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Thursday, 04 August 2011 03:36

Inspiring hearts and minds

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Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University (ACU) presented the president of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) with a Doctor of the University, in recognition of her contribution to education and leadership at ACU's Sydney graduation ceremony on 5 April.

The congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph said she accepted the Honorary Doctorate graciously - and for the thousands of Sisters of St Joseph who have been inspired by Mary MacKillop to bring education to children everywhere - in rural towns, in remote places, in refugee and migrant camps and in many of the working class suburbs of cities across Australia and New Zealand.

"I accept the Doctorate for all those Sisters of St Joseph who like Mary MacKillop have provided transforming leadership in this country and abroad in the fields of education, health, welfare and justice work in our Church and society."

In her occasional address Sister Anne spoke to the education graduates, telling them that as teachers they were called to open minds, inspire hearts, walk alongside children and young people and nourish their spirits.

"You are called to use your gifts to draw out the best in your students, to encourage their self esteem, to affirm and to love them in the best sense of the word.

"You are called to educate towards the reign of God in this world which means peace, freedom, dignity and justice for every person and respect for the entire creation.

"There will be times no doubt in your teaching when you do not achieve these ideals but hopefully those times will be outnumbered by all the good times when you  do.

"You are called as teachers to keep on learning through further studies and from the lessons that come your way daily even from your own students."

Sister Anne told the new graduates about a Year 9 student she recalled in her office during her days as a school principal.

"She had been sent out of class and it wasn't the first time she had! In the course of our conversation she said, "The trouble with you Sister is you just want us all to conform. You don't really want us to be ourselves." It is often feedback we don't like that can actually help us most in becoming better teachers, better leaders, better human beings.

Sister Anne also spoke about Mary MacKillop as a source of inspiration.

"Just six months ago the first Australian - a woman - was canonised by the Universal Catholic Church. Many people in our country and abroad draw inspiration from this woman Mary MacKillop. As teachers in the land of her birth you too can be inspired by her life and her faith.

"Mary was as young as many of you graduates when she saw the pressing need for education, and particularly Catholic education, in the colonies of the 19th century.  Thousands of children were poor and living in small, isolated towns without access to education.

"From the first Josephite school in a stable in Penola the work spread so quickly that within 20 years Mary had founded 120 schools across South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand.  Her passionate commitment was for the sake of poor children so that they did not remain poor and so that they knew the compassionate and provident love of God and breathed their religion so that it became an important part of their lives.

"Sister Lucy O'Neill was in the small country town of Tingha near Inverell in northern NSW when she saw Mary in action. Sister Lucy wrote:

"(Mary) came to visit us once in Tingha. She had driven some miles in a snow storm, but her first wish was to visit the school.  There was a poor little bare-footed and ragged boy standing in class.  (Mary) went straight to him and putting her arms around him, she kissed him saying 'Ah Sister, these are the children I love.'"

"I remember with great affection such students in my classes - those slower in intellectual capacity, those from horrific home lives, those whose families had risked their lives coming by boat to seek refuge in our country, those who had lost their mothers or fathers through death, those who just hadn't received a fair go in their young lives.

"Tonight I encourage you to find inspiration in our Australian Saint - Mary MacKillop - so that you will always go to the 'barefooted and ragged' so to speak and do all you can to give them the opportunities they deserve.

"Tonight as you graduate be mindful of the many children and young of the world who do not have the opportunities for education that we take for granted.

"In conclusion I quote from Manning Clark reflecting on his life and his great work of writing a six volume history of Australia:

"I wanted to tell a story of hope -that those who had the courage and the strength to face the truth about the human situation had a chance to be kind and tender with each other. Australia need not always belong to the tough. Australia could and should belong to lovers and believers."

Sister Anne Derwin RSJ

For the full text of the occasional address click here.