An attitude of service

In deciding how best to shine a light for others, never underestimate
the value of starting small, by recognising the power of one.

 SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD 

Australian Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ delivered this speech at the Australian Union of Jesuit Alumni dinner in Sydney on 3 July 

What does the Society of Jesus hope of its Alumni?  

I would like to give everyone here a warm greeting. First, to the following people who made this evening possible: Andrew Horsley, Oceania Representative, World Union of Jesuit Alumni; Sean Cunial of the Old Ignatians’ Union (OIU), Riverview; Mai Mitsumori-Miller of the Newman Old Collegians’ Association (NOCA); Michel Esnault of the Old Xaverians’ Association (OXA); Chris Duggan of the St Aloysius’ College Old Boys’ Union (SACOBU); and Sam Hooper from the Old Ignatians’ Association, Athelstone (OIA). 

(From left to right) Michel Esnault, president of the Old Xaverians’ Association, Fr Quyen Vu SJ and Andrew Horsley, Oceania Representative, World Union of Jesuit Alumni.

I also extend my greetings to all the alumni of our Jesuit schools and colleges, as well as the supporters of the Australian Union of Jesuit Alumni who have gathered here at the Ron Dyer Centre. Special thanks to everyone who helped organise tonight’s event.  

I have worked in four schools. Three of these are Jesuit-owned, and one is a diocesan school managed by the Society at their request. Two of these schools are in Australia: St Aloysius’ College (1999-2000); Loyola Senior College in Mt Druitt (2005-2006), now known as CathWest Innovation College – Loyola Campus Mt Druitt. The other two schools are: Santo Inácio de Loiola in Timor-Leste and Xavier Jesuit School in Cambodia.  

During the initial stages of establishing St Ignatius College in Timor Leste as well as Xavier Jesuit School in Cambodia, we had to develop a master plan and design the campus, encompassing all the buildings, playgrounds, quiet area, parking, oval and classrooms for the students. The learning environment is crucial for effective education, and this includes elements such as ventilation and direction of airflow. 

The vision and mission of St Ignatius 

At the same time, we needed to define the vision and mission of St Ignatius, which required us to integrate their culture, environment, curriculum, PE and retreat programmes. This comprehensive approach addressed the academic, physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological dimensions of the students. Therefore, the 4Cs  —Compassion, Conscience, Competence, and Commitment — were fundamental in establishing a Jesuit school. We adopted the Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm (IPP) to provide a critical Jesuit approach to education, contrasting with the rote learning prevalent in the curricula of both Timor-Leste and Cambodia. 

Therefore, all these elements needed to be established to shape a young person in a Jesuit school. In order to shape a student, a Jesuit school must invest in numerous dimensions, from classrooms to science labs, chapels to canteens, libraries to playgrounds, ovals to bathrooms, computer labs to administration offices, and parking areas to driveways. Additionally, the staff room for teachers must be integrated into this comprehensive plan. 

A Jesuit, a Dominican and a Franciscan were walking along a road, debating the greatness of their respective orders. Suddenly, the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him. The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty. The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family. Then the Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “So, have you thought about where to send him to school?” 

Thus, there is a well-known saying attributed to St Ignatius which goes: “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.”  

Thinking about all types of sustenance  

In Timor-Leste and Cambodia, students frequently attend school without having eaten breakfast, due to their parents working abroad or in other regions. Their primary sustenance is rice, but they often lack the time to procure and prepare food in the mornings. Consequently, it becomes imperative for us to provide breakfast for them as well, otherwise learning on an empty stomach would prove exceedingly challenging. 

Shaping a graduate from our Jesuit schools and colleges requires numerous elements and resources. Financial and human resources go hand in hand. Additionally, the spiritual and pastoral dimensions are crucial. I trust that each of you has experienced the richness of a Jesuit education. Throughout your journey, you’ve been immersed in carefully crafted plans, curriculum, Ignatian pedagogies and countless hours of critical teaching instruction and spiritual as well as pastoral guidance. I trust that we have helped mould you into the individuals you are destined to become, as both men and women for others. 

(From left to right) Jesuit Education Australasia Executive Director Barbara Watkins; Fr Richard Leonard SJ; Jesuit Mission Australia’s Katrina Tucker, representing JMA CEO Helen Forde; and Christine Rogers. Photo: Andrew Horsley. 

Throughout my tenure in all four Jesuit schools, we consistently stressed to our students the significance of embodying the ethos of “men and women for others”. Undoubtedly, you’ve encountered this mantra repeatedly during your own experiences in Jesuit schools and colleges. This phrase often means adopting an attitude of service, such as participating in immersion trips or service programs. The phrase “men and women for others” is used to inspire students to dedicate their education to the betterment of others and their country, a concept known as “nation-building” in places like Timor-Leste and Cambodia. These interpretations illustrate how Jesuit schools have embraced the concept of being “for others”.  

