As Term 3 comes to a close, I reflect on all who play a part in our school communities… each of you, who have been working in synergy with one another, to ensure our students have been provided with the care and support required to navigate an undefined period of change. You have nurtured the students entrusted to you educationally, spiritually and mentally, and have done so with skill and composure. I commend and thank you for all you have accomplished throughout this term, the depth of your ability is truly inspiring.
I particularly commend the Principals, staff, boards, students and parents of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak and Loreto College Ballarat, along with all those who have been managing remote learning throughout the lockdown period in Victoria. Such circumstances call for resilience, flexibility and patience. I know that students, families and staff have, at times, been challenged by these adjustments. As with all critical incidents, much has been learnt, insights gained, and indeed much has continued to be achieved during this time. The virtual space is exciting yet has also highlighted the importance and centrality of the person to person formation and interaction that occurs in the ‘traditional’ classroom. All education is about the intangible, the interpersonal and the reliance on others. We look forward to a return to human connection, the value of which has been truly accentuated throughout these trying times.
At our recent Loreto Ministries Board meeting, we honoured the dedication of our school boards in supporting the schools throughout the COVID-19 crisis and celebrated the knowledge and expertise each board member brings to their respective board. You have provided vigilant advice and guided schools with the utmost professionalism. We also had the opportunity to reflect back on the year that was 2019 and celebrate the successes and triumphs at our recent school AGMS.
I further congratulate all schools on the implementation of Child Protection Standards. The Royal Commission reinforced our responsibilities to the sacredness of youth. Loreto schools across the nation have always, and will always, make this our top priority.
As the final part of the year unfolds, our thoughts and prayers are with all of our year 12 students as they prepare to sit their final examinations. The graduating classes of 2020 will be like no other, and with the generous commitment of families and schools, they will now move into a ‘post-covid’ world. Recently, some of our School Captains shared their 2020 experience with the Loreto Ministries Board, staff and Mission Directors, reflecting on how their leadership expectations had shifted and adapted during this momentous year. These leaders were impressively aware of how their positions as role models, for both younger students and their peers, had become even more significant through their demonstrations of resilience, encouragement and positivity in meeting the challenges of schooling in this COVID-19 climate. From each of our schools we have heard how old traditions have been adapted throughout the year and new ones created, and we have been impressed by the expressions of gratitude students have shared for the dedicated care of their teachers, school leaders and communities. We have the highest level of confidence in our tremendously gifted year 12 students. They have shown strength, wisdom, and maturity beyond their years. We wish them well as they commence their final school journey and pray for a successful transition as they move forward into the world as women who will lead and live in the ways of Mary Ward.
I would like to warmly welcome Ms Hannah George to the role of Executive Officer of Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA). Hannah comes to MWIA from Amnesty International Australia, where she spent ten years in leadership positions, including heading its international and women’s rights campaigns, and most recently its philanthropy program. Hannah brings two decades of experience in advocacy, campaigning and programs that focus on progressing human rights, gender equity and social justice.
At the end of 2021, we will farewell Dr Susan Stevens, Principal of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak (LMHT). Susan will have served as Principal at LMHT for 19 years and has played a significant role in the growth and development of the school. Susan has made an indelible impression on the lives of so many. May she be blessed as she begins the next phase of her personal and professional journey and may the search for a new Principal at LMHT be blessed with God’s grace and wisdom.
I urge us all to continue to be aware of the realities beyond the boundaries of our own local communities. As followers of Jesus and Mary Ward, we are called to care for others as well as ourselves. This article, recently published in The Guardian gives a powerful insight into the experience of those living in some of Melbourne’s high-rise towers and the strength of these communities. Mother Gonzaga Barry’s intention for her first schools was that her students, teachers and particularly her past pupils understand and engage with the suburbs and cities where they lived and learned. May we continue in this spirit, responding to the needs of the times and building relationships of reciprocity and connection in each place where our schools are situated today.
In closing, I ask each and every one of you to nurture your own health and wellbeing. Much is being written about mental health and the challenges the pandemic has caused for many families, communities and societies. Governments are responding in a variety of ways and our school communities, particularly our teachers, are called on more than ever to walk with and support our vulnerable young people. In this Season of Creation for the Church, may we be inspired, comforted and nurtured by nature. We give particular thanks for the beauty of the natural environments and extraordinary gardens in each of our schools. They remind us that the world is indeed “charged with the glory of God” (Gerard Manly Hopkins), and for that gift we are truly grateful.