraments in both the Roman and Eastern Rites. He preferred the latter, and mostly began his day with an incense-filled Mass which lasted much longer than our Roman version.
This weekend marks the arrival of Advent – the liturgical season that celebrates and prepares us for Christmas. One of six liturgical seasons in the Church, Advent has a Latin derivative meaning ‘coming’; in Christian parlance, the coming of Christ. Vestments change in colour from green to violet, one so extravagantly displayed on the Jacaranda trees that act as the backdrop to the Rose Garden in front of the Main Building. It is ultimately a season of hope and of longing, of joyful expectation and of peaceful preparation. The timing of Advent is complemented by the Pope’s recent message on Twitter: It is not enough to experience God’s mercy in one’s life; whoever receives it must also become a sign and instrument for others. As we enter a new liturgical season over the coming week, it is a timely reminder of the centrality of the Christian message as we juggle the many other activities that preoccupy daily routines.
Despite the enormous national grief we witnessed in Thailand upon the death of King Bhumibol after an extraordinary reign of 70 years and, more distantly, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth, I suspect we are slightly uneasy with royalty today. Especially those who draw upon their title or status, who are aloof or claim privilege, who are cocooned from us and lack the common touch. The reality of history has dimmed any ideal vision of kingship.
But in spite of that, at their best, kings are queens were wise lawmakers and protectors of the rights of those who were the weakest, the poorest — defenders of those whose claims were most threatened, those who were on the edge of the kingdom, who had no one else to take up their cause.
Last week Jenny Brockie interviewed a panel of three on the SBS award winning television show Insight. The title of the program wasHigh Stakes, which involved people who had made life and death decisions and what influences prevailed at the critical moments associated with those decisions. Richard DeCrespigny was a part of that panel: the pilot who nursed an A380 superjumbo after its Number 2 engine exploded four minutes after take off from Singapore in 2014. Shards of metal sliced off the engine damaging control systems and the landing gear precipitating a fire in a fuel tank at altitude. After massaging the aircraft for two hours in the air and blowing four tyres upon landing, all 469 people on board were saved. When asked how he had stayed calm and managed the critical risks during those demanding hours, Richard replied that ‘it was part of his emotional core’. He went on to explain that the principles and values of one’s training and life instinctively come to the fore at a time when much else around him was failing. Our young men will be challenged in their personal and professional lives into the future and it is hoped that the principles and values that form the bedrock of the educational program at the College – those Jesuit values of competence, conscience, compassion and commitment, will act as the moral compass in the tough moments that will lie in store.
Jesuits have forever been getting themselves into and out of trouble. Ignatius was jailed at one time by the Dominicans for allegedly preaching heresy. Along the way he had many brushes with the Inquisition, but he always ensured that when no error was to be found in his writings (usually to do with his Spiritual Exercises) he carried with him the written attestations of his good standing from any tribunal, Inquisitor or bishop.
Much later, after Ignatius’ death, his successors began drawing up guidelines for administering colleges and universities (the so-called Ratio studiorum). A number of editions were drawn up (four in fact), reflected upon and redrafted. Copies of the intermediate ones are very rare as they were instructed to be burned, lest they fell into the wrong hands and our enemies could find fault with these “working documents”! Two of the contentious issues at the time were whether we could teach theologies other than that proposed by the medieval master, St Thomas Aquinas. (That is, could we have the freedom to explore and test other theological positions?) The other concerned the use of ‘pagan’ authors in the syllabus of the colleges.
Our Jesuit colleges emerged at a very significant time in European history. Universities had existed for many centuries. They were the professional schools, setting people up to work in the law, in civil service, theology, medicine, and so on. But they were increasingly being seen as rigid and too concerned with a narrowly “academic” preparation of the person. Then, around the time of Ignatius, and especially in Italy, came the sweep of the humanistic schools. The Christian humanists of the time were interested in a much broader formation of the person – educating character, we might say. They spoke of a core-value to be developed, pietas. This is a virtue not narrowly captured in the English “piety”, but a quality which would direct a person to live out one’s duty, not only to God, but to one’s family and the nation, to those in one’s community. The Jesuits were drawn to these.
The humanists’ schools incorporated the Latin and Greek authors, not only because classical languages were at that time important in so many careers, but because the Greek and Roman orators, poets, story-tellers and historians inevitably dealt with the “big questions of life” which were singularly worth studying. Questions of character, of right choices, of noble action, of the struggle between good and evil, of the meaning of suffering, and so on. In adopting this model for the schools, the Jesuits came in for not a little criticism and suspicion: giving impressionable young boys pagan texts to read! But in one of his letters, Ignatius endorsed the practice, because “in the desire to help save souls, we use the spoils of Egypt for the honor and glory of God” (a reference to the actions of the Israelites fleeing their former captives, in Exodus 3:20-22). So our schools were free to make use of sources outside the traditional Christian culture. Those Jesuits could find latent truths within non-Christian sources. In Christian educational practice, “plundering the Egyptians” means taking truth, goodness and beauty from any surrounding culture because such principles are also biblical and have their source in God.
Those early plans of studies also strove to have pupils reach “flawless eloquence” (eloquentia perfecta) which meant not only being able to speak, to write and to communicate one’s own ideas with facility and elegance, but also having the capacity to reason, to feel, to express oneself and to act, harmonizing virtue with learning.
Recently, at the encouragement of Fr General’s Secretary for Education, Fr José Mesa SJ, we have been forging more links with international Jesuit schools. At the end of last term there was an exchange of staff and boys with schools in New York and Boston. One of the fruits was to discover that Boston College High has a very successful wide-reading programme which we are seeking to emulate here. It is a project which goes right to the core of the characteristic of our schools which we have been exploring here. It is, to use Ignatius’ expression, “joining virtue with letters” – that is, shaping character alongside an academic formation. Making the link.
To this end, we are in the process of selecting a novel which treats and wrestles with some significant moral or ethical issues, matters of conscience, or those “big questions of life”. It will be a story that engages both boys in the senior school, their parents, and the staff. Everyone will be invited to join in this “summer read”. Then next year, we will find forums in which to engage with the matters raised in the book. To sharpen the boys’ eloquentia perfecta as well. Perhaps in a book club for parents, or a conversation between boys in mentor groups or classes, bouncing insights back and forth across the dining room table at home, themes to explore in Assemblies with guest speakers, or a reflective starting point of inspiration for our young men in the visual arts or drama. Many possibilities.
