Friday 5 February 2021

Laureates, Riverview Jesuits and St Paul Miki

Congratulations to the Class of 2020. It was a great privilege to be part of the Laureate Assembly this morning where we acknowledged over 100 students from last year. As a Jesuit school, we seek to form young men who embody human excellence in all aspects of life. As a fellow Old Ignatian, it was an honour for me to celebrate our Laureates today. I thank them and their families for all they have contributed to the Riverview Community and on behalf of the Jesuit Community, I wish the Class of 2020 every blessing as they go forth into the world.

As I was watching the 2nd XI play cricket on First Field last Saturday, a student’s father asked me how many Jesuits live in the Riverview Jesuit Community. It may surprise you to know that there are six Jesuits who form the Riverview Jesuit Community. Three of us are Old Boys of the College and the other three Jesuits are alumni of different Jesuit schools in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. This year the members of the Riverview Jesuit Community are:

  • Fr Joe Dooley SJ (OR1968) is our College Chaplain and the Acting Superior of the Jesuit Community. Many of you may remember Fr Joe as a Jesuit scholastic teaching here in the 1970s or from his time at the College between 1998 and 2012, especially as a former Head of Chisholm House. He returned to the College in 2018 and continues to love our community with great enthusiasm;
  • Fr Michael Hansen SJ (OR 1969) is the National Director of the First Spiritual Exercises, a work of Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA) based out of Canisius College in Pymble. You may like to visit the JISA website.
  • Fr Gerald Brennan was a member of the College staff in the 1980s and again over the last decade, assisting with Mathematics and with various masses. Earlier this week, Fr Gerald celebrated his Diamond Jubilee (60 years) as a Jesuit and has signalled that he would like to move towards semi-retirement this year;
  • Fr Steve Sinn was also a member of the College staff in the late 1980s and a former Head of Claver House. Following 17 years at St Canice’s Parish in Elizabeth Bay, Fr Steve established the Bridge Community in Bathurst where he continues to live. The Bridge Community accompanies men and women as they seek to re-adjust to life following their release from jail. Fr Steve spends a number of days each week with us;
  • Fr Michael Kelly has been involved in the communications ministry for the last four decades, including the last decade being based in Asia. In 2020, Fr Mick returned to Australia. Not long after his return, he unfortunately experienced an aneurysm which resulted in an amputation of his left leg above the knee. While focussing on his ongoing recovery and rehabilitation, he continues to be involved in the communications ministry producing a daily five-minute podcast reflecting on the Gospel for each day. This year Fr Mick is hoping to be engaged in hospital chaplaincy and assisting with various masses on weekends at Neutral Bay. Fr Kelly will celebrate his Golden Jubilee (50 years) as a Jesuit in March; and
  • I have the privilege of being the College Rector.

Tomorrow is the feast day of St Paul Miki, a Jesuit brother who was martyred in 1597 in Nagasaki. St Paul was born in Japan around 1564, only 15 years after St Francis Xavier first set foot in Japan. St Paul was educated by the early Jesuit missionaries who followed in the footsteps of Xavier and he joined the Jesuits in 1580. While he was undertaking his Jesuit formation, Paul was known for being an eloquent preacher. Many Japanese people were attracted to Christianity and were baptised, with Nagasaki becoming the centre of Japanese Christianity. The Japanese who embraced Christianity were seen as a threat by the Taiko, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who ruled Japan in the name of the Emperor. Consequently in 1597, many of the Christian churches were destroyed and over 3000 people were martyred, including a group of 26 men who were crucified in Nagaski following a forced march lasting 30 days from Miako to Nagasaki. One of these 26 men was St Paul Miki. As he hung on the cross, he decided to make a final profession of faith. St Paul looked at the crowds and said in a loud voice:

“All of you who are here, please, listen to me. I did not come from the Philippines, I am Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and I see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

Some of you may recall the 2016 movie Silence directed by Martin Scorsese, which depicted the ongoing struggles and persecution of Catholics following the ban of Catholicism in 1614 in Japan. Catholic missionaries did not return to Japan for over 250 years, arriving again in the 1860s. Much to their surprise, they found Christian communities living in and around Nagasaki who had secretly preserved the faith inspired by the example of St Paul Miki and his 25 companions. Today there is a museum, monument and chapel on Martyrs Hill overlooking Nagasaki. Recalling the lives of saints such as St Paul, can inspire us to give thanks for the gift of our own faith and the reality that we are able to gather together freely as faith communities without the same fear of persecution.

Wishing you all every blessing.

Fr Tom Renshaw