From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
From the rector & principal of saint ignatius’ college riverview
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Friday 31 August 2018 | Fr Jack McLain SJ
Building the Kingdom, Changing the World
This week I’m conscious of the contribution that First Nations men have made to our College community for many years. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a dinner honouring Bruce Turnbull (OR1995), the third First Nations man to graduate from the College. Bruce lives out his call to be a man for others by teaching in the First Nations community in Bourke, NSW. It’s these small changes that we choose to make each and every day that will build the Kingdom of God.
The 1st XV Rugby over the weekend – the great historical clash with Joeys – was, in its own poignant way, a metaphor for life. In the final moments of the build-up to the big game, the unprecedented happened as the upright goal post at the southern end of First Field lurched and capitulated under the unseasonal wind, snapping off at the collar that held it firmly to the ground. In disbelief, the crowd of approximately 10,000 who were waiting expectantly for the teams to enter the playing arena hushed, wondering what would follow.
The occupancy of the Therry Building during the week, after 18 months of intensive building works, gave cause to reflect on the humble beginnings of the early years at St Ignatius’ College. On the eve of the College closing for its first decade, Fr Dalton addressed a gathering of the community in the following way:
So, on Monday after our staff prayer, I followed the buzzing crowd of boys as we began the first wave of students occupying the new Therry building. Walking along, watching classes getting started, watching young men lay claim to the title of ‘First!’ in using a brand new learning facility, seeing all the hard work of the planning and building come to fruition as students excitedly entered the building and classrooms was really energising to witness.
Last Friday, the boys from the Regis campus gathered eagerly for their perennial Leadership Assembly to discover who had been elected as Student Leaders for 2018. Mr Matt Smith, the Head of the Regis campus, reminded the boys that their democratic engagement in the process of nomination and selection was integral to the quality of leadership that would be exercised by those who were given the responsibility of office over the coming year.
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.
Over the last century, Riverview has toiled with great determination and persistence in the Head of the River – one of the most competitive and highly regarded regattas in Australia. On four occasions only has the College won the event since the competition began in 1893, and prior to last Saturday the last time Riverview canvass took honours was in 1975.
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.
We were very fortunate to have one of Australia’s sporting greats, former Australian Wallaby Captain and one of the select few to win two Rugby World Cups – John Eales, as Special Guest at the Co-curricular Assembly during the week. A graduate of Marist College Ashgrove and a former parent of Riverview, John has an intimate knowledge of catholic schools and the values upon which they rest. His address to the boys resonated deeply with the Ignatian story, as he exhorted the boys to embrace their co-curricular life in a way that produces appreciable gains for the team and the community, beyond the singularity of the individual.
As we move to the latter stages of the term I am constantly reminded of the diversity of the educational program at the College and the opportunity the boys have to participate at so many different levels. If Riverview is something of a proverbial jewel, it comprises many facets with an integrated sense of both complementarity and aspiration, fully in accord with its foundation and its tradition.
Over recent weeks the boys in Year 10 have been pursuing a Project Based Learning (PBL) activity entitled Magis 5K. More than a standardised research assignment, it utilises problem-based learning that involves transdisciplinary skills of collaboration, systematic investigation, analysis and synthesis to arrive at reasoned and sustained conclusions. The proposition in itself has been challenging: How can we generate the greatest impact in response to the greatest need?Students were asked to look around the world at areas of desperate need and then research, assess and provide responses which would hold the best long term and sustainable futures, be they to the paucity of electricity in villages in the Himalayas, nutrition levels of diet in nutrient-poor regions of the world, disease in countries where it is endemic, or institutional oppression of the dispossessed and vulnerable. These are big questions that require macro-analysis and discernment, questions that demand different perspectives to be considered and evaluated. And, they need to be the object of rigorous interrogation in order to respond to the complexities that are inherent to each situation in its contextual setting. All projects were presented to a senior judging panel from Jesuit Mission who assessed the calibre of the work, and, they were mightily impressed with the boys’ work. In its own way, Magis 5K has become part of the lexicon at Year 10 and this spirit is permeating much of the educational program, be it in Religious Education, English or the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) that are the object of so much endeavour across the school.
June 1st signalled the first day of winter, after what has been an unprecedented period of the most stunning autumn weather in Sydney. As if on script, the rain arrived and brought with it some blustery but refreshing weather that has greened the landscape of the school and feathered the lawns to soften the pitches for the winter codes. In keeping with Ignatian spirituality it is easy to ‘find God in all things’, in the sheer beauty of the natural world, in the inherent goodness of our young men, in the richness of the school community and an educational system which is aspirational and forward moving.