“Plundering the spoils of Egypt”, that is, finding virtue and value in the works of our culture – as we have done for almost five centuries.
The most recent College Assembly profiled the cause of student well-being through friends: friends who are attentive to the needs of those around them and responsive when those needs are apparent. It was this time last year that Xavier Eales made his deeply personal disclosure about mental health issues that he had grappled with for years, and it was, by any standards, a landmark statement of courage. The Friends Listen Assembly aimed to deepen that awareness with some compelling insights from College Leaders – Bennett Walsh, Max Fisher and Tom Osborne. It was a community call to arms, a raising awareness and a deepening of the prevailing social consciousness about personal issues that boys confront in their maturation and development, from dealing with failure and disappointment, managing family breakdown, confronting relationships under stress as well as physical and mental health challenges. What was particularly noticeable about the forum was the riveting attention of the boys in the audience. One of the guests who joined the staff on stage was moved to comment in an email:
If the starting point of Jesuit formation is a spirituality of “finding God in all things”, then one ought not be surprised at the way the lives of Jesuits will pan out. These recent times, for me at least, have provided two cases in point.
One of the Society’s firebrands from the New York Province departed this world recently, aged ninety-four. Daniel Berrigan SJ had been a priest, poet and anti-war activist for decades. Now he rests in peace after challenging his order, his nation and his Church in the ways of those prophets of old who clamoured for peace. These last weeks, Berrigan has been receiving many accolades, but in life he was regarded almost as ‘public enemy number one’ by Cardinal Spellman of New York and by J Edgar Hoover of the FBI. At one time ‘on the run’, Berrigan was the first-ever priest on the FBI’s most wanted list. And I am sure he caused his Provincials not a few sleepless nights. At various times Berrigan was “missioned” to France and to Latin America but his spirit was never dampened. He made the cover of Time magazine.
As we move to the latter stages of the term I am constantly reminded of the diversity of the educational program at the College and the opportunity the boys have to participate at so many different levels. If Riverview is something of a proverbial jewel, it comprises many facets with an integrated sense of both complementarity and aspiration, fully in accord with its foundation and its tradition.
Over recent weeks the boys in Year 10 have been pursuing a Project Based Learning (PBL) activity entitled Magis 5K. More than a standardised research assignment, it utilises problem-based learning that involves transdisciplinary skills of collaboration, systematic investigation, analysis and synthesis to arrive at reasoned and sustained conclusions. The proposition in itself has been challenging: How can we generate the greatest impact in response to the greatest need?Students were asked to look around the world at areas of desperate need and then research, assess and provide responses which would hold the best long term and sustainable futures, be they to the paucity of electricity in villages in the Himalayas, nutrition levels of diet in nutrient-poor regions of the world, disease in countries where it is endemic, or institutional oppression of the dispossessed and vulnerable. These are big questions that require macro-analysis and discernment, questions that demand different perspectives to be considered and evaluated. And, they need to be the object of rigorous interrogation in order to respond to the complexities that are inherent to each situation in its contextual setting. All projects were presented to a senior judging panel from Jesuit Mission who assessed the calibre of the work, and, they were mightily impressed with the boys’ work. In its own way, Magis 5K has become part of the lexicon at Year 10 and this spirit is permeating much of the educational program, be it in Religious Education, English or the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that are the object of so much endeavour across the school.
We recently celebrated the Jesuit feast day of Our Lady of the Way at the Nostalgia Mass for graduates of the College of more than half a century and their partners.
The image of Santa Maria della Strada, Our Lady of the Way, in the small parish church by that name, in the heart of Rome and at a crossroads along the ceremonial route of the popes, is first documented in the 16th century. Ignatius probably first encountered it in 1540, when he preached day after day on an adjacent street corner. Within a year, the pope had approved his small band of priests as a religious order and given them Santa Maria della Strada as their pastoral home base, effectively making Ignatius caretaker of the painting within. History tells us that the former parish priest of that unpresupposing church joined the Jesuits, becoming the first Italian to do so.
June 1st signalled the first day of winter, after what has been an unprecedented period of the most stunning autumn weather in Sydney. As if on script, the rain arrived and brought with it some blustery but refreshing weather that has greened the landscape of the school and feathered the lawns to soften the pitches for the winter codes. In keeping with Ignatian spirituality it is easy to ‘find God in all things’, in the sheer beauty of the natural world, in the inherent goodness of our young men, in the richness of the school community and an educational system which is aspirational and forward moving.
Yesterday, we received a letter which certainly warmed my heart. It was a letter that spoke to the heart of who we are when at our best, about core values. A letter which described some of our young men who were, as we say, large-hearted. It came from Joey’s, from the Director of AFL at St Joseph’s. There, they are very much beginners in AFL. Their Open team were inexperienced and unsure. To compete against ‘View, with so many years and successes behind us, was to be quite daunting. We could have easily steam-rollered them. But we didn’t. Our coach and players discerned the real spirit of the game. What would we have gained from so easy a victory? What would the opposing team have learned? So the heart ruled. We shared players. And we shared our best players. We even shared our captain, Ed Swan. We switched jumpers. In the last quarter, we even shared our entire mid-field. Generous hearts, indeed. In Australia, we call it giving someone a fair go. It is having a heart for the battler.
On this day 49 years ago, May 27th 1967, Australians went to the polls to participate in the most decisive referendum in our political history. More than 90% of Australians voted ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and give the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. An event of equal significance occurred 25 years later on June 3rd 1992 when the High Court of Australia ruled in favour of native title in the Mabo decision, which recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights over their lands survived British occupation and colonialism. Since that time this week has been identified as Reconciliation Week, with June 26th being pronounced National Sorry Day in acknowledgement of the great suffering caused to the Indigenous people through the dispossession of land and the extirpation of culture that has ensued over the last two centuries. It is a time when all Australians should take time to reflect on the need to reconcile a fractured past and to work towards a future where all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will walk together to ensure equal opportunity and access.
