From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 30 November 2018 | Dr Paul Hine
Last Friday, six of our Old Boys had the courage and strength to appear in court to describe the impact, harm and suffering caused by child abuse which occurred while they were at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview. On the day, they were providing impact statements to the court, detailing in graphic form the sequelae and the consequences of child abuse on their lives. They were stories of great sadness, of loss and suffering, of psycho-social difficulties that have impacted in all areas of their lives, none the least of which is the damage to their mental and psychological health over the intervening decades.
This week has been one that has confronted me with the dark history of my Jesuit family. As you would be aware, a former Jesuit brother was convicted of abusing students while he worked here in boarding many years ago. Personally, I find the history troubling because of the lack of acknowledgment of the past and it fills me with shame that a member of my ‘family’ has used us and the people he was supposed to serve to harm them. But as troubling as this near-past history is, looking away from it, refusing to acknowledge it as a part of our history would be worse.
This year, 2018, is the 470th anniversary of the foundation of Jesuit schools. It was back in 1548, in Messina in southern Italy, that the very first Jesuit school was opened. While the Society of Jesus was formed with a mission to spread the Christian faith and to inculcate young men and women with the teachings of the gospel, they had a secular purpose of improving civil society (ad civitatis utilitatem) by educating boys to earn a gainful living and fill leadership positions.
This week, two things that make up our community as Church are the highlights for me. First, the Parents & Friends held their annual general meeting which featured their installation of their new leadership for next year. It was an opportunity for those of us who gathered to reflect back on the many things that they do that add life to our community.
Nowhere was the spirit of the College more visible this week than at the prayer service for Alex Noble, our injured Year 10 man. A cross section not just of our own community, but the wider Sydney community gathered to pray for Alex and his family and offer support. We gathered together in the face of a grim reality, but we gathered as a people of faith that life and light will not be extinguished, even when we cannot understand it.
At the School Assembly this morning, College Captain Louis Callahan announced the student motto for 2019 – ‘not for ourselves alone’. The origin of this phrase dates back to Cicero’s most influential philosophical work – On Duties. In full, Cicero wrote, ‘non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici’ (‘not for us alone are we born; our country, our friends, have a share in us’).
Life is often this strange mix of joy and sadness; beauty and struggle. Our life at the College doesn’t make us exempt from the struggle of life. The terrible injury of one of our Year 10 boys draws us together to hold him and his family and friends close to our hearts and makes all of us struggle to find where God is present in this terrible reality.
Another term arrives, and with it the opportunity for much by way of growth and personal development. As we move into the final stanza for the year, it is time to reflect on the goals that were set all of those months ago, the degree to which they have been achieved, and what that means for what lies ahead. For over 330 young men, they will be completing their first year at the College.
Cura personalis is an intriguing term. It’s part of the Jesuit vernacular, invoking the individualised care for, and response to, the needs of each individual. It is often applied exclusively to students in Jesuit organisations, but it draws upon a much wider constituency when extrapolated to a school such as Riverview. The latter comprises many individuals; in the case of Saint Ignatius’ College, not only the 1,584 students who are part of the enrolment profile, but also the 320 substantive staff, thousands of parents, nearly 10,000 Old Boys as well as countless members of extended families.
This week has been about the transitions of traditions here at the College. We finished last week by putting our mark on the long and storied history of the Jesuit Mission Indian Bazaar. A huge thank you to all of you who helped with the Bazaar, whether by volunteering or attending, you make a huge difference for the people that Jesuit Mission serves. It’s a tradition of service that goes back 67 years. Rides have changed, the food has changed, the wheel of electronics has changed, the wheel of ham… is exactly as it’s always been.
This has been a week where I’ve been in meetings seemingly non-stop. I can’t find anything really compelling to share with you about those meetings, but two non-meeting events from the last week really stand out.
First, in an eﬀort to lead by example with regard to the sustainability of creation, we’ve equipped the staff with some new hot/cold thermal cups so that we can totally get rid of the disposable cups from our food services. Living toward a sustainable world is a challenge; it inconveniences us from what we are used to; it means we have to grow and change. Not just our actions, but in our disposition and our ideas. It’s not comfortable but we know, at a fundamental level, that it’s right.
Throughout the course of Science Week, I was fortunate to witness some of the very best in kinaesthetic learning: that which encourages cognition and understanding through tactile learning experiences. There is an old Chinese proverb which purports – I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. It is this mantra which resonates so strongly with the learning styles of boys and it was that which came to the fore across the school during the week.
We’re about to launch into a weekend steeped in some very old traditions and rituals. Some that are central to who we are as a community, others that have just grown up with us and we should examine more closely.
