Unique Week in a Unique School

The Rector of St Aloysius’ College in Sydney, Fr Ross Jones SJ, recently spoke in a school assembly about how the College reflected upon individuality and mix, its welcome, understanding and inclusiveness in ‘Unique Week’.

There are so many things I love about this Aloys – the first school I began teaching at as a twenty-two-year-old. It was small, pretty densely populated (no separate Junior School campus then), everyone knew each other, up and down the years. Such a strong sense of belonging, as now. Smallest school in the CAS, as now – which made our successes all the sweeter.

Aloys has always had a demographical, cultural, and socio-economical mix like no other Jesuit school in Australia. That is partly because we sit on a hub of train, ferry and bus lines that draw the Sydney population together. And we are the richer for it. So we come to know and then to appreciate differences.

In my time here, we have had Aloysians enrolled from as far afield as Penrith to the west, Gosford to the north and Heathcote to the south. Not bad for a day school! I did a quick calculation – a 6,600 sq km sweep. That’s a tenth of Tasmania! We have 200 postcodes today represented by you fellows. A Catholic school nearby has only twenty. This breadth of community takes us out of ourselves. Engages us with diversity. Offers new views of life and the world. It shapes us.

Yet another feature of the Aloys I know is that it has always found a place for the young man who had not been able to find an easy or comfortable fit elsewhere. Someone who is bright and maybe a bit quirky. Who, uniquely, has developed deep interests and knowledge of some real specialty or interest that is not mainstream. Who finds a niche and finds firm friends. Again and again, I have had parents say to me, “My son would not have survived in another school.” What a gift that you and other generations, the principal holders of our culture, have offered them! They are welcomed here. They find a place here. We learn from their gifts. And they thrive here. Long may that be so.

I have regularly spoken to you about Aloys not offering talent-based scholarships in sport, music or academics. I believe such scholarships are just for window-dressing a school. Enhancing the school’s image with trophies, performances and in the league tables. For self-promotion. That is not who we are. We try to keep fees to a minimum and we enhance our population with means-tested bursaries for gifted young men who will add generously to the richness of our colourful tapestry. And they do.

There are so many inclusions that could be highlighted in this Unique Week – ethnic or cultural, religious, ability/disability, asylum-seeker, indigenous, and more.

Of course, being a Catholic school, there are always questions related to the Church’s position on some topical issues. These include same-sex relationships, including marriage, women in the Church and its governance, the divorced-and-remarried and full Church communion at Mass, and, more recently, the sex and gender debates. It is true that while the Church has been trailblazing in regard to social justice issues and the environment, it has been traditional and slower to respond with regard to sexuality and the role of women in the Church.

Pastoral care – cura personalis – is always our starting point for those who feel an alienation in any of these situations. However, in addition, the Jesuit tradition has always encouraged reflection on human experience in the formulation of moral norms in new contexts. Faith and reason should complement one another. They are both God’s gifts to us. That is why the Benenson Society here has spoken out respectfully on some of those issues when it perceived a lack of inclusion.

In the recent past, Jesuit schools in Australia and abroad have spoken publicly on these issues – and not without some criticism. But we see ourselves in the business of encouraging reflection, respectful questioning, pointing to values, walking in another’s shoes, shaping our students and their consciences for an inclusive community, both while here and when they pass through those Wyalla gates for the last time.

Standing up for the rights of minority groups in a community, bringing them in from the periphery to a loving and supportive centre is a virtue to be embraced, and is a good in itself. The motive is from the heart. But let me close with a reflection that suggests yet a further, rather stark, motivation for a call to action.

Martin Niemöller was a German Lutheran pastor last century. He first supported Nazism, but then became disillusioned. Assuming leadership of a group of churchmen, he opposed Hitler and was arrested in 1937 and sent to Dachau concentration camp. The Allies released him eight years later at the end of the war.

Here is a reflection by Niemöller on his own experience under Nazi tyranny during the war. A sobering reflection on the lack of action, on the inertia, of otherwise good people.

In the light of our focus today, it is about looking after the other. Being your brother’s keeper. Not being a bystander. Stepping up. I believe it still speaks to us.

This is what Niemöller wrote about the Nazi purges:

First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the so-called incurables
and I did not speak out –
because I was not disabled.

Then they came for the homosexuals
and I did not speak out –
because I was not homosexual.

Then they came for the gypsies
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a gypsy.

Then they came for me.
And there was no one left to speak for me.


Fr Ross Jones SJ


Photo featuring Fr Nico Lariosa SJ and Fr Ross Jones SJ celebrating a Thanksgiving Mass for students, staff and parents during Unique Week at St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point.