The 2015 Province Gathering was a time to remember and acknowledge the past, to take stock of the present and look forward to the future.
Around 85 Jesuits and 120 lay people came together for the gathering from Monday 14 December to Wednesday 16 December at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, in Sydney.
With 2016 marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Irish Jesuits in Australia, a number of the presentations were devoted to exploring the story of the Irish Jesuits in Australia, with special guest Fr Bruce Bradley SJ joining the gathering from Ireland (see full story here).
The conference began, however, with a moving ceremony acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy was joined by local Cameragyl man Kaleb Taylor for the ceremony and procession from the waterside to Ramsay Hall.
The participants were separated into two groups — one representing the Cameragyl people, and the other representing the first Jesuits to arrive in Australia.
Along the walk, people were asked to reflect in silence on the question: 'If you were one of the first Jesuits, and knowing now what you know about the history of Australia, what would you say to the Cameragyl people?'
Following the smoking ceremony, a pair of Irish musicians took over leading the procession, and began the Irish-themed portion of the gathering.
Inspiration from Pope Francis
Along with remembering the contribution of the Irish, the other main focus of the conference was on how the example of Pope Francis could inspire people's lives and ministry.
Fr Gerald O'Collins SJ recalled the recent 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, and explored eight themes from the Council, and how Pope Francis has been faithful to those themes: Christ at the centre; repentance; collegiality; justice and peace; family life; learning from our fellow pilgrims (other Christians); Judaism not as a foreign religion; and the way of beauty.
'There are other things to add, but those eight themes do capture many of the major things that Pope Francis is doing to carry forward, maintain and expand the cause of Vatican II', he said.
Four other members of the Province shared their own reflections and inspiration from Pope Francis: Riverview teacher Catherine Zerounian, Jesuit scholastic Eka Tanaya, youth ministry member Oscar Dean and Br Ian Cribb SJ from Sevenhill.
Catherine shared some of the messages Pope Francis has sent out via Twitter, and how they have inspired her as a mother, as an educator and in her understanding of what it means to be Christian.
'One of the most recent tweets says, "Parents, can you 'waste time' with your children? It is one of the most important things that you do each day".
'As a mother of a three-year-old and a one-year-old, working part time, I find my life is a constant schedule ... Pope Francis' tweet really stopped me. To consider what wasting time with children looks like, what it feels like, and what it sounds like. To parents of this generation, that's something we really need help with.'
'It's moved me to see my family not as something that I have, but something that I do.'
Celebrating Jesuit life
The opening Mass was celebrated by Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, returning to his alma mater to lead the celebration.
In his homily, Bishop Greg O'Kelly SJ paid tribute to the 17 Jesuits celebrating jubilee years in 2015/16, including Fr John Batchelor, who was celebrating 80 years in the Society and who turned 102 this week, and Fr Geoff Schneider, who celebrated 70 years in the priesthood, and who turned 103 just before Christmas.
'You jubilarians took your vows all those years ago: poverty, for all that you had; chastity, for all that you are; obedience, for all that you ever will be. We thank you for your witness, you 17 men, and pray that you continue to receive the blessings from this Province and its ministries.'
On the second night, two Jesuits — Frs Gregory Jacobs and Hoa Dinh — made their final vows. The families of both men were present at the ceremony, which was celebrated by Fr Brian McCoy (full story here).
Asia Pacific representation
Other special guests at the gathering included Fr Danny Huang SJ, Fr General's Assistant for the Society in the Asia-Pacific, and Fr Mark Raper SJ, President of the Asia-Pacific Conference.
Fr Raper provided some insight into the situation of the Society in countries in the Asia-Pacific. These range from countries like Australia and China, where the Province is ageing and has fewer younger Jesuits, to places like East Timor and Vietnam, which have fewer older Jesuits but many novices and scholastics.
He said the lesson of the Irish Jesuits who came to Australia was that we shouldn't be caught looking back to the past, but should be focused on present and future capabilities.
He noted that one challenge would be ensuring that the formation of Jesuits is consistent across the region by establishing quality theological education in Asia.
'We now need Jesuits to be trained well, across the world, for an international mission', he said.
Past, present and future
In his 'State of the Union' message, Australian Provincial Fr Brian McCoy paid tribute to the contribution of the Irish Jesuits, and brought the story back to Pope Francis, and what we could take forward in the Year of Mercy.
'Some years ago an Aboriginal friend of mine commented that “Australia was built on the experience of rejection” …
'He was pointing to our beginning as a penal colony, the transferring of prisoners … from one side of the world to the other, a social experiment that involved large-scale removal and family separation, and, often, involving many who were Irish', said Fr McCoy.
'Our nation's early identity was forged on these actions of removal and separation with the experience of dislocation for many from their homes, families and historical lands …
'Our Australian history remains bookended by two major rejections: our treatment of our First Nations Peoples and, in more recent times, by the separation and imprisonment of asylum seekers and refugees.'
However, the counterpoint of sin, and our rejection of others, can be experienced as 'mercy', he said.
'As Frank Brennan reminded us last week, in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that began on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: "Pope Francis is inviting us to move beyond justice to mercy, love and forgiveness".
'We are called to live an expression of mercy that faces and confronts those human signs and actions that would prefer us to live with hearts and minds closed, within very narrow borders of identity and imagination.'
Read the full text from the Provincial's address to the Gathering here.
Citations for Companions Medals recipients:
Saint Patrick's Old Collegians Association
Trevor John Corfield