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.
The very first Rugby clash between Riverview and Joeys is etched into the history books back in 1907 and the Alma records ‘The game was fast and fearless, and played from start to finish in admirable spirit.’ In a match that was a portent for the future, it ended in a draw – 11 All. This wonderful tradition was continued under magnificent autumn skies at Hunters Hill last Saturday in front of a crowd of approximately 6,000, and the descriptor of its historical counterpart was as relevant as the clash was 109 years ago. While the contest contained a fierce but fair competitiveness on the field, the pageantry and theatre of the war cries that have echoed for a century resonated with emotional impact off the field. Chants of RRIIIVEERRVIEW were countered with the Sub Tuum; the latter synonymous with Marist schools throughout the world. It was one of those gala occasions, like the perennial Gold Cup and Head of the River, where the entire community became involved and the spirit of both the GPS and the respective schools was on abundant display. It was a salient reminder of the rich tradition that exists in schools such as Riverview and Joeys along with the rallying cry of the community to produce such a wonderful contest and a memorable spectacle. Congratulations to all, the boys on the field who got over the line after a titanic struggle, and, the many who supported the occasion.
The freshness of the holidays has already been folded into the routines of classes and study. There is a palpable sense of purpose about the school and this is obvious in the intensity with which the boys are approaching their assessment regimes, which loom large over the weeks ahead. While some of the exciting initiatives in STEM continue to evolve across the Regis campus, the boys in Year 12 are processing their End of Semester Examination results and what that means for future consolidation of core course principles and priorities. Term 2 is characterised by little down time and at the end of the second week it is clear there is much to be accomplished over the coming weeks in preparation for examinations and major assessments.
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.
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.
After the ardours, the rewards, the low points and the highlights of the last four weeks, the Year 9 Challenge comes to completion today. That it has had its ‘challenges’ is abundantly clear, from drenching rain in the early weeks to the highest November temperature in a decade in the latter stages (which among other things, forced the evacuation of the Mentors program!!), with all of the corollaries in between. But, it is over and the boys remain the beneficiaries of the experience, largely through the development of pietas – that forging of character that will enable these young men to see the difficulties and the diversity of their world and respond accordingly. At the middle stages of adolescence, they still have much to forge, but, the imprint of this experience is strong and will remain part of their reflection over the weeks ahead, and, decisive in their formation as they progress into the middle and senior secondary years. Special thanks are extended to the coordinator of the program, Mr Adrian Byrne, to the teachers, parents and the supporters who assisted (at times cajoled!!) the boys across the line, and of course to the boys who participated with open hearts and open minds; the comrades in arms who helped each other across some of the most difficult sections of the program.
This edition of Viewpoint is penned from Asia. On Saturday, Fr Ross, Mr Masters and I left on a ten-day tour of the Riverview confraternity who live in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing. The aim of Riverview in Asia is the same as that of Riverview in Dubbo or Mudgee, where the opportunity to spend time with families who are part of the community is so very important and so very worthwhile. It is also a chance to speak to the many initiatives and priorities that are consonant with the educational program at the College; in effect, a way of keeping our families who live at great distances well informed about the day-to-day events in the school. In addition to the social gatherings, a number of prospective boarding families were interviewed, those who have heard of the profile of the College and are keen to join a community that prides itself on a unique set of Jesuit and Ignatian educational principles. At different points across South East Asia, we were reminded that the first destination of the Jesuit diaspora was in China, where Matteo Ricci and Francis Xavier took the knowledge, the learning and the spirituality of the western world to exotic new frontiers, those that still remain today in historical buildings and records. Many thanks are extended to our host families who provided the best of Ignatian hospitality and shared in the warmth of community.
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.
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.
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.
The groove of Term 2 is well established as we come so rapidly to the end of the third week. Year 12 reports were distributed during the week and Year 11 reports to conclude the semester will follow in the next fortnight. Other year levels will be processed following End of Semester examinations as we move more deeply into the term. Notoriously shorter than the others, Term 2 has its own defining character with the fewest interruptions, the most intense consolidation of the learning program and the consummation of it with the End of Semester assessment regime. It is in this context that the boys are asked to make their own individual and committed response to their studies over the immediate weeks ahead.
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.