This past week I was asked to write a report on a Jesuit partner school that has only been in existence for about 15 years. I spent three days interviewing members of their community and listening to their experiences and traditions, both old and new, and how meaningful they were for that community.
Each and every week, hundreds of phone calls are answered on the Regis and the Senior Campus. Behind the greeting is the ebullient, effervescent, ever-cheerful and ever-helpful Kate Lester and Bruna Smith who respond to all manner of inquiries from lost football boots to urgent dentist appointments, and sometimes distressed calls related to sickness and loss. Not infrequently it is the media who have picked up on some newsworthy snippet, or, a disgruntled neighbour with a complaint about parking on a day that sees the community flock to the College for a school event. Our front line is unflappable and ever responsive to the array of demands that come from parents, Old Boys, past parents, Jesuit agencies from across Australia and throughout the world and strange as it may seem, a few dozen wrong numbers each day!
Over the weekend another chapter was written into the unfolding history of the College with the Official Blessing and Opening of the Therry Building. Four years in the making, between the Master Planning process and the building phase, this project is the consummation of an enormous collaborative enterprise between the architects, the builder, project manager, and a committed group of staff who have given shape and direction to a building that was decommissioned in late 2016 and is now a state of the art educational facility.
As the end of term looms on the horizon, we can look back on another week that enlivened the hearts and minds of the students. The first groups have already left for Year 10 Service Week whilst the remainder of the cohort will commence next Monday. We thank Jesuit tertian, Fr Rafal (pictured left), for sharing with the boys his personal experience of serving others, and we look forward to seeing these young men return having reflected upon their own experiences of service through a variety of contexts.
This week we shared in the annual Friends Listen Assembly, an opportunity for one member of our community to share their experiences of struggle and support. The name of the assembly is vitally important, reminding us of both our obligation and the opportunity to lift one another up when we’re dragging along. Friends do indeed listen.
This week has been framed by artwork and history for me. Early in the week I observed the installation of the artwork to commemorate an institutional and personal failure to protect the vulnerable in our community: students who were abused while members of our community.
In numerology 2020 is regarded as the Angel Number; one which promotes the cause of compassion, consideration and consistency in living a life that is devoted to the service of others. It may be seen as a metaphor for the education provided at Riverview as it carries with it deep undertones of a spirituality where the energies of the individual are committed to the benefit of the collective.
Things are moving quickly around the College, as they always do. For many of us, the term began even before the term began. In addition to the usual spin up to a new term, this year we have the joyful task of preparing to occupy a new building. We’ve been sneaking ever-growing groups of people in to have a look at the newest part of our collective home.
Welcome to Term 2. As the break drew to a close, I was privileged to host some early previews of the new Therry Building, which was absolutely amazing. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen the progress of this project since, literally, the first spade of earth was turned.
Over the last century, Riverview has toiled with great determination and persistence in the Head of the River – one of the most competitive and highly regarded regattas in Australia. On four occasions only has the College won the event since the competition began in 1893, and prior to last Saturday the last time Riverview canvass took honours was in 1975.
This week I’ve spent a large part of my time conducting interviews with people who want to become part of the Saint Ignatius’ College community. It’s always interesting listening to the impressions of very young men about who they think we are and comparing that with my own lived experience of the College. They tend see the external things, which is only fair, since very few of them have seen our lives from the inside.
Meet Yarna… our newest enrolment in the Health Care Centre, who has entered the College under the watchful eye of Matron, Leanne Neal. We were all saddened to lose our much loved therapy dog, Sally, late last year. A faithful and loyal friend, Sally held more of the boys’ secrets and shared more of their distress than any other on the campus.
This week, I attended the funeral of Father Anthony (AV) Smith, SJ, a former teacher here at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview and the longest serving Principal/Headmaster at Saint Aloysius’ College. The first time I met him, he’d retired from education and was the Pastor at Saint Mary’s parish, North Sydney. We met in the kitchen and he immediately filled up the room with a larger than life presence and his trademark “I gotta tell ya’!”
Inaugural Message from New College Rector, Fr Jack McLain SJ
So, here we go. A new year in the life of the College, new horizons to explore, and new challenges to overcome. This year will hold something for every single one of us. Some of it will be much more pleasant for us than other parts. For some of us, it will be a fantastic year, for others, it’ll be more challenging and not our favourite. But even in those less than stellar years, we learn things. We usually learn more about ourselves during difficult and adverse situations than in the easy ones.
Last Friday, the Minister for Innovation and Member for Hornsby (and Riverview Old Boy), Honourable Matt Kean MP (OR1999), joined the CEO of Melanoma Institute Australia, Carole Renouf, to formally unveil the first automatic sunscreen station in the nation, which now adorns the outer wall of the Gartlan Centre.
