From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 9 February 2018 | Fr Jack McLain SJ
Pursuing the Magis
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.
At the Year 11 Arrupe Academy this week, we were speaking about Ignatius and the range of extraordinary experiences which were his over a lifetime. I think we are very fortunate to have Ignatius as our patron. He is reflective, but very much a man of action. He has experienced a world of excesses and vanities, but also a world where a search for meaning and honest discernment could lead him to his true self.
It suggested that Ignatius preferred to settle in large cities, “leaving the valleys for St Bernard’s monks; the mountains for the Benedictines; and the towns for the Franciscan friars.” That was because Ignatius would only undertake to open colleges where abundant funds were forthcoming and when the sites chosen suited him in every way. Places that could achieve ‘the more’, the greater good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome back!! It is my hope and prayer that families return to school with a healthy spirit of reflective discernment in the aftermath of the break, and are poised to confront the rigours of the term ahead. With the space that holidays have afforded it is worth appraising the way that the first half of the year has unfolded, and, what that means for the next ten weeks of teaching and learning. It is, by any standards, a busy schedule – between the timing of the Trial HSC Examinations in just 15 teaching days, an intense GPS sporting calendar, the Art and TAS Exhibitions in Week 6, all of which will culminate in the senior secondary with Valete and Graduation in just under nine weeks time. Rather than be pulled like centripetal force into the momentum of these events, it is prudent to approach the intensity of the schedule with measured purpose and system in order to emerge with optimum opportunity and efficacy.
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.
I imagine that Ignatius, bed-bound as he was in the family castle recuperating from battlewounds, would have longed to be soon back on his feet. As his convalescence stretched into months and his heart began to stir for a bolder setting-forth, the lure of the pilgrim attracted him. Ignatius was starting to dream about serving God in new and daring ways. Taking risks into the unknown. Becoming a pilgrim to the Holy Land: converting the Muslims and thereby inviting a death sentence. Ignatius did eventually take to the road across northern Spain, by mule, against all the family’s advice. He stopped at a small town, Manresa, within a few kilometres of the mountainous abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat. There he stayed almost a year. The steep climb to the abbey for prayer and for spiritual direction from the monks was an enormously formative time for Ignatius as he explored where God might be calling him.
Year 12 End of Semester Examinations conclude today after the relentless march of the assessment schedule over the last fortnight. Interim reports for other year levels have been distributed so parents and students are well placed to evaluate the level of progress that has been secured over the early weeks of the year. More than to provide feedback about performance thus far, these reports offer an opportunity for reflection and discernment about what lies ahead. Be that consolidation of existing study and work routines, modifications to attend to difficulties that have been encountered, or more intensive programs that need to be entered into.
“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.
On a morning that dawned fresh and crisp before giving way to magnificent autumn skies, the final round of the GPS summer sporting season came to a close last Saturday. The fields, pitches, courts and arenas came alive with the breadth of the Co-Curricular program producing some memorable wins (such as a premiership for Open B Tennis and undefeated status for two of the Basketball teams) and some disappointing losses (such as the Open VI Cricket team which lost on the last ball of the day!). Boys of all ages in codes as diverse as Tennis, Cricket, Sailing, Baseball – the latter which saw the very first ever played at Riverview, as well as Fencing and Basketball, participated with great endeavour and did so in accord with the spirit that has been part of GPS competition throughout its illustrious history.
The College grounds have never looked greener. So appropriate as we celebrate our Irish heritage in the month of St Patrick. If I were writing this column forty years ago, I would be doing so from home. Those of an older generation like myself would remember that St Patrick’s Day merited a holiday for all Catholic schools (much to the chagrin of our non-Catholic friends in other school systems). To celebrate the occasion, there was always a St Patrick’s Day march through most of the country’s capitals, led by every imaginable ecclesiastical dignitary and representing as many Catholic organisations as possible that made up the fabric of the Church and nation.
Study skills are featuring prominently at the present time at different levels across the College. As part of a new initiative to strengthen learning at the senior secondary level, Elevate Educate has been seconded to deliver a three part program to Year 12 students that begins early in the year, reaching a high point in the aftermath of Trial Examinations in Term 3. Key elements of the program will focus on study skills, revision techniques and examination preparation in a structured and focused manner.
Today is the official ‘hump’ of the term; the half-way point of the first quarter of the academic year. That it has come around so very quickly is testament to the speed with which life moves at Riverview, the events of the week carrying their own momentum and impact.
Last Sunday I moved off-campus to spend a few hours watching some of our boys compete at the NSW Junior and Youth Athletics Championships at Olympic Park. We had six boys (and two Old Ignatians) contending there. I knew of some of them training through the summer months, faithful to early rising, hot days, long jogs, gyms and drills. I remembered, too, the very telling title of that short story, written a half-century ago now, 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner', later made into a movie.