We continue to live in unpredictable and demanding times as the challenges of COVID-19, both here in Australia and internationally, require greater adaptability, flexibility and resilience. Our teachers and students in Melbourne returned from one lockdown only to enter another lockdown period and a gradual relaxing of restrictions. Our Sydney network now faces the same, albeit across school holidays, and the situation continues to evolve in other states and territories. Events continue to be postponed, and face to face meetings and travel plans cancelled at the last moment. Flexibility has taken on a whole new meaning. With its relentless demands and challenges, the pandemic is also presenting the world, our nation, and our Loreto community with new opportunities. We are, for example, far more adaptable and flexible with an enhanced ‘can do’ culture. We are strong because we rely on trust and on one another.
We have been able to realise some well overdue celebrations and network events. Members of the Loreto Network in Australia were delighted to join together in Perth to commission and bless Mrs Rika Andres as Principal of Loreto Nedlands Co-Ed Primary. Delayed due to COVID-19, the long-awaited celebration was a joyous occasion bringing together the wider Mary Ward community. Additionally, school Board Chairs, Principals, Loreto Ministries staff, members of the Province Council and Sisters from the Sydney IBVM community were able to assemble to farewell Peter Garling, former Chair of the Loreto Ministries Board. We expressed our gratitude to Peter and celebrated his generous contribution to Loreto education over 17 years.
The Principals and Chairs Forum was hosted in Sydney. The event facilitated by Loreto Ministries Board Chair, Margaret Kennedy, included conversation and education surrounding formation, canon law and governance. Issues of consent were further discussed in addition to recent network successes. For the first time, the Province Council connected with the Loreto Ministries Board in an informative and collaborative session surrounding province priorities, governance, and the educational vision and mission of the IBVM. Critical conversation regarding future direction, structure, governance and priorities was undertaken. The Loreto Ministries Leadership Team also partook in a strategic planning session in Melbourne that reflected on the achievements and shortfalls of the current strategic plan and commenced visioning for the 2023-2027 strategic plan.
The Loreto Formation Framework has been welcomed by Boards and schools across our network upon its introduction earlier this year and it has been pleasing to see the varied ways in which it is being used. The second topic of the Framework for this year, ‘The Institute Story’, invites us to reflect on the history of Mary Ward’s Institute, its foundational leaders, the extraordinary paths it has taken worldwide, and the ways in which it continues to live and breathe today. As we approach the Bicentenary Jubilee of Teresa Ball, this engagement with the story of the Institute, beyond the narrative of Mary Ward’s life, is timely for us all. The Formation Framework presents us with key touchstones for the ongoing tasks of formation we are called to undertake in our roles as the inheritors and guardians of the charism that continues to be life-giving and inspiring for our work as Loreto educators today.
In August, the official launch of the Bicentenary Jubilee Celebration celebrating Teresa Ball’s foundation will take place and will provide us with many ways to engage with both the global Mary Ward family and across our Province. The Province invites us to engage with the IBVM Bicentenary Jubilee Celebration Ecology Project as a way of giving life to this important anniversary. All branches of the Province are asked to contribute to a tree planting action in the coming year, linking us to the request of Institute leader Sr Noelle Corscadden to undertake an environmental project that will witness our care of creation as a core justice priority of the worldwide Mary Ward family. I look forward to supporting schools with their plans for this exciting project in the coming year and seeing the innovative ways in which this will come to life. Under the coordination of Sr Libby Rogerson ibvm, the Loreto Justice Network for the Province Council is taking the lead on the Ecology Project.
Sadly, we said goodbye to Sr Noni Mitchell IBVM, former Province and Institute Leader, ‘faithful friend, medical doctor, brilliant educationist, mission-focused leader, and a truly extraordinary human being’ (Sr Deirdre Browne ibvm), and a number of our Sisters in India and around the globe as they battled tragically high numbers of COVID-19. Our Province network in Australia and those who form part of our global community have come together in the true spirit of Mary Ward to support those working on the frontlines and those who are suffering sickness or loss. The Loreto Sisters and Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA) have established a COVID-19 emergency fund for individuals and families in India. Read more about the efforts of the Loreto network here.
Loreto Vietnam continues their incredible work via their School Sanitation and Health Education Program. Through this program, toilet blocks that provide students and teachers with easy-to-clean sanitised tile areas, dignified and separated areas for boys and girls, new washbasins and water storage tanks are constructed. Health posters are displayed in toilet blocks to further educate students in hygiene, health and COVID-19 safe practices. Under the program, Loreto Vietnam has built 23 new toilet blocks with hygienic water and sewerage systems, renovated 25 damaged toilet blocks and trained 18,000 students in correct health and sanitation practices.
I hope and pray that you, those you love, and the communities you lead, stay well and strong. We need one another more than ever and must watch for those who are vulnerable and needing support, love and care. These times test our practical and action-oriented Christianity. These are days where compassion and prayer are the way forward. We are so fortunate to have Mary Ward as our mentor and roadmap through these times. May she continue to guide and strengthen us.