Following the completion of the 2019 school year, St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, Sydney hosted a cohort of 2020 Jesuit student leaders for the Jesuit and Companion Schools Association (JACSA) Student Leaders Conference from Sunday 8 December to Tuesday 10 December to the explore the theme ‘Hearts on Fire’.
St Aloysius’ Principal, Mark Tannock, Executive Officer of Jesuit Education Australia, Jennie Hickey, and event organiser and Saint Aloysius’ College staff members, John Williams and Katrina Rowan, welcomed over 40 students and staff from across Australia.
The attending students and staff belonged to: Xavier College, Kew, Vic.; Loyola College, Watsonia, Vic.; Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide, SA; John XXIII College, Perth, WA; Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview, NSW (boarding hosts); Xavier Catholic College, Hervey Bay, Qld; Saint Ignatius College, Geelong, Vic.; Xavier Catholic College, Ballina, NSW; and St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, NSW (day hosts).
The conference was an opportunity for us as students to share leadership ideas, deepen awareness of the Jesuit tradition, community and mission, and to form a better understanding of what it is to be a leader who loves and serves others.
Following icebreaker activities with the other leaders, we gathered for Acknowledgment of Country where elder Uncle Max ‘Dulumunmun’ Harrison led us in a smoking ceremony. We were gifted school candles by the college and these were lit from the fire. We then proceeded to the Boys’ Chapel where College Rector, Fr Ross Jones SJ, celebrated Mass.
After dinner on the college rooftop we walked across the Harbour Bridge, becoming further acquainted with our new friends from across Australia. We then returned to the chapel to complete a candlelit evening Examen, providing each of us with an opportunity to reflect upon the day’s activities.
The bulk of the next day was centred around spiritual formation based upon the First Spiritual Exercises, as written by Fr Michael Hansen SJ, reflecting the overarching theme ‘Hearts on Fire’. These five exercises were led by Fr Hansen and Frances Tilly, Deputy Director of the National First Spiritual Exercises Program.
The first of these exercises, ‘Wild Fire’, called us to reflect upon our dreams and desires, and to be audacious with these. We prayed about them and listened to each other before having conversations.
In the next session, ‘Fire Bearer’, we reflected how, in many Indigenous tribes, someone carries the embers as their people travel from camp to camp. We contemplated being a protector of the fire in our leadership, carrying light to dark places, and keeping the embers of our mission alive even when ash might dampen the fire.
The ‘Heart on Fire’ session asked us to consider the precariousness and vulnerability of the initial small spark that is required for a fire to take hold. We then reflected upon how we could protect these small beginnings in our service.
The following session, ‘Seeds of Fire’, posed the question to us as leaders: ‘What is under my feet?’ We responded by discussing with each other a leader’s ability to reach out to people in need through our actions, utilising the seeds of good actions.
The final session, ‘Being Fire’, sought to evoke our vision of implementing and igniting the Pentecost Spirit within our school communities. This drew upon our sense of service, purpose and the possibility of fusing faith and justice.
That evening we crossed by ferry to Circular Quay, took group photos in front of the Opera House, and walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens. We were then transported to the Cardoner Project’s Jesuit House in Broadway and received a presentation from the young leaders there about the opportunities available to us to travel overseas and serve others in developing nations once we have completed our secondary education.
The following day we returned to St Aloysius’ amid a blanket of smoke caused by the bushfires that had been burning across the state for the three weeks preceding our visit.
After completing our final session with Fr Hansen and Frances Tilley, we closed in a liturgy led by Fr Jones and Katrina Rowan that imparted the responsibility of leaders to find a path through the ‘smoke’ that sometimes creates doubt and uncertainty, while also reminding us that God has provided us with all that is needed to lead. We are called in our leadership to be ourselves and to bring light to others through our own gifts.
When it came to farewelling our new friends, we exchanged handshakes, hugs and social media accounts to ensure that we continue to keep in contact with each other in the years ahead. The relationships we formed during the Conference are truly a testimony to the strength of the bond between the Jesuit and Companion schools throughout Australia.
William Bothe, Liturgy Captain for 2020, Saint Ignatius College Geelong