The Hot Potato Shop, with the initiative of Oliver Thorne (Yr 12), secured this week’s guest speaker, Luke Kennedy. It was among the most powerful, pastoral and practical presentations I have listened to in a long while. I was wondering why I was drawn to the story being told. Sure, Luke was an engaging speaker – in fact, devastatingly honest – and this was a very dramatic story. But it was the story of a journey. And it was a journey reflecting so many Ignatian themes. And without trying to draw too long a bow, this was Ignatius’ story told over. The young Ignatius, we know, was “a lad”. He was a street-fighter in his youth. He regularly drew his weapon in conflicts. He wore all the right attire that marked him out as a member of a particular gang. He faced court for his offences. But, in time, he found a new way forward. This was Luke’s story, too. In sharing his story, Luke kept returning to a constant theme: the search for the true self. The voices that draw one away from that true self. And the masks that we wear – masks of expectation, masks that protect, and masks to hide our true self.
In the early days of his pilgrim journey, Ignatius spent almost a year at Manresa in northern Spain, not far from Barcelona. It was both a time of spiritual enlightenment and also of great struggle. He was discerning his life direction. At such times, the best and the worst of spirits and voices are at work in the human soul and psyche.
In watching an episode of the BBC series, The Story of China, on SBS earlier in the week I was following the rise of the Ming Dynasty. As part of that story the presenter, Michael Wood, began to explore the impact of Italian Jesuit missionary and humanist, Fr Matteo Ricci, in that period of Chinese history. On arriving in Portuguese Macao, Ricci first spent fifteen years learning the language until he spoke it like a native. He devised what he called a “memory palace”, a sophisticated word-association technique in the mind to remember the thousands of Chinese characters.
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.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has released his long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, entitled Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love”. It is written in response to the recent Synod of Bishops on the family, held over the last two years in Rome.
Not surprisingly, it has had a mixed reception – overwhelmingly positive, though a few commentators have expressed feelings that it did not go far enough. I can understand reasons for the latter. Doctrinal change is slow. And I think we need to bear in mind that Francis has to bring the whole Church community with him, not to alienate the more conservative, but “to hasten slowly”, as we might say.
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.
One of the Gospel readings for Easter Sunday recalled the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33). They were devastated and disheartened, maybe even depressed, after the crucifixion of their Lord and hoped-for-redeemer. Their dearest expectations had not come to pass. So they had turned their backs. They were walking away. Understandably. Then the risen Jesus joins their company, but they do not recognise him. This seems very strange indeed, for they had kept his company until only a few days past. And it flies in the face of the common experience of people longing to see (and oft-times mistakenly seeing) the face in the crowd of one they have recently lost.
A conversation begins which is a classic model of pastoral care and catechesis. “What is troubling you?” “Where are you now?” “What’s going on in your life?” The mode of the listener. The starting point, really, for all good teaching and parenting. Only then are the two lost disciples ready for a response and for enlightenment. As the story unfolds, they want this mysterious companion to stay, so they invite him to join their meal. And, as the scriptures tell us, when he begins to bless the meal, “they recognise him at the breaking of the bread”. But then he vanishes from their sight.
We are reminded in Ecclesiastes that ‘to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’. Perhaps the relevance of that maxim is no more applicable than at the present time as we move into the Easter story; the theology of the passion, the crucifixion of Christ and the resurrection that signals new life beyond death. This will be symbolically celebrated on Sunday with the eggs that have become synonymous with this time of the year, those that have the potential to subjugate the Christian significance during this period of renewal and growth through the challenges and rewards that the Lenten period provides. And, there will be some days of respite and rest over the break prior to the latter stages of the term, which will no doubt be filled with its own intensity and momentum. May it be a time where families can share in the gift of each other, the joy and hope of the season and a spirit of optimism, as we move ahead into the final days of the term.
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.
The pageantry of yesteryear was on display in abundance throughout the course of the Gold Cup, which was re-enacted on the Lane Cove River on Saturday, as it has been over the course of its 132 year history. This is one of the premier rowing events in New South Wales and it drew crews from schools across the state as well as the heavyweights in the code, including Sydney University and the Sydney Rowing Club. History records that in 1885: “The weather was bright and cheerful, the attendance very large and fashionable, and the different events were contested by the competitors in an animated but friendly manner …”. That same script was enacted over the weekend and each and every element of the occasion was something of a facsimile of its historical counterpart. To all who made the day such a stunning success – the coaches, the parents, the Old Boys, the member organisations, the visitors to the property, and of course the athletes who have laboured over the summer to reach maximum performance, a statement of sincere appreciation is extended. And, special thanks are extended to the theatrics of the Drumline which entertained the large crowd on the steps of the Lane Cove River among the splendour of activity on the water. All augurs well for the continuation of this event which not only engages those with a passion for rowing, but those who belong to a community that recreate history on a perennial basis.
The story of Fr Joseph Dalton really begins with another Irish priest, a diocesan one, Fr John Therry. He was a greatly loved chaplain to the Irish convicts and the working class. Some of those poor ones were soon to make their way in society and their fortune. Therry was the recipient of their gratitude and largesse – and died a rich man in 1865. Though he would hardly have known a Jesuit in his life, Therry left his estate to the Irish Province. The following year the Irish Jesuits began their mission to Australia.
Joseph Dalton was educated at Clongowes Wood College and returned there to teach after joining the Jesuits and being ordained. Following a Rectorship elsewhere, he departed for the Australian mission in his 50th year. His Irish colleagues of the time described him as a “man of great energy and vision, who communicated a driving ambition for the success of any venture to which he committed himself”.
release of the Report last week, some important gains have been achieved over the last decade in the institution of as education, particularly graduation rates of Indigenous Australians from Year 12 courses of study. However, there is a disturbing gap in other educational outcomes such as attendance and retention, literacy and numeracy, as well as health and incarceration rates that need to be bridged going forward, ones exigent to all who hold justice as central to their reason d’etre. It is folly to believe that this is simple issue and resolvable into the immediate future, however, it does represent a national imperative. While this situation remains Australia as a nation will be impoverished so it is up to each and every Australian to be mindful of, and to work towards, a situation where the same opportunity is presented to all and the dignity of each and every member of this country is preserved and protected. And, as I pen this Viewpoint, I am acutely aware of the fact that Fr Ross and the AT TAG social justice group will be furiously campaigning for the release of 37 children in detention, casualties of an immigration system that results in incarceration. It is fair to say, that we, as a nation and an Ignatian school with a deep regard for justice, have much to do.
