Faith, hope and clarity

There are many emerging nuances in the evolving role of education in the 21st century. The recent JEA/JACSA Education Conference emphasised the need to strengthen a path to a future predicated on faith and hope.


By Nicki Patten, Executive Director, Jesuit Education Australia

From 4 July to 7 July, the Jesuit Education Australia (JEA) / Jesuit and Companion Schools Australia (JACSA) education community came together for our first Education Conference since 2019. We welcomed 115 delegates from all Jesuit and Companion Colleges and representatives from Province ministries to Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview for the event. 

This was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with our colleagues and forge new relationships.  

The theme of the Conference was:  

  • Our identity in educating for a faith and hope-filled future 

Delegates were asked to reflect on four questions throughout the Conference: 

  • What is the apostolic mission of Catholic education in the Jesuit and Ignatian tradition?
  • How do we educate for faith and bring it to life in our contemporary context?
  • How do we build a hope-filled future?
  • What does a 21st century student education in our tradition look like? 

Australian Provincial, Fr Quyen Vu SJ. Photo: Greg Skeed

Our speakers approached these questions from a variety of perspectives. Our Provincial, Fr Quyen Vu SJ, opened the conference and reflected on his experience at the Jesuit school in Colegio Santo Inacio de Loiola in Kasait, Timor Leste. He then shared his vision that education is not just a means of acquiring knowledge but a transformative journey that calls for the best to come out in each student. Through his description of a 21st century student educated in our tradition, we heard that such a student is characterised by intellectual curiosity, a global perspective and a commitment to social justice. He described this student as having moral courage, empathy and resilience and being shaped by the principle of the magis to strive for excellence and depth in learning. Finally, he shared that students are technologically fluent, able to use the power of innovation and collaboration to solve society’s problems and seek to leverage their skills and talents in the service of others. This portrait of a 21st century student educated in our tradition resonated with those attending and was revisited through a number of other presentations. In our small groups, where our practice of Ignatian conversation allowed all to share their views and personal experiences, these remarks were also remembered.

Danielle Cronin, Director of Education Policy at Catholic Schools New South Wales, presented an address which posed that Catholic schools are sacraments of hope. Through an exploration of hope as a virtue, (with faith and love), we heard that hope is uniquely needed in the lives of young people in our time. She shared statistics on mental health prevalence, disassociation with community and other indicators which show that young people are experiencing significant challenges in their lives. Catholic schools are uniquely able to educate for hope because of our faith tradition, and Jesuit schools are especially fortunate, as we are “replete with treasures of hope bequeathed by St Ignatius”. Danielle distinguished between hope and optimism: optimism is a belief that things will get better. Hope, on the other hand, is a conviction that one can act to make things better. She concluded by thanking all at the conference and encouraged them as “practitioners of hope” in our shared mission. 

A panel of young alumni then spoke of their experiences (at Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview and St Aloysius’ College) and some of them reminded us of the qualities of a 21st century student outlined earlier in the day by Fr Quyen. These alumni shared the benefits of their education in a Jesuit school but also the challenges of being Catholic amongst their peer groups. It was a common theme that these three young men often seemed to be the outliers by going to Mass, openly talking about their faith or pursuing service opportunities after leaving school. The impressive way in which they spoke to the audience then led to speculations over afternoon tea about their future lives (perhaps priests, politicians or professors?) 

We then had the joy of listening to current students and their personal experience of education within the Jesuit tradition. The delightful honesty of Grades 5 and 6, balanced by the robust questioning of Years 8 to 9, followed by the maturity and gratitude expressed by the Years 11 to 12 students all presented in one session the journey of education through all ages and stages of personal development.

Day 2 saw a change in focus and we were treated to an address from Loyola College Watsonia to hear about their approach to Positive Education through an Ignatian lens. This program blends many aspects of positive psychology with Ignatian spirituality and has been in place for a number of years at the College. Anna Salmic, Deputy Principal Students, and Jacqui Salamon, Head of MacKillop House, presented their approach based on the dimensions of Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment and Health and they explained how this program is enhanced by being framed in Ignatian Spirituality.

JEA/JACSA Education Conference

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Attendees in the gardens of Saint Ignatius College Riverview. Photo: Greg Skeed

Vanessa Wadih, Head of Counselling at St Aloysius’ College, then shared her practitioner’s view on the strengths of a school psychologist’s approach based on Ignatian spirituality. She outlined that there is much common ground between Ignatian spirituality and Contemplative Psychology. The practice of the Examen, gratitude and discernment have many counterparts in mindfulness, and the outcomes of research into social and emotional learning.

Fr Ross Jones SJ gave the Conference Dinner address on the Thursday evening on the Ignatian Concept of Accommodation. He shared many historical examples on the flexibility with which St Ignatius communicated his instructions to Jesuits, how they were locally implemented and his own reflections on adapting to context. Fr Ross encouraged educators to adapt rules and customs, to discern when the pastoral should be put before the rule book and to be imaginative and indifferent for the greater good:  “New wine in new wineskins”.

Finally, on the last day of the Conference, Fr Chris Middleton SJ gave a powerful address on the Challenge of Mission for our Schools in our Religious Education and Faith Formation Programs. He commented on the success of the service programs within Jesuit schools, the unique offerings of Ignatian spirituality in contemporary wellbeing and the power of peer ministry in the lives of young people. In a climate of religious indifference and the rise of the “nones” (those who specify no religious affiliation but are intrinsically spiritual people) he posed the challenge before all Catholic schools. The importance of strong and continued formation of religious education teachers was also a key message from his address.

In closing, JEA is truly grateful for the faith, commitment, diversity and hope shown by our education community. Our thanks to Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview for hosting the Conference and the many dedicated people at the College who brought about a tremendous gathering for all. Our thanks also to the steering committee, speakers, facilitators and MCs who generously gave their time before or during the Conference. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Jennie Hickey, JEA Formation and Education Officer, for her superb coordination of the Conference. The smooth running of the event and her ability to adapt and communicate with all involved were very much appreciated by all at JEA and JACSA.