Principal of Mary MacKillop College Wakeley, Narelle Archer, was among the more than 30 principals from Australia and New Zealand who attended the event.
The delegates visited the school, which has a high percentage of refugee and migrant students from countries including Iraq, Vietnam and Sudan, on June 3. They were fed a multicultural feast including Iraqi and Vietnamese dishes made by the parent community.
“As soon as we get together everything just clicks,” she said.
“There’s this camaraderie because there is something that calls us all to Josephite schools and that is to help those less advantaged as Mary Mackillop helped poor farmers, new migrants, the Indigenous.
“It’s about working with them and taking Mary’s charism through that: to roll your sleeves up, get things done and battle, don’t give in, when it’s not working.”
The delegates also attended a dinner with past principals on June 4 to celebrate the organisation’s 10th anniversary after a day of workshops and talks at Mary Mackillop Place, North Sydney. Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools Dr Dan White delivered a talk which asked schools to reflect on ways to strengthen their school communities’ faith.
We look after one another, support one another and share ideas to strengthen and enrich our schools.
Janine Kenney became the first lay principal of Mount St Joseph Milperra after Sr Barbara Bochat, a Josephite nun, retired in 2012.
Values including justice, compassion, and a respect for the dignity of all people, along with St Mary’s call to “never see a need without doing something about it” are celebrated in events including feast days for St Joseph and Mary MacKillop.
Students have raised up to $20,000 in a year to support the work of the Sisters of St Joseph in Peru through their ‘Peru Day’ event. The order helps to provide poorer citizens with access to education, water and other necessities.
“The girls also attend a student leadership conference every year, and get a sense of what Mary is all about,” Ms Kenney said.
She said there was a shared sense of what education should be among Josephite principals which goes beyond the academic.
“We’re educating, in my case, girls to become women like Mary was and making sure that they can see that while they may be needy there are others that need them as well,” she said. “Seeing the girls grow in their faith is important.”
The spirit of social justice and compassion is also present at Mary MacKillop College Wakeley.
“The girls very much identify with the outreach and helping those less fortunate and I think that’s because they’ve been less fortunate, so they actually understand the hardships people are going through,” Ms Archer said.
“They haven’t got the removal that some of us have from living in our comfort zone, and they value very strongly the sense of community that we can build for them at the school, coming from about 74 different countries.
“When you ask them to do social justice things they jump in there and become part of it.”
Principal of MacKillop College Werribee in Victoria and one of the Association’s founding members, Rory Kennedy, said there were 22 principals present at the first conference in 2006 in Sydney. This was 150 years after Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods cofounded the Sisters of St Joseph in 1866.
We must teach more by example than by word.
“It was important for us to be independent of the Josephite sisters so that we weren’t burdening them with another association to oversee,” he said.
“We remain parallel but separate to the Sisters of St Joseph. We are now the torch bearers in many cases because there is not a single Josephite sister leading a secondary school in Australia or New Zealand. When the association was formed we still had three or four.
“It’s lovely to see when the students come together, they might be from half a dozen different schools but they just click. It’s as if someone switches a light on. That’s because they’ve come from the same tradition, the same charism, the same tribe. We look after one another, support one another and share ideas to strengthen and enrich our schools.”
Sr Rita Malavisi represented the order at the event. She said she was humbled to be in the presence of the principals, who continue to live by Josephite values and instil those in their students.
“Mary Mackillop’s work was about providing an education for all that has respect and dignity at its core,” she said. “You see that 150 years later it is still happening in schools.”
Sr Hun Do from Sacred Heart Parish Cabramatta also attended the event. Originally from Cambodia, she sees different challenges among the multicultural community she has been called to work with.
She said the respect that is part of the Josephite tradition is key when confronted with refugees and families seeking asylum who have not had the same education opportunities as in Australia.
“I am there to lift them up, not bring them down,” she said.