Friday 13 October 2017

Who We Are

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. The players followed this up by spending two days of their holidays administering and coaching at the Basketball Special Olympics hosted by the College. Thereafter they took to the courts for the Australian Jesuit Schools’ Basketball in Melbourne and the Sydney Shootout, where they performed very creditably. They reinforce once again that Riverview is more than a school. This is a family. A community with a social conscience. And we do things more deeply.

This week our new student leadership team announced the student motto for the coming year: many wolves, one pack. As in the past, it attempts to capture who we are. It spells out our values. It makes clear our relationship to each other here and to the community beyond. This year, it acknowledges diversity of talent, culture and interest, but all within the unity of College’s common mission. These mottoes change from year to year, expressing our sense of self and our vision, in ever fresh ways. They are all different lenses through which to view who we are. Different faces of the same diamond, that precious stone of our core values.

One of those values of outreach and generosity was brought home to me when I received a letter recently from an Old Ignatian from the class of 1944. He told me an anecdote about the famous Brother Doyle here. Generations have seen his name on that stone in the Doyle Wing at the eastern end of the cloister. Bernard Doyle was an Irishman who emigrated to Australia, joined the Jesuits as a brother, aged 34, and was a member of the Riverview community from 1888 to 1936, almost forty years. In those years, he came to know many people in the business world of Sydney. Br Doyle found a benefactor to purchase the organ in the Dalton Chapel. He then arranged for hot water showers to be installed for boarders in the senior divisions – something we now take for granted, but which was a luxury then. No one quite knew where Br Doyle found the funds. The stone in the Doyle Wing says the building was “Erected by a Friend of Br Doyle”. Some say his mystery friend had four legs. That is, he was a horse, and that Br Doyle was a very astute punter at the races. We will never know.

That Old Boy who wrote to me, told me about an orphanage run by the Parramatta Sisters of Mercy. It was St Michael’s at Baulkham Hills, then way out in the bush. In the 1930s times were very tough. Australia was in the grip of the Great Depression. Between 1930 and 1935, the number of students at Riverview had halved – dropping to only 132 in 1935. We were on the verge of closing. But life at St Michael’s orphanage was far, far worse. A history of the orphanage records the memories of one of the orphans in that time. He wrote:

The staple diet was bread and dripping (animal cooking fat) night and morning. And boiled rice for dinner. Liquid was the previous day’s left-over milk from the farm dairy mixed with hot water to make it go round. There were two candles on each table … which, to vary the diet, the boys passed the bread over, calling it toast. I never knew what a potato or meat was like till I was about nine years of age.

A brother from Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview, was on a visit to the orphanage and saw the appalling diet we had. He went back to Riverview, told the boys of the situation and asked them for any spare pocket money. The boys responded magnificently. Once a month, the brother, Brother Doyle, brought over a hundredweight of potatoes (that is, over 50 kg) and a couple of trays of mince meat. After the meal, the plates never needed washing, as, to a boy, the plates were licked clean.

That was a story from the Depression. When Riverview families and the school were themselves both doing it tough. I tell that story not to boast of what we did. I retell it to remind ourselves again of who we are. And who we are to be. That, as the Gospel says, “from those who have been given much, much more is to be expected”. Ignatius himself once wrote:

“Be generous to the poor, to orphans and to those in need. The man to whom our Lord has been liberal ought not to be stingy.”

That’s what Ignatius called us to nearly half a millennium ago. To be liberal – not stingy. It is what Brother Doyle and fellows like our current boys did in the toughest of times here, some eighty years back.

Now it is the turn of the current generation. As those basketballers were doing. Another year ahead for large hearts and for a generous spirit – remembering who we are, and who we are always called to be.

Fr Ross Jones SJ