JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia
In one of those unexpectedly synchronous events, the first time Stuart Salier seriously thought about The Cardoner Network (TCN), it wasn’t in a boardroom, on a conference call or at a symposium.
It was over dinner in the family home. Salier, the new Cardoner CEO – he took on the role in July this year – chuckles at the memory.
“It was probably four years ago or thereabouts, when my eldest son brought up the topic of a Cardoner service placement when he was in Year 12 at St Aloysius’ College in Sydney. He started to talk about an opportunity to do a gap year after he had finished school. St Aloysius always had a very strong Cardoner connection and the students tend to find out about the trips through the college or through others who’ve just returned from a trip. That’s when the conversation starts at home.
“He didn’t exactly come home and say, ‘Mum and Dad, I’ve got this great idea and I’d like to talk to you about it’. It was more a case of, he was interested in it but I wouldn’t say he was jumping at it. He was just sounding us out because he’d heard about it. No doubt some of his mates were starting to discuss it, which is generally the way these things happen.
“We were incredibly supportive once we found out exactly what it entailed and when we had more information about the trip, which in Tom’s case was a three-month placement in Vietnam. In fact, it was something I’d love to have done if I’d had that opportunity at his age. Sadly, Tom didn’t get a chance to do it because COVID struck just before he was due to go. So while the pandemic prevented him from going, his younger brother Harry benefited from those family conversations. He left for Thailand on a similar Cardoner placement in January this year, although in Harry’s case it began as a six-month placement but evolved, at his election, into an eleven-month stay.”
Launched in 2010 as The Cardoner Project, the ministry was formed as a response to the desire of young adults for Catholic faith formation, engagement in service to those in need and the building of community in the Ignatian tradition. Last year, it was renamed The Cardoner Network and missioned as the umbella under which the young adult ministry of the Australian Jesuits would sit.
Four years ago, when the Salier family first started discussing the subject, what exactly was it about The Cardoner Network that really clicked with Stuart, long before he even thought about taking the helm of the organisation?
“This is starting to get into deeper questions of who I am. Just to provide context to this, in late 2008, my wife and I decided to use our long service leave to take our three kids to Italy and to base ourselves there for six months. It was to give them an overseas experience at a time when they were nine, seven and three years old respectively. We based ourselves in Bologna, where they attended the international school. Somewhat selfishly, I had also asked my wife – and fortunately for me she’s a wonderful woman – if I could disappear to Africa for a service opportunity. She agreed and so I went to Uganda for five weeks. It was something in my heart that I’d always wanted to do but I’d never quite had the chance to do it.
“That’s a big part of who I am. I’ve always believed that life is much more than just going to work and earning a dollar. I believe firmly in the concept of service. Having been to a Jesuit school and a Marist school, I believe in the culture of looking out for a chance to serve others. That’s always been a part of my DNA, so the Uganda trip was something very close to my heart.”
At this point, I interject because I can see a clear connection between Stuart’s words and the impetus that drove his sons towards TCN placement opportunities. The family’s cumulative experience during their time in Bologna reflects the notion of not merely earning a salary but also of finding other ways to be relevant and to make a difference. Clearly, that approach influenced their younger son, Harry. Although he was only three when they arrived in Italy, those life lessons must have guided his decision to go to Thailand. When Harry broached the topic of the impending trip – the same conversation that their older son had initiated four years earlier – was there a feeling of déjà vu?
“Yes, there was. And a feeling of tremendous excitement for him, to know that he would have this opportunity so early in his life to shape him and his perceptions and perspectives. It was a very different scenario compared to my own experience in Uganda, which obviously came quite a bit later in life.
“My wife and I actually went to Thailand in May this year to visit Harry. It was magical. For starters, it brings to life the environment that your son or daughter is in during the immersion. You can have all the Messenger and WhatsApp calls that you want, but nothing is better than being there in person. You see what they do from first light to dusk. You see the community. You feel the atmosphere around them. You see their surroundings. You visit the school where he and others are helping out.
“Whether you’ve already seen photographs or video footage of the school, nothing actually matches the feeling of being there in situ. This way, you see them within their community and appreciate how comfortable they are there. You go and watch them teach English to a class and you see the young local children listening to them and learning from them and it all adds up to a very powerful experience. It touches your core because you’re so proud of your child, what they’re doing and how they’re committed to making a difference.
“You absolutely get an immediate sense of what they’re doing for the entire community because you talk to the teachers and then the principal of the school invites you in for a cup of tea. They treat you like royalty. They are very warm and exceptionally welcoming and you find both parties in the conversation are actually thanking one another because we parents are so grateful that they have given Harry this life-changing opportunity and they in turn are so grateful that we’ve allowed him to come and work with them. It’s a very happy environment and a wonderful experience to go through as a parent.
“When you see your child so safe and happy and fulfilled, that’s very special. But when you see them maturing in this way, that’s an even more wonderful thing because you know they’re actually learning what it means to be an 18-year-old in a global environment.
“In retrospect, it’s also interesting to think of this experience on another level too. At the time that we visited Harry in Thailand, I had been interviewed for the role of CEO of TCN, but that trip certainly gave me an even greater conviction about Cardoner’s place in accompanying young adults on their faith and service journey. I had not been promised the role at that point, but I was certainly seeing it through a different lens, and I became even more hopeful (and prayerful!) that I might secure the role.”
To watch video clips filmed and produced by the father of one of the current Thailand volunteers, view below and watch the Vimeo video.