Never given to thinking small, the boys at Riverview, inspired by social justice, came together on Wednesday to break a Guinness World Record for the largest human shape of a country. The project was proposed by Clayton Lie and Timothy Hurford in Year 10 as a result of a curriculum initiative in English entitled Dignity For Dollars, and aimed to raise money for, and awareness of, two Jesuit institutes in one of the most educationally disadvantaged regions of the world.
On Tuesday evening, I had the (rather unusual) opportunity to watch the evening news service. There were two feature stories that attracted my attention: the ‘juvenile white pointer shark’ that washed up on Manly Beach during the week, and the ‘bearded lady lion’.
There are many moments of gold around this College; precious and spontaneous moments that just appear in the daily life of staff and students. They are windows into a community that is blessed to have such a diverse and integrated set of opportunities that have been built by the past, are stewarded by the present and shaped for the future.
As we conclude the fourth week of term, the impact of the assessment regime is pervasive. Year 11 End of Semester Examinations are at mid-stage with still one week to conclude, and they will be followed in quick succession by Year 9. With little down time, the boys in Year 9 will move from NAPLAN testing to their own examinations, while in other year levels, assignments and research projects are keeping many focussed on their course work and intense revision programs.
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.
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.
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.
During the week the educational supplement in The Australian published an article entitled Colleges pump out cohort of ‘egotists’. While the substance of the article was directed at universities in the United States, the theme holds direct relevance for all educational organisations that share responsibility for the formation of young men and women. It referred to ‘the contagion of self-possessed graduates whose lack of empathy or interest in the broader community [is] a threat to future societies’. Furthermore, the research team who had been commissioned to investigate the culture of university life asserted that there was ‘a concerning trend of diminishing empathy and community consideration in 13 to 19 year olds’, and, that when messages associated with concern for others are sent out they ‘are drowned out by the frequency of messages from parents and the larger culture that emphasises individual achievement’. This is in stark contrast to the educational program in Jesuit schools and particularly Riverview. Central to the educational platform and to Ignatian spirituality is the drive to form men for others – men who will take their place in the world and make a meaningful contribution to it. Each and every boy at the College is required to complete 70 hours of community service by the time that they enter their HSC year. It is not tokenistic nor is it a shallow expectation, for the forms of service the boys engage in can be very demanding; working with disabled children, distributing meals on Night Patrol, assisting the aged, infirmed and elderly, and, embarking on overseas immersions to support the marginalised in countries across South East Asia. These are exercises in humility that promote reflection and growth, aimed to improve the fabric of community for those who are benefactors of the service activities, and, to engender a deep awareness of faith in action for those who render service. It is core to what Jesuit schools aspire to and to what our families commit to through their enrolment.
The very first Rugby clash between Riverview and Joeys is etched into the history books back in 1907 and the Alma records ‘The game was fast and fearless, and played from start to finish in admirable spirit.’ In a match that was a portent for the future, it ended in a draw – 11 All. This wonderful tradition was continued under magnificent autumn skies at Hunters Hill last Saturday in front of a crowd of approximately 6,000, and the descriptor of its historical counterpart was as relevant as the clash was 109 years ago. While the contest contained a fierce but fair competitiveness on the field, the pageantry and theatre of the war cries that have echoed for a century resonated with emotional impact off the field. Chants of RRIIIVEERRVIEW were countered with the Sub Tuum; the latter synonymous with Marist schools throughout the world. It was one of those gala occasions, like the perennial Gold Cup and Head of the River, where the entire community became involved and the spirit of both the GPS and the respective schools was on abundant display. It was a salient reminder of the rich tradition that exists in schools such as Riverview and Joeys along with the rallying cry of the community to produce such a wonderful contest and a memorable spectacle. Congratulations to all, the boys on the field who got over the line after a titanic struggle, and, the many who supported the occasion.
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.
While the holidays provided time for some welcomed rest and relaxation, they also afforded an opportunity for the boys to review and calibrate goals and priorities over the term ahead. More than simply change uniform from summer to winter and adjust to the organisational transition to another term, it is important in an Ignatian school where the inner impulse for the magis – that which speaks to a depthed and highly reflective approach to life, can be pursued with insight and zeal. It is a challenge that is issued to each and every boy as they return to take responsibility for their own learning to ensure that they achieve on a level fully commensurate with their God given potential and abilities, and in so doing, contribute to a culture and a community where aspiration takes primacy of place.
