Flood Magis

Catholic schools across flood-ravaged Queensland and New South Wales stepped up in the service of God to support those in need.

Magis. It sounds like magic, but it’s something far more ordinary and at the same time far more extraordinary than that.

Students and staff at a Northern Rivers school were given the chance to live the Jesuit ideal of Magis during recent floods when their school became the local hospital. It was only the beginning. Catholic school communities all over flood-affected regions were called to go further in the service of Our Lord.

In Latin, Magis (pronounced “màh-gis”) means ‘more’ or ‘greater’. It is related to ad majorem Dei gloriam, a Latin phrase meaning ‘for the greater glory of God’. This is also the motto of the Society of Jesus. The term on its own means doing more for Christ and, therefore, more for others. The examples of Catholic school communities stepping up in the spirit of Magis during the recent floods are inspiring. Within hours of the flood crisis in the Northern Rivers, a school in the seaside town of Ballina was transformed into a makeshift infirmary. Ballina hospital was forced to evacuate all staff and patients as flood waters devastated parts of northern New South Wales in February.

Students help with the setup of makeshift hospital wards on College grounds.

Principal Kevin Lewis said he feels Xavier Catholic College rose to the occasion with speed, agility, flexibility, and graciousness.

‘More families and communities were going to be impacted by this flood than ever before. Our system office in Lismore tried to ensure continuity of learning for all schools but it was clear that we were going to have to operate on reduced capacity. So, by Tuesday morning, my messaging to families was to stay home unless absolutely necessary. It meant the school was largely empty all day Tuesday.’

Mr Lewis said they had originally offered the school as an evacuation spot for families but were told they did not have the authorisation.

‘We closed down, relocated evacuees and locked up the College Tuesday night by around 8.30pm,’ said Mr Lewis. ‘By 9.00pm we were open again after desperate pleas from the SES and NSW Disaster Management. The town’s evacuation centres were going under, and the hospital needed to relocate. There was me, my two Assistant Principals, and a soon to be small army of mainly Year 12 students, setting up a field hospital in the College grounds. College staff soon answered the call, and we were fully operational.’

Patients from Ballina hospital relocated to College grounds after evacuation.

Within four hours, people had been located into rooms around the College. Mr Lewis said the school began operating as an evacuation centre, field hospital, aged care facility, high needs care disability centre and camp kitchen for up to 700 people at a time. He estimated 1000 people passed through over the course of the week.

He said the school community went into autopilot, working tirelessly to ensure people were safe and cared for.

‘There was a feeling of compassion running through the college. People were abundantly aware of the devastation being felt by others and how lucky we were here in Skennars Head to be spared the on-site physical destruction that Lismore and parts of Ballina were experiencing. I don’t think people even thought of themselves as donations of beds, mattresses, food, water, clothing, and other provisions rolled in throughout the night and into the next few days.’

There was nothing magical about this transformation; it was built upon community spirit and hard work. It was an act that kept essential services available to the public.

By Laura Kings