“The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church” (Tertullian)
They say that a coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. I think such a coincidence happened this week as ATTAG (our A T Thomas human rights Advocacy Group) was about to launch its first campaign for the year.
The committee, under the leadership of its Chair, Joseph Mamo (Year 12), had settled upon a petition to the House of Representatives, seeking a national recommitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which Australia is a signatory), the removal of off-shore mandatory detention of children, and striking down the secrecy clause which prevents health and social workers reporting on crimes or conditions of those held in detention centres. Joe spoke eloquently and passionately about the cause. So much so that we gathered the largest number of signatures of any campaign to date, and a number of boys subsequently came forward to join ATTAG.
As the term consolidates over the early weeks of the year it is instructive to see key priorities and emphases in the educational program come to fruition. Boys in Year 11 participated in a ‘Reflection Day’, something which lies at the heartland of Ignatian spirituality in discerning and navigating one’s way through the ambiguity and paradox that life often presents. The boys are asked to reflect deeply on their giftedness, the richness of their opportunity and their relationships that propel them towards a higher ideal; namely, the service of others. In focussing on the Spiritual Exercises, developed by St Ignatius the better part of four and half centuries ago, the boys engage in an introspective and faith-centred response to the needs of those around them, and so build community and capacity in tangible and meaningful ways. It is particularly important at this time of the liturgical year, as we seek renewal and relationship both with God and with those who are part of our immediate and extended community. Many thanks are extended to Mr Tom Riemer, the Heads of House and the Assistant Heads of House who facilitated this important growth opportunity for the boys as they approach the early stages of their HSC, and with it, their seniority in the College.
This week, the Hot Potato Shop invited journalist, historian, former Rugby international and current head of the Australian Republican Movement, Peter FitzSimons, to its forum. The Hot Potato Shop has a long history in the College, engaging figures whose personal, political or worldviews may not necessarily sit entirely or even comfortably within our Ignatian “way of proceeding”, or our ethos. But these are opportunities for our young men to hear them out, ask clarifying questions, and assess our guests’ positions in relation to their own emerging moral or social frameworks. FitzSimons began by sharing his own experience of schooling and of experiencing, after a long period of intellectual disengagement, something of a “eureka moment” when a passion for intellectual curiosity, a sense of wonder, was cultivated. He encouraged this in our boys and then went on to caution his audience against sliding into careers of mindless routine, of being time-servers, with no sense of joy, deep satisfaction, or achievement. Valuable advice. He applauded the work of ATTAG, our human rights advocacy group in the past, for their stance on asylum-seekers. And of course, he spoke with great energy and enthusiasm about the republican movement with the political and symbolic importance of having an Australian head of state.
As the week began, twenty or so of our boarders from Hong Kong, Singapore (and even Hokkaido) trekked up to Lane Cove to celebrate Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey, with a banquet at the Lane Cove Chinese Kitchen – that familiar haunt of hungry boarders for many years.
As I looked around the tables, I had cause to reflect. Only four decades ago, the White Australia Policy was dismantled. Prior to that, Chinese-Australians more than likely traced their ancestry to indentured labourers, workers kidnapped from Chinese ports, or those who came for the gold diggings, and later as city merchants and market gardeners. Fears mounted concerning this imagined “menace”, discrimination flourished – even fears of an invasion. With legislation, migration then all but ceased. Anti-Chinese sentiment was fostered in many periodicals right through to the early twentieth century – offensively expressed in word and racist cartoons and posters. Now we look back and ask ourselves, “How did we get it so wrong?”
Last Friday, two signature events that promote both the cause and the effect of scholarship at the College took pride of place. The first was the Laureate Assembly, which presented the graduates of 2015 who secured Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) scores in the top 10% of New South Wales, and by implication through interstate conversion, the top 10% in the nation. While all boys who worked hard and achieved success are to be commended, there should be no apology for aspiring towards and achieving academic excellence. The range of tertiary courses, the number of scholarships and the success of the boys in gaining access to some of the most competitive courses in Australia’s finest universities (not excluding American Ivy League universities) are, in a word, impressive. In all, 83 boys representing 37% of the graduating cohort achieved scores in excess of 90, with 11 boys being included at the rarefied top end – in the highest 1% of the nation. Xavier Eales, College Captain and Dux with an ATAR of 99.85, encouraged the boys to aim high and work hard to accord fully with a scholarly tradition of Jesuit education that spans the better part of five centuries, and in the process, capitalise on the God given opportunities presented to them in one of the finest schools of the nation. Some very proud parents joined the Assembly with their Laureate sons, before sharing a memorable morning tea in the Memorial Hall, where major school celebrations have been hosted for over a century.
Each year the College Leaders undertake a period of discernment to produce a theme which acts as a touchstone and a reference point to guide the various activities and events that are listed on the school calendar. In welcoming the boys back to 2016 College Captain, Bennett Walsh, spoke of his vision for the school, encouraging them to apply their many diverse talents, abilities and gifts for the greater good of the community to accord with the theme Strength in Unity. This theme was developed at the School Mass by Fr Jack McLain, which was held in the Ramsay Hall last Friday and attended by all staff and students. Such an occasion recognises the faith tradition of Riverview and speaks very directly to the Catholic teaching and Ignatian spirituality that permeates all areas of College life. A formal mass to begin the year has been part of this school’s history since its very foundation back in 1880, so the boys engage in Eucharistic liturgy that transcends time and place. What was particularly noticeable about the gathering was the sense of reverence and engagement the boys brought to the occasion, one that spoke to their capacity to associate with and respond to school expectations, be they in the classroom, in worship, in service or more broadly in the public domain. It was a palpable sign that the message of both Strength and Unity had been embraced on this occasion, one which resides at the centre of school life.
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.
