Schools in Solidarity
Our Loreto schools are connected by shared stories, shared spirituality, and a shared desire to act in solidarity with sisters and brothers who are marginalised or oppressed. These connections were strengthened by presentations from MWIA staff to 2020 Loreto student leaders, Principals, and mission leaders before COVID lockdown #1 in March. In this Year of Verity, we have been challenged by Mary Ward’s maxim to be seekers of truth and doers of justice. Our understanding of truth has been shaken by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19 on every aspect of our lives and world.
In Australia, we have faced illness and death, economic hardship, fractured states, dashed dreams, and extreme disruption to our educational systems. On top of this, MWIA’s project partners have also endured the impact of malaria, hunger, inadequate medical support, Cyclone Amphan, and the prospect of forced marriage as our students at Loreto Rumbek returned to precarious village settings. Through our experience of COVID-19, our Loreto network has connected at a deeper level through compassion, justice, and service.
As Director of Faith and Mission at Loreto College Ballarat, Felicity Knobel wrote in August: if our doors be closed, let our hearts be open.
Our COVID landscape required great flexibility and generosity of our Loreto schools, each of which had to make differing adjustments according to their location. Schools’ annual mission days were understandably impacted by social distancing requirements and the experience of virtual community. These constraints only spurred our schools on to more creative ways of supporting MWIA’s projects through prayer, awareness-raising, community activities, and fund-raising.
Loreto Ballarat supported a Timorese income-generating mask-making project through their Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning program. Students ran a small business to sell 1000 masks made by women in a community development project in Gari-uai. Year 11s at Loreto Normanhurst educated the entire school around the issue of human trafficking in line with their support of ACRATH, an organisation supported by Loreto Sisters and MWIA for years. The new principal at Loreto Nedlands, Rika Andres, reported: we came together as a school and reflected on the mission of Mary Ward and the many wonderful MWIA initiatives that are happening around the globe. The students at Nedlands linked in with the experience of their peers attending schools in the brickfields of India. Pilgrims at John XXIII College described first-hand the impact of MWIA supported projects in Kolkata and Timor Leste. Loreto Kirribilli had a Hoodie and Beanie Day and Game Show to raise much-needed funds for India. Loreto Marryatville raised funds for Vietnam by holding a groovy Verity Vinyl dress-up for Mission Day. Leaders at Loreto Coorparoo were able to set a context for the mission of MWIA in homeroom gatherings at the beginning of their Mission Week.
In true Loreto-style, community members across our land danced at silent discos, held homeroom challenges, pitched staff vs students in online games shows, hosted a Loreto’s Got Talent, reworked TikTok dances, laughed through a Staff ‘Survivor’ performance, ran a virtual cake-decorating competition and walk-a-thon, recreated famous artworks and held the old favourite ‘guess the staff baby photo competition’! Community-building is always at the heart of Loreto Mission Days!
Across the year, our schools also delighted in their MWIA outreach efforts of previous years. Loreto Toorak rejoiced with the Sisters in Zambia as they took possession of a new vehicle to facilitate support to outlying villages. Loreto Kirribilli was updated on plans to develop agribusiness, school refurbishment, and accommodation projects in Ostico – a village near Bacau, Timor-Leste. Students and staff at several schools continue to support the education of young people in Vietnam, furthering the Loreto mission of access to excellent educational opportunities for all.
MWIA staff have valued the deepening connection with our Loreto schools via attendance at meetings of school personnel, input at the annual LSAC Student Leadership Conference, and support of province justice focussed webinars. The COVID pandemic has certainly highlighted the insight of St Paul: when one rejoices, we all rejoice; when one suffers, we all suffer. We are most grateful to members of our school communities including students, staff, parents, and past pupils, for your support across this challenging year, and look forward to ongoing dialogue and discernment around the needs of our rich yet raw, blessed yet broken, Loreto/MWIA network across Australia, India, Kenya, Peru, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, The Philippines, and Zambia.
Author: Anne Muirhead
Feature Image: Loreto Marryatville Verity Vinyl dress-up