From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
Filter results for Ignatian Spirituality
Friday 2 November 2018 | Fr Jack McLain SJ
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’).
As we approach the final days of the term, there is a prevailing sense that we have come a long way since the academic year began, but there is still much more to accomplish despite the paucity of time remaining. Year 12 End of Semester Examinations conclude today and the boys who have been studying under the compress of the examination regime over the last three weeks will move into their retreats next week.
During Easter week last year, Pope Francis appealed for a period of prayer and solidarity in support of global peace. This same sentiment was echoed during the week by Nicholas Kristof, a senior correspondent for the New York Times, whose sobering insight into the violence of war torn countries in Africa made compelling reading.
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.
We are rapidly approaching the halfway mark of the term. As the term and the year gain momentum there is a common desire to reach a point of equilibrium that will produce a sense of balance to the schedules that can dictate and, at times burden, already busy lives. There is much on the go, for all of the right reasons, but sometimes the quest to develop a discerning sense of proportion about competing priorities can be elusive.
My old boss sent me a link to this article about why significance is more important than success. It seems to reflect the Ignatian ideals of both the Magis and being indifferent to the outcome of our undertakings. The Magis, literally “the more”, is often confused with volume. That is, to do more things is better than to do fewer things. But that’s not what Ignatius meant by the phrase.
As the curtain call for 2017 beckons, there is so very much to be thankful for. In each domain of school life there has been so much endeavour, so much achievement and so much reward. The end of year is a time of reckoning when one looks back, and in the best of the Ignatian tradition, enters a period of discernment...
At the beginning of the holidays, I joined the Open Basketballers as they launched the rebranding of Basketball in line with our College ethos. As with the Opens Rugby last year, the culture of sport’s representation at this level is never to be about entitlement or status. Rather, it is an opportunity to model authentic values, to be of service to others, to acknowledge that position entails responsibility, and to discover that even in sport God may be found when one has eyes to see.
There is a special section of our Christopher Brennan Library where books written by Old Ignatians are displayed. Graduates of Riverview and members of staff leave their mark here in different ways. Since our earliest days, there have been those who have left their stamp in the written word.
Tomorrow, May 27th, will commemorate the national referendum of 1967 that formally included First Nations people in the political affairs of the nation. For the first time, Aboriginal people were included in the census and Parliament was given the power to legislate on behalf of Indigenous Australians. Both had been denied since settlement in 1788.
It was hard to tell who was the wetter last Saturday at the Head of The River – the crews on the water or the Blue and White band of supporters drenched on the land. But the rain did little to inhibit either the rowing or the cheering. It seems to me that rowing can be something of a metaphor for life – preparation and planning, head and heart, art and science, the individual and the team, successes and failures, solitude and fanfare, the human spirit and nature, the grit and the grace.
During the week I was very fortunate to experience some different perspectives and gain new insights through the educational program, particularly seeing teaching and learning through the eyes of two Riverview students. On the same day, I was privileged to attend a breakfast in Cova Cottage coordinated by the LBW Trust, which supports the cause of marginalised children in disadvantaged countries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
A busy term has been rounded off with a flurry of events over the final week. Intensive work has been undertaken behind the scenes to ensure that reporting schedules are being honoured, with the final touches being applied throughout the week. Year 7, 8 and 10 reports were distributed on Wednesday, Year 5 and 6 reports today and Year 9 reports will be forwarded on Monday. I encourage you to look closely at the progress that has been registered across the semester to ensure that optimum opportunity is being pursued and realised through the educational program, and that where weaknesses are identified, they will be the object of redress through strategic, systematic and intensive efforts over the coming term.
I have been fortunate to visit inmates in the Philippines National Penitentiary in Manila for more than a decade now. About 18,000 men live there in shockingly close quarters. Like the prisoners you would see in Hollywood movies, or on television documentaries, most inmates boast tattoos. The most extraordinary, artistic and elaborate ones that you are ever likely to see. An inmate once explained it to me. “All our personal possessions are lost along the way, in prison transfers, in thefts, or confiscated by guards in cell raids,” he said. “We have no mementos or photos of past lives, home or family, no digital images. So our bodies are our permanent photo-albums.”
In the aftermath of examinations, the boys in Year 10 are pursuing a Project Based Learning (PBL) initiative – a concept that is being explored in contemporary learning environments in schools and universities across the world. Launched by Fr Jeremy Clarke SJ, who was involved in PBL learning when teaching at Boston University in Massachusetts, the project is asking the boys to select, research, analyse, interpret and synthesise information using a process of heuristic, collaborative, and exploratory learning.
Wednesday signified the ‘hump’ of the term so we are now on the other side of the home run with just nineteen schooling days remaining until the mid-year break. A term which is notoriously short and compressed by an intense examination and assessment schedule, it is timely for the boys to take stock of the revision schedules that will see them well placed to confront the rigours of what lies ahead over the coming weeks. Teachers are assisting the boys to undertake systematic revision of key concepts and course content over the weeks ahead; however, this needs to be augmented by structured and coherent study programs that are factored into homework schedules.
An innocent enough question from that lawyer to Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Jesus responded with a parable rather than a definition – the story of The Good Samaritan. That story broke every barrier of sectarianism, cultural history and baggage, prejudice and insularity imaginable for his Jewish audience. In our time, looking after one’s neighbour challenges self-interest, myopia and that old Australian cop-out, “I’m alright, Jack”. In the broadest of visions, Ignatius used to tell his Jesuits, “The world is our home.” In that tradition in which we find ourselves. It is a reason that impels us to send our young men to serve on Immersions. It is something to be reminded of.