Riverview is a sort of city that never sleeps. So the expression “holiday time” can be something of a fiction. This summer was crammed with its usual camps, immersions, conferences and tours, both on-campus and off-campus. The weekend before our staff returned for the year, I joined the senior rowing crews in Canberra. On Sunday night we celebrated Mass on Lake Burley Griffin. One of God’s many cathedrals. If God is to be found in all things, then why not on these waters on which the crews have taken much delight? Through which they have struggled and given their best. Where they have forged friendships.
We took time to reflect on gratitude. Our boys appreciate they are so richly blessed and their gifts are many in this school community. But not for the sake of mere indulgence. No. These opportunities to develop talents, to shape the whole person, to realise potentialities are for one purpose only. As the Gospels charge us: “from those who have been given more, much more is expected.” God willing, these young men’s time, talents and treasures will be for others. Our earliest Jesuit schools took as their motto a line from Cicero, non nobis solum nati sumus (“We do not exist for ourselves alone.”) That ought still be our spur and inspiration.
The events of 2015 came to a crescendo in the Ramsay Hall this morning with Speech Day formalities, which facilitated the perennial distribution of prizes and acknowledgement of those boys whose performance in a variety of fields has been particularly meritorious. Julian McMahon (OR 81), who among many local and international honours was recently awarded Victorian Australian of the Year for his work in human rights law, flew up from Melbourne specifically to deliver the Occasional Address. Always compelling and insightful, Julian encouraged the boys to reflect deeply and respond with integrity to the school motto – Qantum potes, tantum aude (Whatever you can do, so much dare to do). He encouraged them to pursue truth in their personal lives and in their studies, and, to respond to the great Ignatian ideal of making the world a better place. In the case of the latter, Julian encouraged the boys to seek out and support the lonely, this disadvantaged and the marginalised. If the riveting looks of the boys was any indication, Julian’s message and its impact was both immediate and profound. I extend a sincere statement of thanks to Julian for taking the time to be with the boys and give them the benefit of his wisdom and insights.
With our desire for novelty we can become tired of the Christmas story, year in and year out. But it should always come as a shock. A challenge to our sometimes all-too-comfortable ways of thinking and being.
Jesus’ beginning starts as a scandal. An unmarried and expectant mother, whose fiancé, Joseph, was at one time (as we are told) thinking of divorcing her. Best outcome, gossip and exclusion; at worst, a stoning. She and Joseph share the complexity of so many human relationships. As that pregnancy follows its course, we see a couple forced onto the road at the whim of a foreign occupier. Just another census statistic. Like so much of humankind today now living under the heel of an oppressor. And then no comfortable home birth, but a delivery room strewn with straw and animal dung. No warmth but the steaming sides of beasts. Nothing sterile here. No Mater Private. Nothing of the cuteness of Christmas cards. Simply sharing a universal human condition. Soon, as victims of one who lusted for power and every other vice, they will flee, to be dislocated as refugees, to spend lonely years in a foreign land. As so many millions do today. Can you see? This is how God comes among us. How God begins to share our life. With understanding and empathy. The common touch. A oneness with us. God knows us.
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.
The Riverview pulse continues to beat strongly in spite of the fact that we are confronting the final days of the academic year. While the teaching staff are finalising assessments and entering into the report writing stages, much other activity is occurring at all levels across the College. Over the last fortnight Riverview has hosted two major forums to promote the cause of collaboration between Jesuit schools across the world. The first is a delegation from Boston College and Fordham Preparatory School, both very established and highly respected Jesuit schools in Boston and New York, respectively. For some time, staff at Riverview have been developing links with both schools in an effort to promote stronger connectivity with the aim of developing student and staff exchange programs, as has been the case with Clongowes in Ireland for many years. Outcomes from this visit have been immediate and significant, leading to the first student exchange program in 2016, that will see a delegation of Year 10 students from the United States hosted in Australia with a reciprocal visit to the US. It is also envisaged that a staff exchange program will be developed from 2017, along with curriculum initiatives between the United States and Australia involving Project Based Learning activities via virtual and digital platforms. And, it is also hoped that boys from respective schools will be able to participate in service activities in their respective countries in order to deepen their awareness of, and response to, this key element of Ignatian spirituality. In essence, Jesuit schools from across the world aim to deepen collaboration through tailored curriculum experiences and through staff and student exchange programs. These are exciting futures that speak to the internationalisation of education and stronger links between Jesuit schools on a global scale.
The Rector’s Address to the Boys at the College Assembly this Week
The western world is still reeling from the terrorist attack in Paris last Friday. There seems no end to the coverage in the media – the hours of television footage, the pages of newsprint. So much has been said. So many opinions, so much analysis. This morning I want to leave you with three thoughts. Simply three considerations. Three observations to reflect upon. A Jesuit formation always encourages you consider all the data, all the opinions and angles, all the values and virtues, and come to a considered, informed, personal assessment and judgement.
After months of planning the Year 9 Challenge is well underway. Over the course of the week the boys engaged in all manner of activities, from the rigours of Bush Week to the more tailored events in and around the precincts of the city. There is no doubt that the 55 km paddle in canoes and the 55 km bike ride lie at the most demanding end of the continuum, but each and every boy, helped along by their peers, has thus far made it across the line. This is despite some very challenging weather that has involved drenching rain, high winds and temperatures that have varied dramatically over successive days. While there is ecstatic relief for those who reached the finish line, there is also the satisfaction that comes from working collaboratively in teams towards common goals and the reward associated with persistence and perseverance that triumphs over fatigue. Manly Beach has seen its own share of activity with the boys learning the basics of surfing and water safety, aided by some larger than normal swells that has seen boards and bodies tested on occasions. Indoor rock climbing, the Sydney Cricket Ground, NIDA, The Rocks and Luna Park hosted various activities, providing opportunities for growth, team work and skill building. While it is still early days there has been much by way of ‘education’ over the first part of this unique educational program and as always, the boys have responded with integrity and purpose to each activity.
Last year when we prepared the document to outline the College’s strategic plan, the style of the formation we offer was described as an “almost five-century Jesuit educational tradition, forming students in a spirit of Christian humanism”.
One reader of that description was at first a little unsettled by it. Would that sit well with the Church’s tradition? It was an understandable anxiety because the humanism we are often accustomed to hear of these days is “secular humanism” – a humanism that is grounded in irreligion or atheism, where the human person is the reference point and an end in itself. But this is a more recent evolution and shares little in common with the Christian humanism of our tradition.