A veritable flurry of activity has rounded off a busy but very rewarding term. The final fortnight was bisected by Riverview in Bowral, which provided the opportunity to re-connect with generations of Old Boys and their families who have had long term associations with the College, as well as spend time with a number of current families who have boys in boarding. One of the more interesting revelations on the weekend was that one young man – Charles de Lauret (OR 1882) from Goulburn in the Southern Highlands, was one of the original 26 students in the first class at St Ignatius’ in 1880, and that tragically, he was the first student who died while on holidays on his family property at Wynella in 1882. One senior statesman, Dr John Roche (OR 1944) attended with his wife as part of the Roche dynasty whose enrolment over many generations spanned 1891 to 1996. As is always the case on such occasions, the sense of community was palpable and it was memorable and enriching to spend time with the boarding community and their families in their own regional context. Special thanks are extended to Christine Zimbulis who coordinates these functions and to Cathy Hobbs, the College archivist, whose meticulous work enables Riverview to draw on its rich past.
St Ignatius maintained that one of the greatest sins is ingratitude. This is rather surprising in light of the litany of evils in the world but on both a theological level and in everyday life the followers of Ignatius were taught to value, appreciate and thank both God and those around them for the daily blessings, graces and endowments that are often taken for granted. On Tuesday evening I, along with a number of other teachers, accepted an invitation to attend a dinner that was held to thank those who assisted a graduate from Riverview in 2015 for the support that he was given over his two years of senior secondary school as a boarder. This young man came to the College as a high achieving student who wanted to excel in his HSC, a young man who challenged himself by being the first hybrid Advanced Pathways student who undertook an extra undergraduate course in Philosophy while completing Year 12 at a high level in 2015. And, he did both, securing a High Distinction for his undergraduate study and securing an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) score in the top 1% of New South Wales, and by virtue of interstate conversion, the top 1% of the nation. As if that is not impressive enough, this young man has secured entry to the London School of Economics into one of the most competitive and acclaimed university programs in the world. This dinner was not about celebrating success but rather it was about expressing gratitude; sincere, genuine and heartfelt thanks to the teachers who supported this young adult in his personal quest for the magis – going deeper, more expansively into the opportunities that were before him to secure the best outcomes. As teachers and administrators we were humbled by the gesture, and, we were and remain humbled by a profession where we have the fortune to provide life opportunity for young people. We, like our young graduate, are deeply grateful.
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.
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.
The Rector’s Address to the 2015 HSC Awardees at the Laureate Assembly Today
The first handbook on how to administer a Jesuit school was begun not long after we opened our early colleges from the mid-1500s. It included details about awarding prizes for place-getters in different subjects at annual assemblies. Here was an early encouragement to recognise academic excellence. Jesuit schools have always pursued and encouraged excellence. In those days, excellence was also sought in communication. Eloquentia perfecta it was referred to – “flawless eloquence”. At that same time, there was an acknowledged and unparalleled excellence in drama and theatre.
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.
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.
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.”
Although only in the early stages of the term, much by way of planning has been entered into for 2016, all consistent with the second year of the Strategic Directions 2015-2016 Document that was released early in the year after considerable discernment and consultation. Taking the form of School Goals for the coming year, these are designed to build upon the restructure of the pastoral care system, strengthen teaching and learning via the use of measurement data, increase accountabilities through asset management and risk management, while at the same time, maintain and develop the distinctive Ignatian charism that lies at the heartland of the educational program. Some new initiatives are also being introduced, including:
In the world of ancient Rome, there were only two temples to have theatres – those dedicated to the gods Venus and Bacchus. The early Christian community, naturally, saw these gods as patrons of lust and drunkenness. Not a good starting point for any Christians assessing the value of theatre in human culture! Indeed, the Council of Carthage in 398 AD decreed that those who attended a theatrical performance instead of Mass would be excommunicated and actors would be forbidden receiving the sacraments.
However attitudes softened a little over the centuries and the richness of Catholic liturgies fostered the evolution of pious performances and morality plays. By the time Jesuit schools were emerging in Renaissance times, drama and the stage were included as central pedagogical experiences. Naturally, this raised some eyebrows. The Jesuits in the schools had already been the subjects of some suspicion in that they enthusiastically taught “pagan” authors in the curriculum, alongside the scriptures and more catholic texts. But, it was argued in this Renaissance era, the Greek and Roman classics firstly taught the classical languages well, and then cultivated an eloquentia perfecta (flawless eloquence). At the same time, these classics of literature, poetry, plays and histories explored the great ideas of virtue, the triumph of good over evil, wrestling with moral choices, extolling heroic and generous lives. Reflections, if you like, of the great themes and values presented in the scriptures. So we embraced drama.
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.