Friday 29 January 2021

Meet Fr Tom

It is wonderful to once again be a member of the College Community. Welcome back to our returning students and families and a very warm welcome to our new students and their families. Over the last week the staff have gathered for a number of professional learning days considering various topics including child protection, furthering a performance culture associated with risk and compliance, reflecting on the outstanding results of the Class of 2020, considering our teaching and learning practice and undertaking, among other things, updates on First Aid and CPR. A great experience of finding God in all things! We also gathered together in the Rose Garden last Friday to celebrate the mass of the Holy Spirit, giving thanks for the gift of each other, our students and their families and praying for God’s blessing on all we do this year. In the coming days, we will celebrate a number of opening school masses of the Holy Spirit for the students across different year levels.

As many of you know, I graduated from the College as a member of the Class of 1990. As I drove out of the College with my mother Judy and my aunt Margie with all of my belongings from the boarding house, never did I imagine that I would return 30 years later as the College Rector. This is one of the wonderful things about our God of surprises! Like my grandfather, Peter (OR1930), my father Peter (OR1961) and my three brothers, Peter (OR1986), Hugh (OR1993) and Patrick (OR1999), I was a boarding student at the College. Our experience of a Jesuit education helped transform our lives and empowered each of us, in our different ways, to develop our God-given talents to make a contribution in our society.

After graduating from the College, I returned home to Queanbeyan and went to the Australian National University where I completed an Arts/Law degree. I returned to Sydney in 1996 and worked as a lawyer for three years at Freehill Hollingdale and Page (now Herbert Smith Freehills) before joining the Society of Jesus in 1999. As part of my Jesuit formation I taught at Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt in 2000 and 2004 and I was ordained a priest in 2007. From 2008 until June 2014, I was at Xavier College in Melbourne and was the College Rector from 2010 until June 2014. Following this, I undertook the final stage of Jesuit formation called tertianship in Portland, Oregon, which included a wonderful three months as the assistant pastor at the College Church attached to St Louis University, Missouri. Afterwards I lived in San Francisco for 18 months undertaking a Masters in Catholic Educational Leadership at the University of San Francisco – one of the 28 Jesuit universities in the USA. In recent years I have been the Chair of Jesuit Education Australia and the Provincial’s Delegate for Educational Ministries while living at the Hawthorn parish in Melbourne. It has been a joy over the last three years to work closely with Mr Greg Mackay, the College Board Chair, the College Board, Dr Paul Hine and my predecessors as College Rector as we implemented the new governance structures for the College and the wider Jesuit educational ministry in Australia.

In late January 2020 I was at a meeting of the St Aloysius College Board and I was standing on the roof of our brother school looking across the harbour to the Opera House. We had just experienced a terrible summer of bushfires in which over 20 people were killed in New South Wales. There was widespread destruction of property, especially on the South Coast, and a significant part of the state was in drought. We had just started to hear about the first cases of this new coronavirus, coming out of Wuhan in China. While taking in the vista of our beautiful harbor, a person asked me if I thought we may have to close our borders to international arrivals. Rather naively, I said I could never imagine that happening. Many, if not all of us, could ever have imagined that last year would unfold in the way it did, and while we have a low rate of infection in our country, COVID-19 continues to impact directly on our lives with various restrictions still in place.

While COVID-19 remains a significant part of our current context, the Society of Jesus and all of our works globally – including all Jesuit schools – are focusing on four universal apostolic preferences (UAP’s) Over this decade of the 2020s. The UAPs are:

  • showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
  • walking with the poor and the marginalised in a mission of reconciliation and justice,
  • accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future; and
  • caring for our common home.

In this time of uncertainty emanating from the ongoing pandemic, we seek to walk with our students and their families in creating a hope-filled future. This year we will begin this by proclaiming the following words from the prophet Jeremiah at the opening school masses for the students,

Thus says the Lord:

For surely I know the plans I have for you,
plans for your welfare and not for harm,
to give you a future with hope.
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me,
I will hear you.
When you search for me, you will find me;
if you seek me with all your heart,
I will let you find me.
(Jer 29:10-14)

I am grateful for the welcome I have already received, and I look forward to meeting many of you throughout the year. Wishing you and your family every blessing.

Fr Tom Renshaw