The early Jesuit companions of Ignatius were swept along in the rising tide of Renaissance humanism after their formation at the University of Paris. This humanism began as a literary movement – a deepening appreciation of classical literature – which lead to what we now know as the studia humanitatis, the humanities of today. It was a cultural and educational programme. Eventually these practitioners, these umanisti, began to despise the dry, medieval way of scholasticism in education and theology.
Schools like Riverview have the rare yet distinctive capacity to present magic moments at unscripted times, one of which surfaced in the yard on Friday at lunch time and captivated hundreds of boys. It was through the agency of ‘gorilla busking’, musical entertainment provided by two senior students – Zac Roddy and George Goodfellow, which aimed to raise funds for Colegio Santo Inacio de Loiola in Kasait, a Jesuit school in Timor Leste. On a day when the sun shone brightly the boys gathered round in a carnival atmosphere, not only appreciating the musicianship, but expressing felicitous applause for the staff and students who approached the busker’s guitar case and threw in their dollars. It was a unique celebration of community, music, fun and philanthropy, which yielded some very appreciable gains: $565 in just 30 minutes!! These funds will be added to the thousands of dollars that are sent from five Jesuit schools across Australia each year to a project in one of the most impoverished nations in South East Asia, funds that have progressively built a school for over 300 children over the last three years who would otherwise not have access to education. And, the work goes on as construction begins on a teacher training institution contiguous to the school, which will take the best graduates and place them in undergraduate teaching degrees in order to redress the educational lacuna in East Timor. The importance of this project cannot be underestimated, but, it was the spirit of goodwill, the generous commitment and a vibrant sense of community that erupted in the grounds that combined to produce a poignant reminder of how wonderful it is to be in schools and to work with young people.
Not a School of Privilege, but a School of Obligation
At the last General Congregation of Jesuits held in Rome, Pope Benedict addressed the delegates. Benedict knew the universal, inclusive mind of Ignatius. He knew Ignatius’ particular concern for those on the margins, those who had no one to defend their rights or advance their cause. So the Holy Father affirmed the special mission of the Society of Jesus in the Church today to be “at the frontiers,” as he said. He charged us to reach “those geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach, or find it difficult to reach.”
Service is part of the Jesuit world-view – part of the impulse that enables young people to see the world through different eyes and experience the inimitable growth that can occur for the participant, and, the enormous benefit that accrues for those who are the object of service. The College Assembly during the week focused on the role of the faith in service program: serving to learn and learning to serve. This comes in the aftermath of the Year 11 Religious Education program and it is also synonymous with the Immersion Reflection Evenings which were held during the week, the latter of which profiled the experience of the boys who travelled to Micronesia and Kokoda over the September break. Each and every boy is expected to complete 70 hours of service by the time they land in their HSC year, and in all manner of capacities be they assisting refugees, actively promoting the cause of reconciliation, supporting the disabled, the incapacitated, the homeless, the aged, the destitute or the marginalised. It is not an added extra, it is inextricably linked to the Jesuit DNA – the way that those in Jesuit schools, agencies and institutions interpret and respond to their world. Following the assembly, the boys gathered in Mentor groups to reflect more deeply across the age spectrum about their own service activities and how these may be broadened over the coming years, be they in senior secondary or in the years beyond school. As we move towards the latter stages of the term, the boys and the staff involved in immersions to the Philippines, India and Nepal over the summer break are making their final preparations for what will be a life changing experience as they forge international links between Jesuit organisations across the world that support those who live in some of the most impoverished and dire circumstances. Should there be opportunity for a discussion with the boys at the dinner table or while in the car over the coming week it would be wonderful if parents could reinforce this key tenet of the educational program with the boys for it speaks to the heartland of the Gospel and to the essence of civic duty and global citizenship.
Before George Pell became Archbishop of Sydney, he delivered two talks on a similar theme, one in Hamilton, Victoria, and another at the University of Chicago. They had to do with conscience. At the former gathering he acknowledged the importance of the individual conscience, but went on to say that the "misleading doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be publicly rejected" and "conscience has no primacy; truth has primacy". A big call. Then, in Chicago he said,
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.
Welcome back one and all!! I trust that the break provided some space to reinvigorate the spirits after the demands of Term 3 and that there is a sense of anticipation and expectation about the opportunities that lie in store over the coming nine weeks.
The final week of term was a significant one for the boys in the graduating class and their families. Each of the formalities of Valete and Graduation were undertaken in an atmosphere that dignified the boys and the exemplary contribution that they have made to the College across their schooling years. Not without expectation, there was a mixture of elation and sadness – the former being a response to the achievement that has been registered in all manner of endeavours and the frontiers that beckon beyond the HSC, and the latter, a consequence of the departure from a community that has been so very important in shaping young men of competence, conscience, compassion and commitment. And while those mixed emotions prevailed through the various graduation events, they are ultimately the moment that we prepare these young men for as they leave with gainful futures ready to take their place in, and make a meaningful contribution to, the society that they enter over the years ahead. Special thanks are extended to all who made these important rites of passage so enjoyable and so memorable.
I am glad to see that Greek is alive and well at the College. So much so that the student body has returned to the classical writings of Homer to find a theme for the coming year: Strength in Unity.
It is a motto that has been adopted by a number of nations over the years – mostly those that had forged themselves from a number of Provinces or States. That makes a great deal of sense and a good choice.
In a school like ours, especially a boys’ school, such a rallying cry would seem to have easy application in the various contests that pitch one class or team or school against another. I am sure most of our young men have almost “felt” it when a group welded together is competing at its best, or cheering forcefully in unison from a grandstand, or moving as one, focussed on the task to tackle. Strength in unity.
Year 11 Examinations have produced their own consuming aura around the College as we head for the final days of term. The boys are learning the demands that senior secondary imposes as they progressively move into Year 12 courses of study over the weeks ahead so far from thoughts of coming to a break, the boys are taking one day and one subject at a time. It is the only way to approach an assessment regime that summatively tests core concepts and key skills over an extended period of time, particularly as these examinations simulate the HSC that the boys will confront as they move into their final year of study over the coming months
The Abbott government is to be applauded on the softening of its position on welcoming Syrian asylum seekers into our nation and into our communities. And, if we follow the invitation of the Holy Father, perhaps into our homes. Riverview, too, will be exploring that option. It is an encouraging beginning, but the challenge is of enormous proportions still. Some reflections follow.
