The power of community spirit and commitment

How can a new college have a decades-long history? St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College in Auckland, which will open its doors in February 2024, is the blessing that the community began praying for 26 years ago.


By Beth McConnell, Chair, Jesuit Education Australasia 

While the journey of St Ignatius of Loyola is long documented, the story of the new Jesuit Companion School in Auckland, St Ignatius of Loyola Catholic College, named in his honour, remains unknown to many. It is a truly remarkable story spanning 26 years and is founded in deep faith, resilience and camaraderie. As a result, while the College will formally commence at the beginning of 2024, it already has deeply entrenched history, tradition and community spirit. 

The 26-year journey to open the College includes incredible tales of individual commitment and community spirit drawing together to fulfill a recognised community need and tightly held dream. There are many people who have shared in this journey and who should be celebrated as the College prepares to open its doors to students in February. Notable elements of this story include: 

  • A first meeting of College supporters 26 years ago in a local hall, which resulted in a mandate to investigate a “priestly order to teach in the College with emphasis on the eucharist and sacraments of the Church”. 
  • The grandchildren of many members of the original Steering Committee (chaired by Mr Ross Jennings and later by Mr John Mills) and The Faith Group (chaired by Mr John Mills, who now sits on the College Board) will attend the College after more than two decades’ work.  
  • The Faith Group being charged with researching the community mandate. This research led to a deep commitment to the charism of the Society of Jesus. 
  • The generosity of spirit and hearts of these Founding Committee members is most notable, as well as their determination through the frustration, disappointment and setbacks over the years. Four members of these committees have been part of this journey for its entirety, with particularly significant contributions from Mr John Mills, Mr Bede Mills, Mr Martin Devoy, Mrs Carmel O’Neill-Gregory, Mrs Katherine Joyce and the late Mr Ross Jennings, as well as Mr John Gilbert over the last 12 years. 
  • Countless religious medallions being buried on the proposed College site over the years as the community continued to advocate for the College. This practice forms an important tradition for the College, and it is planned to be continued by the College leadership team. 
  • A group of members of the community gathering weekly for over a decade to say the rosary on the proposed College site. 
  • The incredible vision of the Founding Committees, plotting long-term plans for a train line with a station at the back of the College site. This vision is still prevalent, with significant plans for the future. The next part of the journey will be the development of a Foundation to fund bursaries to support the local community’s participation in the College, with this Foundation to be chaired by John Mills, the original Chair of The Faith Group and a generous supporter of and advocate for the College from day one. 
  • The unwavering support of the Society of Jesus, including the five Provincials over 26 years: Fr Daven Day SJ, Fr Mark Raper SJ, Fr Steve Curtin SJ, Fr Brian McCoy SJ and Fr Quyen Vu SJ. Many Jesuits from Australia have supported the efforts of the community over the years, notably Fr Chris Gleeson SJ, Fr Gerry Healy SJ, Fr Ross Jones SJ, Fr Richard Leonard SJ and Fr Richard Shortall SJ, just to name a few. 
  • The support and commitment of the Diocese of Auckland, which has been critical in finally achieving the dream of the community, with particular recognition of the support of the then Bishop of Auckland Very Rev Patrick Dunn D.D. , Br Sir Patrick Lynch, Mr Paul Ferris, Dr Kevin Shore and current Bishop Stephen Lowe, supported by James Van Schie, General Manager, Diocese of Auckland and Catherine Ryan, Vicar of Education, Diocese of Auckland. 

The Memorandum of Understanding between the Diocese of Auckland, the College and the Education Ministry of the Society of Jesus has now been formally signed and two Jesuits, Fr Michael Smith SJ and Fr Eka Tanaya SJ, commissioned to the College to give life to the Jesuit charism of the College, working with the College staff in fulfilment of the original mandate of the Faith Group. (Click here to read about the Missioning Mass for Fr Michael Smith SJ and Fr Eka Tanaya SJ, held at the Australian Province Office on 23 October.) 

The official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Diocese of Auckland, the College and the Education Ministry of the Society of Jesus – Left to right, back row: John Mills, James Van Schie, Catherine Ryan, Dean Wearmouth, Fr Rob Davoren SJ, Fr Paul Mullins SJ. Front row: Beth McConnell, Bishop Stephen Lowe, Linda McQuade.

The College leaders too, Principal Mr Dean Wearmouth, Deputy Principal Pastoral Mrs Catherine Bamber-O’Malley and Deputy Principal Mr Kane Raukura, all speak of a significant calling to the College and of recognising themselves in the key criteria of the leadership roles. The leadership team, which includes Fr Eka Tanaya SJ as a third Deputy Principal, is delighted to be joined by staff of high calibre, many of whom also waited patiently for the College to be opened and held long-term aspirations to be part of this exciting new venture.  

Fr Paul Mullins SJ, Fr Rob Davoren SJ and I had the honour of joining the College Founding Committee members, College Chair, Miss Linda McQuade, and the College Leadership Team as the final elements are laid in place in preparation for the College to open in a couple of months. We witnessed first-hand the many smiling faces of excited students currently at St Joseph’s School Pukekohe, a feeder school for the new College. Many of these students will be spared the two-hour travel each way to the closest Catholic school in Auckland which has been undertaken by their older siblings. 

The College crest.

During our visit, we witnessed the profound impact on the College Leadership Team of engagement with Fr Johnny Go SJ discussing, debating and embracing Learning by Refraction, the contemporary method of applying the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm. (Click here to read more about Learning by Refraction.)

Working out of a couple of classrooms, which have been generously provided by St Joseph’s School Pukekohe, the team of 18 teachers has planned, prepared and developed the College from the ground up, taking great care with each element of the planning process and creating strong bonds in the process. 

Significant diligence and strategy have been applied in the careful and deliberate nature in which the College has been developed, the pedagogy and technology planned and the Ignatian Spirituality embedded in the College. Marketing of the College was cleverly designed to leverage the community’s long anticipation of the College, with enrolments closing eight weeks after they opened for the first intake of students starting in Years 7-9 next year, with a healthy waiting list. 

The name of our Jesuit and Companion Schools Australasia (JACSA) network and Jesuit Education Australasia have been updated to welcome and recognise the College into our fold. 

Over the coming months, the story of the College will continue to be shared. Community demand and expectation are high and we look forward to celebrating this significant milestone for the College, the Society of Jesus and the Catholic community of Auckland. It is a remarkable milestone for a new College with a deep, vibrant and long-established history and community. 

Main image: Kimberly Farmer, Unsplash