Friday 13 February 2015

Ignatian Spirituality and Service

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. In any given year there is a mixture of boys who are sons of old boys, siblings who are already in the College and those who have had no previous connection. It is not widely known that Saint Ignatius College currently has 45 boys from 11 different countries of the world who come to board in secondary school, a large proportion of them sons of Australian nationals living off shore. Thus, a very diverse range of students from every state and territory in Australia – from capital cities to the bush (with the exception of Tasmania), as well as countries as distant as the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, China, the United States, Japan and Malaysia, form part of the very rich tapestry of life, bringing with them a wide ranges of global perspectives and vibrant cultural experiences. It is indeed an honour and a privilege to spend time with the boys early in the year and to appreciate the unique and changing circumstances from which they come.

On Tuesday evening over 200 new parents gathered for a dinner in Ramsay Hall to celebrate their entry into the community. Fr Ross and I had the pleasure of addressing the forum about key elements of Ignatian spirituality and identified priorities in school development over the next five years. Such occasions provide meaningful opportunities to meet parents and to share information as families begin their lengthy journey over the coming years, culminating for the boys in Year 5 and Year 7 with graduation in 2020 and 2022, respectively!

Students in Year 11 are participating in Reflection Days over a two week period; in so doing they engage in a ‘spiritual exercise’ that is synonymous with an Ignatian tradition that spans the better part of 500 years. The boys are asked to pause from their daily routines and schedules, to go inward and appreciate the many endowments that are part of life at the College and indeed Australia. As part of that process, they are asked to consider their relationships, particularly those that relate to faith, family and friends. Amid the daily speed with which life transpires in senior secondary, it is important that the boys carve time to attend to their spiritual welfare alongside of so many other competing priorities. Special thanks are extended to the Heads of House and the Assistant Heads of House who provide these meaningful experiences that promote inner growth and faith.

Continuing the theme of reflection, the boys who participated in the immersions to Nepal and the Philippines gathered with their families throughout the week to relive the extraordinary experiences that produced so much by way of personal growth through the faith through service program. More than a cultural tourism program, these young men confronted and lived with the adversity that is part of life for 1.4 billion people on the fringes across the world. By working in disadvantaged schools, building homes, caring for the sick and visiting the dying, the boys engaged in that most distinctive and respected virtues of Ignatian education – service. One could not help but be impressed with the maturity, the generosity and the integrity of these men who, through such experiences develop a deep understanding of, and response to, global citizenship. Many thanks are extended to the staff who, during their holiday time, ‘companion’ these boys along the way.

Energy abounded in the Gartlan on Wednesday when the boys from the Regis Campus participated in their annual Swimming Carnival. The cacophony of engagement was apparent from across the grounds as the boys cheered on their teams, entering fully into the spirit of the day. Since half of the boys were new to the College this was a timely event, not only in bringing the school together, but in promoting a strong sense of community in a spirit of healthy endeavour and competition.

Out of the sight-line a group of approximately 30 members of the immediate and extended Riverview family, met last Sunday evening to begin a new volunteer program to assist boys with special needs who need extra help with their schooling. Coordinated by John Allen (OR 81), this program dovetails into the other support programs delivered by the Old Ignatians Union, which also includes the Indigenous and Refugee Mentor programs. What was particularly instructive about the gathering was the breadth of life experience of those who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise, from students who graduated from school in 2014 through to those of senior years who have retired from professions but now wish to give back to the community. This speaks to the heartland of Ignatian service; namely, the willingness of those who have particular skills and abilities to marshal them in support of those who have real and acute needs. Unlike the Indigenous Mentor program that is in its 10th year, the volunteer tutoring program is a pilot in 2015, one that is intended to build an ongoing structure to support students throughout the school over the years ahead.

Dr Paul Hine