‘Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice’ was the theme for the triennial Jesuit and Jesuit Companion Schools Australia Education Conference.
Over 120 participants representing the Jesuit Education Apostolate (JEA), Social Apostolate, Young Adult Ministry Apostolate and visiting Tertians gathered at the Athelstone campus of Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide, to explore the themes of the Universal Apostolic Preferences, the Province priorities — particularly the Bookends project — and the 2017 Rio Congress action statements, and ways to enact the challenges set by them.
The conference was designed to ensure the participants were provided with an understanding of the Australian historical context and contemporary experience of refugees and asylum seekers and the First Nations People, and how Ignatian spirituality and discernment can assist in reflecting on these issues.
After being welcomed to country by Kaurna Elder John Lochowiak, the Provincial, Fr Brian McCoy SJ, called us to join Christ in service — which is at the heart of the Spiritual Exercises.
‘That key element of being “men and women for others” is about generosity and sacrifice, looking beyond ourselves in the example of Christ, caring for the needs of others, sometimes at some cost to ourselves’, he said.
He asked the schools to consider inviting families who wish to engage with the Jesuit and Ignatian education experience, to join us in a ‘faith journey where we search together for a deeper and more authentic Catholic expression of Australian spirituality, and allow our Ignatian spirituality to guide us in discovering a new Christian dance in this land’.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ spoke on the history of refugees, asylum seekers and First Nations people, and shared his own experiences working in these areas over many years. He spoke about his engagement with ‘both sides of the riverbed’ and ‘the questions that can be raised about the other, depending on which side of the riverbed you stand on’.
‘Good education at a fine school can provide a bridge across the river. The bridge needs moral, political and legal pylons’, he said, but added that to cross the river and stand in solidarity with the other requires a relationship. ‘What relationships do you want to cultivate as Jesuit educators so that you might be invited to stand in solidarity with those on the other side?’
Fr Ross Jones SJ, Rector of St Aloysius College Milsons’s Point, explored discernment and its place in contemporary Jesuit education; Nishadh Rego of JRS Australia shared stories of refugees and asylum seekers currently accompanied by JRS, and Shawn Andrews spoke of the work of his business ‘Inidigicate’ to connect learners with Indigenous culture.
The next two days were focused on taking seriously our call to be collaborators in mission. Barbara Watkins, previous Principal of Loreto Normanhurst Sydney, engaged participants in an interactive presentation on what it means to lead mission and how best to translate mission into action.
Action-oriented workshops were then held among professional learning communities and individual schools. The fruits of these will be evidenced in action over the next few years.
Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ was guest speaker at the conference dinner. He articulated what a Jesuit and Ignatian school should give witness to and called participants to reflect on how others would observe our own schools in light of these characteristics.
Fr Thomas Renshaw SJ, Chair of JEA, provided an overview of the contemporary context for the governance of Jesuit education in Australia and expanded on the universal mission of the Jesuits, and the international Jesuit education priorities.
The conference provided an opportunity to build community, nurture relationships and give focus to the mission and our roles as companions on the mission. All speeches, liturgies and photos can be found on the conference website.
It is with much gratitude that we thank Peter Coffey, Fr Peter Hosking SJ (Principal and Rector respectively of Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide) and the entire Athelstone community for the generosity and incredible welcome they extended to all participants.
Jennie Hickey is Executive Officer of the Jesuit Education Apostolate.
With thanks to the Australian Jesuits.