Over the last week the advent of warmer weather has announced the arrival of spring. Blossoms have begun to appear on the ornamental trees surrounding Third Yard and the imposing Plane Trees that line the fields and ovals have begun to sprout their foliage for the summer. The flora has been complemented by the ‘kookaburra symphony’ that blares into effect as the sun makes an earlier appearance each day and hangs more judiciously later in the evening. It is a joy to witness and give thanks for these changes after the colder months: even the spirits seem to have brightened as a result of this perennial transition to the glory of the season.
As a boy growing up in Sydney, I remember going to town with my father and finding the tell-tale tag of the mysterious “Mr Eternity”. Arthur Stace was a reformed alcoholic who wanted to remind his fellow-Sydneysiders of their ultimate destiny. For forty years, until dying in 1967, he chalked that word Eternity in beautiful copperplate script on the streets of Sydney – perhaps half a million times. I saw that word on countless street-corners and in many a stone doorway.
That iconic image returned to Sydney during the millennium celebrations when, on that New Year’s Eve, we saw it writ large in lights on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. That fiery logo was the brainchild of one of the College’s most creative alumni, Ignatius Jones. He, together with current parent and opera diva Amelia Farrugia, entertained us at last week’s Masterclass Luncheon. Amelia was fresh from New York and interstate engagements. Then, following snippets of his musical and acting history, our Ignatius shared visuals of his inventive creations for both the Sydney and Vancouver Olympics ceremonies, the Shanghai World Expo, and his fantastical displays for Vivid Sydney in recent years. But it is that Eternity emblem, drawn from Arthur Stace, which stays with me.
Over the course of a busy week the boys in the SEIP Program headed off to Teen Camp at Cobbitty for their annual residential camp with the girls from Danebank and PLC Croydon, and what a wonderful time was had by all. Students from each school encountered a range of activities that saw them rise to the occasion, particularly some of the more challenging tasks such as rock climbing, bush walking, horse riding, archery and canoeing. Each day was bookended with exercises and physical fitness to begin and ended with ‘crazy games’ in the evening, with fun being the key quotient of each activity. The boys also undertook classes in meditation and relaxation, aimed to capitalise on the sunshine the gracious surrounds of the rural setting. Special thanks are extended to the staff of Teen Camp and the wonderful teachers in the SEIP unit who provided unstinting support across three days and two nights, enabling the boys to have such a memorable time.
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.
paper, having made their own purposeful preparations for the demands of the assessments that they confront. In my personal view, these are the most challenging examinations they will confront in their academic lives, and I include among those the boys who may go on to pursue higher degrees and candidature for Doctoral Studies. Because they are grappling with a variety of subjects that conform to the HSC pathway, there are demands on volume and complexity, which will no doubt provide the undergraduate and career options, in due proportion to their performance, in what lies in the years ahead beyond school. On Friday evening the boys and their parents in Year 8 and Year 10 gathered in the Ramsay Hall to embark on the subject selection process for 2016. This brings with it its own discernment and pressure as the boys consider electives and options that begin to determine their pathway, although the tertiary implications are a little more remote. Having said that, the increasing importance of making the right decisions is part and parcel of the secondary conundrum so it is worth pausing for all of those who are considering futures to ensure that a thorough and thoughtful process is entered into to engineer the right outcome.
If ever I was slapdash at a task as a youngster, my mother would chide me saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Perhaps it was told to her from my grandparents, who knows? At first glance, there seems not much theology in it, just a mix of duty and perfectionism.
Around the same time, I can remember being taught by the good Sisters of St Joseph at school how to say The Morning Offering. The daily prayer wherein all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day” were offered to God in the most theologically and linguistically complex sentence that it was beyond the ken of any infant school boy.
Last Friday was deeply symbolic of a confluence that emerges at this time of year. Early in the day the new boys who are entering the College in 2016 arrived bright eyed but a little apprehensive about their transition to Riverview, particularly the boys who will be leaving home at a young age to enter boarding. There were a few tears as parents watched the boys move off into the next stage along the educational continuum, in poignant realisation of the fact that the early years of schooling are fading as upper primary and secondary school come into view. Later in the day the mothers of the boys in the graduating class gathered for the Year 12 Mothers’ Mass and Luncheon, the former in the Dalton Chapel and the latter in the Ramsay Hall. And, like the new parents who arrived at the beginning of the day there were some emotional moments as the graduates’ mums reflected on all that Riverview has been for their sons over the last six to eight years, and the post schooling years that lie ahead. It represented a turning of the page, both for the parents who are confronting new – sometimes unknown but ultimately exciting futures, and their boys, whose association with this remarkable school has capitalised on the talents of those who are soon to depart and will gain so very much from those who will arrive in the near future. And, it is cogent reminder of God’s providence, one that gives life and energy to Ignatian spirituality that informs and guides the affairs of Riverview, as it has across its 135 year history. We are indeed blessed.
This week the Coalition, after a marathon Party Room discussion, has unanimously decided there will be no ‘conscience vote’ for them on legislating for same-sex marriage in this parliamentary term. There may be a referendum or plebiscite to determine public opinion on the matter following the next election. This current debate was heightened some months ago when Ireland, that traditionally most Catholic of countries, voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage in a national referendum.
July 31st commemorates the death of St Ignatius of Loyola in 1556, but it equally symbolises and celebrates the works of the Society of Jesus that was formally commissioned by Pope Paul lll in 1540. Since those foundational years the Jesuits have spread to every corner of the globe and undertaken ministries of service and leadership at all levels of society, most notably in education. As has been the custom over many years, staff and students gathered at the beginning of the day for a mass in Ramsay Hall, the liturgy being concelebrated by five Jesuits, which included Fr Ross, Fr Jack and Fr Gerald from the Riverview community, as well as visiting priests Fr Jeremy Clarke and Fr Myles Sheehan. Following mass the boys went off to engage in the Faith Through Service program, which was rendered with great spirit in homes for the aged, schools for the disabled, in the local community and service centres. One of central principles of Ignatian education is service and we were blessed with a glorious day to go out to the world and make a visible contribution to causes and organisations that need it most, and in the process, make a difference. Learning to serve, serving to learn is the motto of this honourable enterprise and I thank all who gave so willingly on this special day.
