Good Samaritan Education (GSE), the ecclesial community established in 2011 to oversee the ethos, mission and stewardship of the ten incorporated Good Samaritan Colleges in Australia, has been invited to host the next international conference of the Benedictine Educators Network (BeNet) in Sydney in 2019.
The invitation was made last month in Rome by Father Elias Lorenzo OSB, President of the International Commission on Benedictine Education (ICBE), at the conclusion of the seventh BeNet conference.
Held every three years, this year’s five-day BeNet conference attracted 170 educators from 21 countries representing 71 schools. Among those gathered was the biggest ever contingent from Australia – 35 in total – which included Good Samaritan College principals, teachers and board members, and GSE staff.
“BeNet was wonderful in its international quality,” said Leonie Keaney, GSE’s Executive Director.
“It’s genuinely international with representation from just about every continent, which is really impressive, and the shared experience is always wonderful. To meet people from the other side of the world and from such very different settings, and yet to share that common thread of story and spirituality and experience as educators, that was really wonderful.”
For Terry Stephens, who has served for 15 years as a Board Director of Mater Christi College in Melbourne, the BeNet conference was “exciting and stimulating”.
“The enthusiasm and dedication of all of the delegates to a Benedictine-based education philosophy was very powerful,” he said.
“I came away with an even greater sense of gratitude for the outstanding service that the Good Sams have provided to education in Australia. GSE is well placed to continue this valuable work.”
When the idea of hosting the 2019 BeNet conference was raised, Leonie Keaney said the Australian contingent agreed that “yes, it was probably a little bit daunting and it would be a lot of work, but it would be a really good thing and everyone was enthusiastic about the idea”.
She said that among the BeNet delegates in Rome there was “a lot of interest” in the GSE model of governance and enthusiasm for learning more about its implementation.
After the BeNet conference finished, the ten principals of Good Samaritan Colleges remained in Rome for a three-day conference, which included two days with the internationally-renowned scholar of St Benedict’s Rule, Sister Aquinata Bockman OSB.
Immediately after the principals’ conference, GSE Mission Team members, Sister Meg Kahler and Monica Dutton, led a 12-day pilgrimage (the third one that has been held) designed to immerse participants in the history and spirituality of the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition.
The 23 pilgrims included principals, senior staff and those in governance roles from the ten Good Samaritan Colleges. Also participating were two representatives from schools formerly run by the Good Samaritan Sisters but now under diocesan auspices.
With Meg as their spiritual guide, the pilgrims discovered aspects of the life and times of St Benedict through visits to places of significance in Rome, Norcia, Subiaco and Monte Cassino.
Visits to Downside and Douai Abbeys in England gave the pilgrims time to explore the English Benedictine story and its links to the founding of the Good Samaritan Sisters in Australia by John Bede Polding in 1857.
Louise Yeates, Director of Curriculum at Stella Maris College in Sydney, said the experience was “fabulous”.
“I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the story of Benedict, to really understand the times he was living in, the environment and the influences on his life,” she said.
“I was in sensory overload most of the time. Some experiences were overwhelming and I really needed time alone on the bus to process everything I absorbed.”
Louise also appreciated the opportunity to connect with colleagues from other Good Samaritan Colleges.
“I think the pilgrimage allows time out from the regular demands of your job to share a laugh, a bite to eat, a wine or a fresco with a new friend of the same ilk and build stronger connections between our schools,” she said.
For Leonie Keaney the pilgrimage was “just sensational”. Having begun her role as Executive Director of GSE just four months ago, Leonie said the pilgrimage and the BeNet and principals’ conferences were “tremendously useful”.
“I felt a big shift in the depth of my understanding and knowledge of people and aspects of the work after that,” she said.
Recalling a conversation with someone afterwards, Leonie said she felt she was “no longer on the outside [of the organisation] looking in anymore”.
“I felt more in it,” she said.
The next Good Samaritan Benedictine pilgrimage will be held in 2018.