What a gift to see this call to ‘be the change’ in reality during the 2009 Catholic Education Convention in the faces and in the hearts of the more than a thousand people who spent the three days sharing experiences, expanding these through the vision of keynote lecturers and celebrating them in prayer, liturgy and the arts.
‘Be the mirror of Christ’ was the invitation of Ella Risati in the final keynote address as she, David Mullin and Jordan Kooge spoke passionately of their experience of the World Youth Day pilgrimage. Being a mirror of Christ invites us to reflect his love and compassion to those we meet each day. This is the pilgrimage that continues through life.
Recalling the theme of the conference, ‘Be the Change’, David Mullin called convention participants ‘to unleash the Catholic imagination present in the education system, the community, and in young people’. This I saw too in the students from Catholic schools and colleges who came to welcome visitors, to perform and to engage fully in the convention.
For me it summed up the challenge of the week and of Catholic Education. Professor Gerald Grace described it as ‘mission—teachers are pursuing their vocation, they have been called to the mission of Catholic education.’ I saw this around me in the dedication, professional competence and creativity of the teachers, support staff, volunteers and curriculum developers. I witnessed it in the energy and commitment of those who pray and work to maintain and deepen the Catholic character of schools and colleges.
This Catholic character, Bishop Cullinane said, ‘is not limited to the environment of the school, but looks for expression in what schools stand for through every outward-looking commitment to the common good. That is the dynamic of the Gospel and the values of Jesus Christ. We are at our best when we give of our best.’ I saw this too in the service-focused projects of solidarity and support for students and families struggling through the economic stress of today, as well as outreach to schools in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea.
Professor Grace drew attention to the foundational document, The Catholic School, (Rome, 1977) which emphasizes that ‘first and foremost the Church offers its educational service to the poor, or those who are deprived of family help and affection, or those who are far from the faith.’ This continues to be an essential priority for Catholic education in New Zealand, where many schools today reflect the educational vision of the founders of religious congregations who for many years staffed Catholic schools: Blessed Mary MacKillop, St Marcellin Champagnat, Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy. Their charism continues to be reflected faithfully under the lay leadership of Catholic primary schools.
Fr Michael Paul Gallagher was another keynote speaker on ‘The courage of our difference’. How do we offer a different vision of education? He called for a rediscovery of imagination in the face of the challenges of modern culture. Imagination helps us ‘to discover the possible’. Prayer and poetry connect us to our hopes—and our great hope who is Jesus Christ and the life he offers. He recalled the famous dictum of John Henry Cardinal Newman: ‘The heart is commonly reached, not through reason, but through the imagination.’
I came home from the conference, like so many others, energised and encouraged by the profound sense of prayer and gratitude that permeated conference events; gratitude too to Br Pat Lynch and his team that dreamed this dream into reality.
I finished the convention knowing that our schools are in very good hands, and full of admiration for principals and staff, for boards and parents and, of course, for students.
Catholic education at all stages of the lifelong journey of faith formation is a taonga, a gift we offer with confidence not only to students and their families, but to the wider community.
To them, we hope we can mirror something of God’s love that enables us to ‘Be the Change’.