The media has made a feast these last weeks of what was seen as indulgent travels of the Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop. Extravagant flights in choppers or planes to Party fundraisers or social events had the press hounds baying for blood. More recently they have turned their attention to former Labor minister, Tony Burke, for similar indulgences.
The ever-measured Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, often a source of wise analysis of vexed questions, made a good distinction this week. Referring to the exorbitant flights of Ms Bishop, and whether or not such so-called “entitlements” could be justified, he said he did not like the word “entitlements” because “we are not entitled to anything”. He said entitlements were expenses that should be spent with caution and be accounted for. Accountability in leadership.
One of the more extraordinary assemblies was held at the College last week that profiled the cause of mental health and depression. Taking an enormous leap of courage and faith, School Captain – Xavier Eales, spoke of his personal battle with depression during his adolescent years and his need to seek professional help to deal with it. Surrounded by a loving family and friends, Xavier has come through a very difficult time with resolve, resilience, and with exceptional courage. Xavier encouraged the boys to be mindful of their own mental health and well-being, by not living in denial but instead seeking the necessary assistance where and when they needed it. And, he exhorted the boys to keep a watchful eye on their friends, to be interventionist if necessary when someone is down and troubled especially if they are not seeking help themselves. Rarely is there a spontaneous standing ovation in the Ramsay Hall, but such was the impact of Xavier’s address to the student body, along with his desire to ensure the psychological health of each and every boy in the school. As a sign of solidarity and diversity, each boy concluded the assembly by donning a favourite shirt, the rich striation of colour producing a tangible sign of the diversity and the solidarity in the school community. House Mentors are following up further as part of a program to raise the importance of mental health and responses to this important aspect of care in the College.
Holly Schapker is a graduate from Jesuit Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Recently, she completed a series of paintings on Ignatius’ life which she collectively called Adsum, (“I am here”).
Ignatius, as captured above, has many intriguing features. He is smiling (unusual for the rather serious man we imagine him to have been). He is garbed in blue (a change from the customary drab black). And, if you look closely, his soutane is actually a map. That last feature has many levels of interpretation. In his Autobiography, Ignatius styled himself as ‘the Pilgrim’. He was on the road, searching for a destination in both the literal and spiritual sense. Later on in his life, in describing the Jesuit mission, Ignatius told his companions, “the world is our home”. That is, there were no frontiers (again, in literal and other senses) to which we would not venture on mission. Finally, Ignatian spirituality is – by virtue of God’s stamp of ‘goodness’ on the world at the point of creation, and through the Incarnation, where God took flesh to embrace the world – at once and everywhere world-affirming. As Schapker depicts it, Ignatius is clothed in God’s world.
Sydney’s blast of artic weather has made the return to school for Term 3 both memorable and intense. So much rain fell in the latter part of last week that sport needed to be cancelled for most of the teams on Saturday, allowing only the competition games at Senior level to be played. Despite the ravages of the cold and the wet, the boys have settled quickly into their studies and I am pleased to report that the groove of teaching and learning has become firmly established and is apparent at every turn in the early weeks of the term.
This week the Chapel resonated with music and song with our young men displaying their wide-ranging talents in the Chapel Concert. For more than an hour we enjoyed a smörgåsbord of delights. From the earliest days of our Colleges and missions, music has always found such a place.
When our Jesuit colleges began, there were no such things as uniforms, crests or mottos. But those first Jesuit educators, in the ambience of the emerging humanism of the day, were drawing upon the texts of “pagan” authors – prose literature, histories and verses in Latin and Greek – to employ in their classes. If one believed in “finding God in all things”, then there were truths and virtues to be discovered in the best of these traditions as well as any Scriptures. Cicero was a favourite, not only as a master of rhetorical style, but as a purveyor of virtues that would shape the lives of young people for the public good. One exhortation from Cicero’s treatise on civil office came as close as one could get to a school motto for those educators: Non nobis solum nati sumus (“we do not exist for ourselves alone”). In those early days of schooling, a sense of a life spent in the service of others was already taking root.
For more than a decade I have been taking groups of young Aloysians and Ignatians on Immersions to the Philippines. On each occasion, we spend about four days working with the Jesuit Prison Ministry at the National Penitentiary, Muntinlupa, south of Manila. Part of that experience is to visit the now-disused building where, during the Presidency of Joseph Estrada, seven prisoners were killed by lethal injection – all of them poor. Estrada’s successor, Gloria Arroyo suspended capital punishment in 2006 and 1,230 death row inmates were commuted to life imprisonment.Upon arrival at this rather insignificant-looking building, the boys see the twin notices at the entrance: “Bureau of Correction” and “Lethal Injection Chamber”. Immediately they sense the irony. Correction and execution. The same ambiguity has faced many in our nation in recent months as we have traced the fate of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia. If Andrew and Myuran were not rehabilitated (as evidenced by their reformed and influential lives) then what does rehabilitation mean? What then is a correctional centre? And with post-Easter season language still fresh in our minds, what about redemption?
This week Romero House, new addition to the College’s family of Houses, celebrated its first House Mass and Dinner. Just a few weeks short of the 35th anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom. Oscar Romero was born during the First World War. At 13, he was an apprentice carpenter but then entered the minor seminary to become a priest. By the time the Second World War broke out, he was studying theology at the Jesuit Gregorian University in Rome.
A street in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, has just been named after a Jesuit priest. Le Rue Père de Rosny pays tribute to the French Jesuit Eric de Rosny, who spent 45 years in Camerooon. In 1981, he published Les Yeux de ma Chèvre (The Eyes of my Goat), a work that chronicled his five-year long initiation into ethnic Douala culture by a ngagna (a sorcerer-healer).
An Assembly address this week when the College appointed a number of student leaders.
Dr Edmond Locard was a pioneer in forensic science (that is, scientific criminology) about a century ago. He was known as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of France’. He formulated the basic principle of forensic science: “Every contact leaves a trace.” It was called ‘the Locard Exchange Principle’.