However, the phrase was originally intended to highlight a shortcoming of Jesuit schools. “Being a man for others” was proposed as an aspirational goal, emphasising the need to provide a Christian education that prepares students to work for justice. Jesuits and alumni were urged to humbly acknowledge that this goal had not yet been fully realised. 

History of the phrase “Men and women for others”  

In a 1973 speech to European Jesuit alumni gathered in Spain, the Superior General of the Jesuits at the time, Fr Pedro Arrupe, humbly acknowledged what he saw as the failure of Jesuit schools to form “men for others”. That is: “We have not formed people for others” and have not done enough! He said, “We need to ask: what does it mean to be a person for others in both our local and global contexts today?”  

Or “What does the Society of Jesus hope for its alumni?”  

Fr Arrupe said back then, “Our educational goal and objective are to shape individuals who live not solely for themselves, but for God and His Christ; for the One who died and rose for us. “Men for others” refers to those who cannot conceive a love for God without love for humanity; a love that is effective, prioritising justice as its foremost demand and serving as the sole assurance that our love for God is sincere, devoid of any superficiality or hypocritical façades masking our self-centeredness.” 

Fr Arrupe then posed the most challenging part of his speech: “I want to respond in all sincerity to a question that for some time has been floating in the air and has no doubt been asked by more than one of you. Have we educated you for justice? Are you educated for justice?  

“If we use the term ‘justice’ and the phrase “education for justice” in the profound sense in which the Church understands them today, then I believe we Jesuits must humbly admit that we have not educated you for justice as God requires of us in these times.

“I also believe I can ask you to be humble enough to acknowledge this as well: no, you have not been fully educated for justice, and you must continue to supplement the education you have already received. There is a profound sense in which we must all be engaged in a process of ‘permanent education’.”  

(From left to right) Graham Short from the St Aloysius’ College Old Boys’ Union; Stephen Newnham from the Old Ignatians’ Union; Michael Esnault, president of the Old Xaverians’ Association, Australian Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ; Georgie Moloney, Secretary of the Newman Old Collegians’ Association; Andrew Horsley, Oceania Representative, World Union of Jesuit Alumni; and Jamie Eustace from Gonzaga College in Dublin.

So, what does the Society of Jesus hope of its alumni? 

  • Have we adequately prepared you to serve others?
  • Have you “set the world on fire?”
  • Have you utilised the talents and resources nurtured during your education to positively impact your community? 
  • Have you shared these gifts with zeal and commitment?
  • Has the ‘Magis’ deepened your commitment to serving those less fortunate than yourself? 
  • Are you, or have you become, individually or collectively, ambassadors of our faith?
  • Have you demonstrated compassion towards our less fortunate brothers and sisters? 
  • Have you shared the message of Christ with others?
  • Have you lived out His teachings through your deeds and your actions?
  • Have you become “beacons of hope for others”?
  • In other words, have you inspired and uplifted those around you?

I believe everyone aspires to accomplish significant goals and dreams in life, aiming to make a positive impact on the world and on those around us. However, pursuing such lofty ambitions often presents challenges that can seem insurmountable. 

My own experiences in Timor-Leste 

When I first arrived in Timor-Leste after their struggle for independence, I was overwhelmed. I wondered, “How can I assist in Timor-Leste when there are so many needs, and I am just one person?” 

I was tasked with building the first Jesuit school in Timor-Leste, a massive project with an estimated cost of around US$10 million. To manage this daunting task, we decided to break the grand project into smaller, more manageable projects. We started with one building containing a few classrooms, then added an office, a canteen, a science lab, and so on. My philosophy was to start with one. 

Tonight, I would like to offer this same advice to everyone here: “Start with one.” Don’t begin with five or ten, just start with one. 

  • If there are hungry people in our community: Feed one. 
  • If there are homeless people in our community: Shelter one. 
  • If there are thirsty people in our community: Give a bottle of water to one. 
  • If there are poor people in our community: Help one. 
  • If there are young people who cannot afford an education: Give a scholarship to one.  

Start with one, and if we each help one person, together we can make a significant impact. Remember, Jesus fed 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish. We are like mustard seeds—small, but when planted in the right place, we grow big. Be a mustard seed in our daily lives and activities and we can multiply rapidly. 

I would like to conclude with a prayer for tonight that reflects on how we, as alumni of our Jesuit schools and colleges, can contribute to and support others in our community and our world. 

The Young Adult Prayer  

In the noise of the city, bring us peace. 
When things don’t make sense, give us meaning. 
When we have lost our way, point us in the right direction. 
When it’s tough to be Christian, shine your light in our lives. 
When we’re alone, give us courage to make friends. 
When careers take over, help bring perspective to our lives. 
When we meet injustice, inspire us to do what we should. 
When life is full, help us focus on what’s important. 
When love is difficult, break our hearts of stone. 
When we ask, give us hearts for love alone. 
We ask this, through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

 

 

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