Loyola Senior High School celebrates 25th anniversary

Past and present students gathered in Mt Druitt last month to celebrate 25 years of education at Loyola Senior High School.

The school’s founding Jesuit principal, Fr Ross Jones SJ, his successor, Fr Brendan Kelly SJ, and two former school chaplains, Fr Tom Renshaw SJ and Fr Iain Radvan SJ, joined the community for the Mass and celebration on Sunday 26 August.

Current principal, Cathy Larkin, said a highlight of the day was the opening of a time capsule that had been set in the school courtyard walls by the first group of students.

The contents included well wishes sent by other schools, a poem written for

the opening by Fr Peter Steele SJ, hopes and dreams written by the students, a newspaper story recounting the school’s opening, and a 1991 bottle of Jesuit (Sevenhill) wine.

Ms Larkin said it was a joy to witness the expressions on the faces of the former students as the contents were examined. ‘The celebration was a wonderful experience, made possible by the extraordinary generosity and creativity of current students and staff, to whom I am deeply grateful.’

Fr Kelly SJ gave the homily at the Mass, an edited version of which can be found below.


Homily by Fr Brendan Kelly SJ

Earlier this year, in late January, our Bishop Vincent Long gave an address to the staff of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta [CEDP] on their Leadership Day. In his speech he said that ‘the point of Catholic education is not success, popularity, prestige etc. that are measured by worldly standards’; instead, ‘what makes Catholic education distinctive and worthwhile is the formation of our students and communities into people and places that embody the reign of God’.

He went on to explain this further by drawing a distinction between empire building and reign of God building. Empire building, he said, ‘is preoccupied with success, influence and expansion’. It ‘is driven by ambition, power and self-image’. Reign of God building, on the other hand, ‘is concerned with mending and strengthening relationships’. It is ‘guided by the self-sacrifice, vulnerability and powerlessness of the Humble Servant [Jesus]’.

When we look back over the 25 years of our time here at Loyola, I doubt there would be anyone here today who would hesitate to say that relationships, friendship and community have been at the heart of this school. Concern, care for the whole person, reflective of authentic Catholic education, was the constant challenge and way of proceeding that characterised Loyola as it passed through three distinct phases of its history over the past 25 years (Loyola College, Loyola Senior Campus of Christ Catholic College, and Loyola Senior High School).

And our readings in our Mass this morning are rich and helpful to celebrate the gift of these past 25 years.

Abraham and Sarah are asked to leave their own land and venture to a promised land, where there will be plenty and their descendants will be as many as the stars. Twenty-five years ago, 161 students and 18 staff left what was familiar to come to a new school here in Mount Druitt. Since then, thousands of students and hundreds of staff have passed through the gates of Loyola. Along the way, it has accumulated many loyal supporters and kind benefactors, a number of whom are happily with us today. The school entered into partnerships with other educational bodies, notably the Australian Catholic University and the Jesuit network of companion schools. It made itself a home for Couples for Christ.

Loyola proved itself to be not only a place of promise, but also of fulfilment. It afforded an education that maintained you could reach for the stars if you were up for it, and that no one was to be excluded from the opportunity to learn. Many hours were spent by staff tailoring the curriculum to student needs which were considerably diffuse, given vastly varying student capacity and widely diverse cultural backgrounds.

We give thanks today, then, not just for relationship, friendship and community, but also for inclusivity, something that has characterised this school, revealing more deeply the mystery and richness of our God.

I recall, however, one particular occasion, when this value of inclusivity was sorely tested. It occurred here on the day after the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001. As a school community the next day, we were confused, angry, frightened, resentful, and deeply troubled as we struggled to make sense of what had happened.

Some students I recall wondered whether this meant war, a reflection of the countries some of them had come from. Others ventured to suggest that now the United States of America knew what it felt like to be bombed as their countries had been. It was a terrible day for all.

The staff played a memorable hand that day, listening and trying to reassure students. We gathered in our assembly courtyard after lunch to be reminded of how in this very courtyard weeks earlier, we had gathered to celebrate Multicultural Day — a celebration of our unity in diversity. We, as a community, could not do much about the violence beyond us, but we did have a choice about violence or not within our school and home communities. And thus we prayed seeking peace.

The next day, at the end of his religion class, one student, who the day before had uttered ‘serves them right’ in reference to the United States, in an aside that could be heard by everyone as he was exiting the classroom, now said, ‘No-one, no matter the country, deserves to be treated like that!’ This was a transformative moment for this student, as it was for all of us, as the values of Multicultural Day reasserted themselves among us.

This inclusivity, as reflected in Multicultural Day, and which is one of Pope Francis’ greatest desires for the Church today, is also reflected in our Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. The shock factor about this gospel is that help comes not from the usual and expected sources — the ‘professionally religious’ — but from an unexpected and even despised source, and it is extended to a person who has no identity. He is naked and speechless, having been stripped of his clothing, beaten and left for dead.

The lawyer, who prompts this story from Jesus, is preoccupied with himself. This is reflected in his questions, ‘What must I do …?’ ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus, through his story of the Samaritan, moves this lawyer beyond his self-preoccupation to consider what it means to be neighbour, to be neighbourly, and then instructs him to ‘Go and do likewise’. A neighbour, we learn from this story, is one who becomes aware, puts him or herself out, personally engages and invests in the plight of another or others, and offers sustainable support.

Even on a day of celebration such as this, it would not be Loyolan if it did not entail challenge for us. To be challenged to realise and live out of our better selves and to serve others was always part of our agenda here at Loyola. Our neighbour, as we learned from our education and formation here, is anyone who crosses our path who is in need, and especially those who are most hurting, most fallen, most wounded, most lost and most abandoned. I would like to think that here at Loyola, we learned not only about how to acquire various career skills, but also about how to be Good Samaritans. God knows our world and our Church need such people more now than ever, given the current state of affairs in both.