Staff from Jesuit and Ignatian schools met across five locations last week for the Province Education Ministry Conference, focusing on some of the broader issues facing educators in forming students, staff and parents.
Fr Steve Curtin SJ provided a framework for the conference in a video interview with journalist Geraldine Doogue, saying that Jesuit and Ignatian schools were succeeding in turning out smart and confident students, but were perhaps not as successful in giving them tools to deal with other struggles they would encounter in their lives.
Reflecting on his own experience, Fr Curtin said although his education provided him with an intellectual openness to the world, a lot of his spiritual development happened in the years after he left school, when he no longer had the support of his alma mater.
‘We need to follow our students after they leave school, because they continue to need support and need someone to turn to when they’re struggling’, he said.
He said young people were interested in the spiritual life, but needed to be better engaged.
‘I think it’s something we should persevere with, trying to find ways of worshipping and ways of praying that children and young people find helpful and nurturing’, he said.
Five schools hosted the various sessions of the conference, each focusing on a different area of the education ministry. Participants from each school, along with other representatives from Province ministries, listened to input from expert speakers, then engaged in conversations about how further improvement could be made to enhance and develop the uniqueness of Ignatian education.
At St Ignatius’ College Riverview, Sydney, Fr Chris Gleeson SJ and Dr Annette Pederson explored how the schools can approach the National Curriculum in an Ignatian way, taking on the need for schools to focus on ‘depth’ and ‘magis’ in education.
‘A young man in a big Canberra primary school said to me, “We are now teaching the grandchildren of the unchurched”’, Fr Gleeson told participants.
At John XXIII College in Perth, Fr Pedro Walpole SJ was joined by a range of guest speakers to explore how Jesuit and Ignatian schools are building issues of the environment, ecology and sustainability into their curriculum and ways of operating, and explore how these activities could be further developed.
At St Aloysius’ College Milsons Point, Sydney, Helen Smith and Fr Ross Jones SJ looked at what schools do to form students in the faith, both inside and outside the classroom, and ways this could be enhanced.
In his presentation, St Ignatius’ College Riverview Rector Fr Ross Jones said action and reflection must be an important part of any activity if students are to be fully formed.
‘Without reflection, the experience is just voyeurism or just a string of images to boast on Facebook. Without action, the reflection is merely idle, sterile speculation’, he said.
At Xavier College in Melbourne, Xavier College Principal Dr Christopher Hayes was joined by a panel of other experts in looking at how schools can better bring God into their co-curricular activities.
Fr Chris Hayes said that good education is about balancing the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual development of young people. Thus, sporting and other co-curricular activities should also challenge students to reflect more deeply on their experiences.
'The greater the depth of the experience, the greater the opportunity to reflect on the experience, then the greater the opportunity for action to follow’, he said.
Finally, at St Ignatius’ College, Adelaide, Martin Scroope and Fr Andrew Bullen SJ looked at what schools can do to better form staff and parents for the central role that they play in the mission of Ignatian education.
In his presentation, Fr Andrew Bullen SJ noted that it was important for schools, in all their activities, to challenge the prevailing culture. He said St Paul went to Areopagus, the centre of Greek culture, to engage with people, to bring Christ into the public space, and get people to engage with the important questions of faith. We must do the same.
‘Where are our kids? What’s their culture? I don’t want to hear heavy rock, but if that’s where it is, and I’m doing this Gospel stuff, where is the Areopagus for them? What is there to be honoured, and what might be critiqued, or encouraged to be its best?’ he asked.
While each hosting school organised the logistics of that portion of the event, the conference overall was organised by Province Education Delegate Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, and the Province Social Ministries Delegate and Delegate for Special Projects Mrs Jennie Hickey.
‘People were pleased to come together and share ideas around their particular area of focus. The conference has provided the opportunity to listen to others and begin networking’, said Mrs Hickey.
‘Jesuit education is over 450 years old – and we have now been challenged to articulate and make explicit the Ignatian way of proceeding within our own contexts. But we also know that there are a number of us doing the same across Australia.
‘It was the start of an extended agenda that is going to carry on through various levels of our schools well past the end of this event.’