This week the College celebrated Reconciliation Week. Our weekly Monday morning staff prayer took place in our indigenous garden adjacent to Zampatti Oval where the recently commissioned sculpture of Bunjil holds pride of place. Later in the day we held a full school assembly. Like most of our assemblies it was almost entirely conducted by students. Speakers included students with Aboriginal heritage, Torres Strait Islander heritage and non-indigenous backgrounds. The key message of the assembly was that reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous people of Australia, for the benefit of all.
As I listened to the students speak I was reminded of a review of the College in which I was involved in about 2007. One of the recommendations was that the College should do more to engage with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Geelong, (there were 4 boys of indigenous heritage at the time). I remember our initial reaction was to wonder whether there were many indigenous families in the region. Over time we have seen more families come to understand that their boys belong at St Joseph’s and we currently have 18 boys who add so much to the richness of our College. The assembly reminded me of our achievements in this area but also of how far our nation still has to go in achieving full reconciliation and equality for all Australians.
One of the great joys of my role is to be able to connect with leaders of other similar schools. Last week I had the privilege of attending the Edmund Rice Education Australia National conference and would like to share a little of it with you.
The theme of the conference was “look out the window to the quay”, words spoken as a challenge to Edmund Rice when he was planning to join a monastery to flee the sadness of a dead wife and disabled daughter. He was challenged to do something for the poverty-stricken uneducated boys hanging around the Waterford docks. He accepted the challenge and a few hundred schools later in 1935 St Joseph’s commenced.
The conference presented four stories chronologically. The 13.7 billion-year-old story of our universe and the intimate web of interconnectedness and interdependence that it generates. Then the story of Australia’s First Nations peoples whose story began about 60 million years ago with the dreaming. Then the 2000-year-old gospel-based story of Jesus bringing the reign of God into the world. Finally the story of Edmund on which our College heritage is based. It was a beautiful way to reflect on our place in the world.
Locally and more recently our local story is a heritage of service and care for the Geelong community. A school and teachers house on this site in 1854 followed shortly after by a corrugated iron church. An orphanage in 1857, a sandstone church in 1858 (on the current O’Driscol Oval) demolished in 1900, St Joseph’s College version 1 opened in 1890 then closed in 1893 (to support boarding at St Patrick’s Ballarat). St Joseph’s remaining closed until 1935 when Brother Butler became the first Principal and enrolled 128 boys.
We now express this service and care with our four touchstones of Gospel Spirituality, Liberating Education, Justice and Solidarity, and Inclusive Community. All of these can be seen in the 85 (or 167?) years of education here.
May I take this opportunity to remind everyone that any student with COVID symptoms should be tested and remain isolated at home until they receive a negative result. If a member of the household is symptomatic and has been tested but a student has no symptoms he may continue to attend school. For students not at school, an outline of work for each class is available to them to ensure that they do not fall behind with work.
Stay well and God bless