NAPLAN testing was conducted at the College throughout the week, with the boys in Year 5, 7 and 9 undertaking national assessments in literacy and numeracy, respectively. In all, approximately four hours of tests were conducted in Language Conventions, Writing, Reading and Numeracy across three successive days so the boys responded to an intense assessment framework. While the College believes that the testing regime is important to establish school profiles against state and national profiles, it does not specifically teach to, or focus on the testing, as a formal and dedicated emphasis in the educational program. It was obvious that the boys approached the assessments in a serious and measured manner, the results of which will be analysed to inform key areas of improvement into the future.
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?
On the eve of the centenary of the ANZAC Day commemoration, students from St Aloysius College and Saint Ignatius’ College gathered in the pristine surrounds of the Rose Garden to formally and symbolically honour the significance of the occasion. In front of a genealogical descendant of the Lone Pine tree, led by the echoing theatrics of the Drum Line and the clipped military precision of the Cadet Unit, the ceremony attested to the gravity and the dignity of the event that has captured the imagination of Australian cultural history. It was a decidedly school event, with students taking centre stage in reciting poetry, placing wreaths and witnessing a ceremony that honoured the Old Boys from both schools who lost lives across the tumultuous events of the ANZAC campaign and in other theatres of conflict since.
In the aftermath of a very busy term it is timely for all who belong to the school community to enter into a period of reflection: discernment about those aspects of schooling and life that have gone well in conjunction with those that need to be object of concerted focus for improvement into the future. This is the Ignatian way – something that has been at the forefront of Ignatian spirituality for centuries. Experience, reflection and action – a tripartite compulsion that captures the essence of daily life and one that is particularly valuable in the aftermath of a sustained period of activity.
“Some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2)
When we move into the realm of mystery, sometimes it may be explored more in the imagination than in reason. Throughout the centuries, great mysteries of our faith were revealed to communities in stained glass windows and in paintings. Scenes for the observer to enter, to sit with, to wonder at.
This week we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord by the archangel Gabriel to Mary. Mary’s 'yes' in the liturgical year marks nine months until Christmas. Beyond that, it marks a turning point in the divine economy, in God’s strategy to redeem a world fallen from grace. God embracing humankind.
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).
More than two hundred Year 7 boys rushed eagerly to the Rose Garden on Tuesday at recess. The College Executive was serving them pancakes! Shrove Tuesday was the occasion, the eve of Ash Wednesday. The lads’ emerging vocabulary would know little of that quaint adjective, shrove. This day was traditionally when sins were confessed and shriven or forgiven.
One of the distinguishing features of Ignatian spirituality lies in the strength of community that is formed through a deep regard for hospitality and welcome. It is for this reason that one of the most enjoyable aspects of a new school year is meeting the boys and their families who join the College, the majority being in Year 5 and Year 7. As Principal, I have the pleasure of spending some time with the boys in selected year levels, learning about their hopes and dreams and how Riverview can assist in their realisation.
Last week, I returned home at the end of a three-week immersion with Year 10-11 students. We were in the Philippines, working in poor communities with squatters, staying at an orphanage, spending time with street kids, with women in an asylum, helping care for people at a home for abandoned elderly. By the end of Year 11 about half of our boys will elect to go on such an immersion to one of about eight locations overseas.
A favourite New Testament text of mine is by Paul in a letter penned to the Philippians. Paul speaks of a God who steps out of a heavenly realm of glory, detaches himself from infinity and from timelessness, who clings to nothing, who gives away all — to be incarnated.
Last Friday the Annual General Meeting of the Old Ignatians’ Union was held, which I attended. Two days later was Sunday’s Feast of Christ the King with its Gospel of the ‘sheep and goats’ last judgment story. The account presented of the Union’s outreach and service throughout the last year prompted me to offer this homily at the Boarders’ Mass on Chapel Sunday.
These last few weeks, I have been attending an international Jesuit education conference in Spain with Mr John Gilles, Director of Religious Formation at the College. We were exploring those four cornerstones of Jesuit formation in schools – producing students of competence, conscience, compassion and commitment. These qualities, our tradition holds, fit students to enter the world and really make a difference. Yet when we imagine how to take up such a bold mission, a heroic stance, a sacrifical self-offering, we do not always think of a grounding in intellectual competencies. But this week, Jesuits world-wide have been commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of a modern day massacre and martyrdom which puts paid to such thinking.
The year moves more deeply into its latter stages with a number of year levels completing their final examinations over recent weeks. Students in the Middle School undertook their examinations in week five while the boys in Year 10 spent most of the week immersed in their final assessments for the year.
In recent weeks I have been exploring with some of our staff one of the so-called ‘Ignatian Foundational Insights’. These insights, fundamental to the success of Ignatius’ ministries to others, are: Dreams and Desires (taking seriously one’s deepest imaginings, entertaining and exploring all those possibilities of ‘what might be’ and ‘who I might become’ so as to discern our truest and most authentic life choices), Service (the realization that the only life worth living is one spent in the service of others, especially those who have the greatest claim on our time, talents and treasure), Finding God in all things (cultivating a spirituality that, apart from prayer and liturgy, readily finds God’s traces in creation, in human history and in others), and Holy Conversations (those richest communications that are at once pastoral, formational and spiritual).
The Synod on the Family in Rome is drawing to a close. At least the first phase is – this body reconvenes next year after reflecting on this initial gathering. There are more than 250 members, including 38 non-voting observers, among whom are 14 married couples.