Good Samaritan Education hosted its Triennial Conference at Mary MacKillop Place in North Sydney on 23-24 July. The joyful gathering of more than 150 people included Board Directors, Company Members, School Senior Leadership and some very dynamic students.
By Gabrielle Sinclair
Together we celebrated, reconnected and deepened our appreciation of the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition that binds us and provides the foundation for our mission in Catholic Education.
The conference theme, Listening, Being, Transforming: Co-creators in Christ, required us to echo the movements of lectio divina, provoking a deeper consciousness of The Word in all things and our role in the evolving story of the incarnation. We were stimulated in communio through liturgy, conversation, and workshops.
Guest speakers included Good Samaritan Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner, who preached on the weekend’s Gospel, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, who broke open our theme, and Brooke Prentis, Father David Ranson and Danielle Cronin, whose keynotes drew us deeper into each element of our theme.
A broad scope of workshops covered Education, Lay Ecclesial Ministry, Benedictine Leadership, Synodal Church, Ecological Conversion, Building Bridges and Spirituality.
Brooke Prentis is a descendant of the Wakka Wakka peoples, and is a speaker, writer, educator, and poet. She eloquently challenged, nurtured and taught us ways different Aboriginal peoples speak of and practise deep listening.
A feature of the weekend was the profound witness of students from across Good Samaritan Education (GSE) schools. Before the conference, students gathered for the inaugural Prophetic Voices – Student Forum. This initiative attempts to embody the call of Benedict that “all should be called for counsel because God often reveals to the younger what is best” (RB 3.3).
It provides a safe space for students from GSE schools to propose ideas, causes, projects, and issues that they are passionate about, developing an opportunity for dialogue, discernment and a mechanism for the GSE community to hear directly from the students about what is important to them.
Jane Comensoli, GSE Executive Director, praised the students “as role models to all of the GSE community, demonstrating deep listening and reflection which manifested in insightful comments, questions and respectful challenge.” Friday required a great deal of the students in a fast-paced program, and they rose to the challenge with enthusiasm.
“St Scholastica’s College hosted students from nine GSE schools to provide a forum to share our pitches, which were inventive, progressive and articulate, and covered a range of issues. By listening to youth, we were able to reflect the Benedictine value we follow, ‘Listen and attend with the ear of the heart’, encouraging change and dialogue among our GSE communities.” (St Scholastica’s College students’ reflection)
”The Prophetic Voices Forum helped us to build connections throughout GSE schools and foster relationships with other students. It was inspiring to hear how many students are driven to make such influential impacts on the world. I believe our generation is one of change and reform and attending the GSE conference revealed that adults will listen to our voices when we speak with passion and composure. Hearing that students care about issues such as a lack of sexual health education and respectful relationships within single-sex schools instilled in me a sense of hope and a drive to initiate positive reform within my school.” (Izzy King, Year 11, Stella Maris College)
“Attending the GSE conference was an eye-opening experience. Friday involved meeting with the students from other GSE schools and a discernment process to refine our final proposal for Saturday. Saturday involved insightful talks from members of GSE and student presentations of the prophetic voice initiative. Each school proposed an issue that mattered the most to them. Through discussion, cooperation and discernment, we were able to merge ideas into key categories. Once these categories had been established, each student contributed their ideas on the topic.” (Fraser Salmon, Year 11, Rosebank College)
The students presented the discernment they undertook to the GSE conference plenary, requesting that Prophetic Voices continue as an annual initiative. They proposed three key areas of need: a Pastoral Care and Mental Health initiative regarding social media safety and mental health support, and a social media detox initiative; a request for a more comprehensive curriculum in sex education in GSE schools; and an initiative involving a collective school Environmental Policy in partnership with First Nations voices.
Moira Najdecki, GSE Governing Council Chair, and Jane Comensoli, GSE Executive Director, thanked the students for their vision and clarity, which evolved from their discernment process and the key areas for consideration.
The student forum and their engagement in the conference were tremendous witnesses to the theme we called forth for the Triennial Conference. Embodying the three-phase cycle of listening, being, and transforming, the students were outstanding, calling all of us to be attentive. Now to honour their discernment GSE takes up their voice allowing it, in turn, to transform us.
Frank Pitt, GSE Governing Council Member and Conference Committee Chair, said the Triennial Conference was an opportunity for the GSE community to reconnect. “The conference provided opportunities for dialogue, prayer, reflection, and deep listening. We were blessed to have wonderful speakers, and our student representatives were fantastic,” he said.