If anyone has ever wondered about the worth of Catholic schools, they would only have needed to hear two of its products who drew the three days of the convention to its conclusion— Jordan Kooge of St Bernard’s College and Ella Risati, at Victoria University.
Both attended World Youth Day in Sydney last year and the combination of their family, schooling, and culture have produced two young people of great faith and promise.
The pair stand alongside a number of outstanding young school leaders who attended the convention and made contributions within the question time following the keynote speakers as well as in the seminars.
Dave Mullin and Alan Grant also shared their adult faith journeys in an inspiring way.
A number of significant notes were sounded in the convention.
Catholic schools must prepare students for their future and not our past. But how do we prepare them for a future that we cannot imagine?
To send the young into that future with faith, a faith that is honestly explored was expressed by Alan Grant of St Peter and Paul’s.
This was also the theme picked up by many of the seminars—a host of choices that covered how to carry out the multitude of tasks involved in content, presentation techniques, administration, from early childhood to completion of secondary schooling.
Professor Gerald Grace gave the opening keynote address on the topic of ‘Challenges to Catholic Schools Internationally and in New Zealand’. He stressed that education was not a marketplace commodity but a mission and teaching was a vocation.
Professor Grace outlined 10 major challenges and took time to develop some of them—secularisation that would deny the validity of the sacred and replace it by the scientific; globalisation that extends the worship of capital and commodities and the significance of the preferential option for the poor—the first area that Jesus himself cared for and the driving need seen by the religious founders of today’s schools. A natural development from this last point is the care of those deprived of family support.
Br Pat Lynch gave the second keynote address on ‘New Zealand Catholic Schools Today’. With 66,000 students enrolled in New Zealand’s 240 Catholic schools, near to 10 percent of the nation’s youth, we have the responsibility to be ‘demonstrably different’ as required by the government through the integration agreement.
The vision is to be a people of hope, seekers after the truth of the whole person. With Christ as the centre of school communities they should be centres of hospitality and the visible presence of the church.
The delegates faced some difficult questions concerning the placement of schools, technology and leadership and how Catholic schools can develop from good to great. Business as usual is no longer sufficient. All sorts of issues, including economic are impacting. Hope is the soul of education; Christian hope is the soul of Christian education.
For the delegates attending, the message most would surely have picked up from the whole convention lay precisely in the value of their teaching vocation and the sense of the shared hope they carried as part of a nationwide team of educators in faith.
Michael Paul Gallagher SJ gave by video link the third keynote address—‘The Courage of our Difference: Forming a Christian Imagination’.
In a lively and engaging talk he spoke of the key features that attract young adult people.
The deep questions of life as to where we are and what we want—to bring to ‘active recognition of the Lord’ (Newman) is a key challenge.
The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, in recognising the significant number of people in Catholic schools, also affirmed the coverage of decile levels from one to 10, spoke of education as an economic and social driving force, the aim of helping to develop full potential, the financial contribution of her government and of the building of 17 new classrooms contained in the budget of $570 million.
The theme of pilgrimage came at the end with the two young adult speakers. The honouring of Maori Language Week featured in a host of prayers and entertainment. Significantly, two proverbs caught the spirit of the convention: Hapainga te iwi, uplift the people, and Ko Koutou to Rongopai, out of listening comes the wisdom that will carry you forward.
For those who attended the convention, the challenge lies in the first and the path forward lies in the second.
More than 1,000 delegates attended the convention including the bishops of each diocese, principals, DRSs, staff and students; those involved in the organisation, accommodation and setting the agenda, deserve the highest accolades for such a well-run convention.