Some years ago, Dr Brendan Nelson, the then Leader of the Federal Opposition, spoke of the impact of his own Jesuit education in Adelaide:
“…. It taught me that four values underwrite a successful life. Commitment. You should consistently apply yourself to that in which you believe. Conscience. Continually ask yourself, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Compassion. Always try to share another person’s pain, to place yourself in their shoes. Finally, you will need courage – to have a brave heart”
Dr Nelson’s words are not a bad summary of our hopes for our students. Conscience, competence, community, compassion, a questioning mind, a brave and generous heart, these are just some of the things we would wish for the Xavier student and graduate. I would add the virtue of faith, a faith in the God who is our origin and goal, faith in a God who walks with us in Jesus, and faith in ourselves as the artwork of God.
Our core business is about character, meaning and happiness, and surely, if our world, with all its complications, has taught us anything, then it is that character cannot be taken for granted, that meaning can be so often obscured, and happiness is easily surrendered. Many of us can find it difficult to be engaged beyond our own selves, and our needs and wants. Our wellbeing can be assailed by depression and other mental health issues, as well as by addictions, insecurities and fears.
At a time when schools can be caught between narrowing and somewhat utilitarian expectations (an ATAR rank etc) and widening responsibilities (personal wellbeing and health etc), the ideals of formation and excellence in humanity, inherent to a Jesuit approach to education, help hold together the various demands placed on the curriculum.
To speak of our hopes for the graduate of Jesuit education is not to think of a set mould for them to fit into. Each student is a unique individual, and if our education is truly about the formation of the whole person then the products of our schools will be diverse. Jesuit education values the imagination, creativity and the mind.
Some of our students hold or will come to hold views and beliefs quite different from those that I hold most dear as a Jesuit. Does this mean that I believe our school has failed? If they are committed to what they believe and are true to those beliefs, if they are men for others and have brave hearts, then I would judge our mission here a success. Christian faith involves a sense of trust and confidence in God’s spirit at work in all and through all. In the words associated with the martyred Archbishop Romero, of ‘a future not our own’, we could apply them to the teacher or parent or priest:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
Fr Chris Middleton SJ