Students of St Scholastica’s College have taken a ‘deep dive’ into the history of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Japan, through an initiative run by the Australian National Maritime Museum that calls for an understanding of ‘War and Peace in the Pacific’.
Earlier this year, students in Years 9 and 10 from St Scholastica’s College were given the opportunity to take part in the Australian Maritime Museum’s ongoing annual project War and Peace in the Pacific 75 – a project that focuses on a different theme every year for five years, from 2017–2021.
The project is in its third year and the 2019 theme Secrets and Spies explores the untold stories from WWII – stories like the establishment of the Good Samaritan communities in Japan.
The project was conceived as a result of the AMM and the NSW Department of Education looking into how a student-led research program could engage schools in the tri-nations of Australia, United States and Japan to explore the battles and consequences of WWII.
Leader of the project, Senior Education Officer of the Maritime Museum, Jeff Fletcher, quickly identified that this project needed a much bigger canvas than most other education projects taken on by the Museum.
“It was clear to me that the program needed to have voices from each of the countries involved and so I put forward a proposal to do something much bigger than we would normally do,” said Jeff.
The response was positive, and in 2017 nine schools from across the tri-nations were invited to take part in the first year of War and Peace.
The research project is unique in its purpose. Students are solely responsible for their research as well as the final delivery of educational resources that can be used by the general public.
“We give the students a basic framework but we entrust the students to lead the project themselves and encourage the teachers to let them do that,” said Jeff. “We have found that they [the students] really appreciate the freedom and sense of responsibility.”
Jeff was first alerted to the history of the Sisters in Japan by an attendee at the 2018 War and Peace exhibition. He then made contact with Sister Lia van Haren and the Good Samaritan Archives who suggested the students of St Scholastica’s be considered as research candidates.
“I suggested they involve the students from St Scholastica’s largely due to the access the students have to our archives,” said Lia. “They [the students] are located directly next door and I knew they would be heavily reliant on our archives as a resource for their research.”
It has been over 70 years since six Good Samaritan Sisters set sail for Nagasaki, Japan, to aid in the reconstruction of the diocese after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. Significantly, this was the first overseas mission established by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
Leading their fellow students in the exploration of this history were Year 10 students Veronica, Lillian and Mia. The more research the girls undertook, the more relatable the original six Sisters became to them.
“Some of them were not that much older than we are,” said Lillian. “Because of this, it was easy for us to connect with their story and the significance of them travelling to Japan at that time.”
“What struck me, through our research,” added Mia, “was how ahead of their time they were to be thinking of world peace because WWII polarized the world.”
“Today, we don’t think of nuns as young women, but back then they were young pioneers shaping their generation.”
Of the six Sisters who completed the pioneering group, only one remains alive today – Sister Mary Constable. Mary was in her late 20’s when she arrived in Nagasaki, following an arduous journey at sea, and went on to assist in the setting up of a dispensary. The Good Samaritan mission continued as the Sisters ministered in kindergartens, parishes, and later went on to build Seiwa High School, in Sasebo – now known as Seiwa College. Seiwa means peace in Japanese. Mary returned to Australia after 15 years of mission in Japan. She celebrated her 100th birthday in August 2019.
Sister Monica Nugent, who also celebrated her 100th birthday earlier in 2019, is part of the rich historical fabric of the Japanese mission, having spent 38 years ministering in the country from 1950–1988.
The project leaders met with Mary Constable SGS, in person, to record a video interview that has formed part of their final digital showcase.
The final product of their efforts is a website that includes an interactive chronological history of the Good Samaritan mission in Japan; ‘boarding passes’ detailing information about each of the pioneering Sisters; video interviews; and infographics.
The group leaders took a ‘multimodal’ approach to the project. “We split the girls up into smaller groups and gave them each an area of focus,” Veronica said. “This was largely based on their interests and covered the areas of web development, video, graphic design, copywriting and more.”
Dianne Quarmby, Geography, History and Studies of Religion Teacher at St Scholastica’s, admits that she initially found it challenging to hand over the leadership role.
“As teachers we are used to ‘steering the ship’,” said Dianne. “In this instance, I tried to guide the background information but the girls took charge and they did a wonderful job.”
When asked about the best part of the project, Veronica, Lillian and Mia agreed that it was their visits to the Archives and getting closer to the history of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
“We have been at St Scholastica’s since Year 7 and before we did this project we had never visited the Archives,” said Veronica. “Since then we have made frequent visits to the Archives and have met many Sisters. We feel much closer to our schools heritage and to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
“Now we can say we have developed a resource that can tell their story and appeal to a younger generation. That is pretty cool.”
The final digital project by the students of St Scholastica’s College will be available on the Australian National Maritime Museum website early next year.
War and Peace in the Pacific 75 is supported by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund.