Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has urged student leaders from 49 Sydney Catholic high schools to embrace genuine conversation as a tool for leading positive change.
His Grace was keynote speaker at the 2017 Archbishop’s Student Leadership Forum. About 250 students attended the event at St Mary’s Cathedral College on 7 November.
The forum adopted the World Youth Day 2017 theme “The mighty one has done great things for me and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49), and drew on Mary’s example of leadership.
The event was held a day after Sydney high school students drew praise for their open conversation in the panel and audience of a special episode of the ABC’s Q&A, which focused on their views on school funding and refugee policy. Champagnat Catholic College Pagewood students attended both the filming and the forum.
I hope … you will be people with a sense of purpose, of mission, of readiness to ‘convirtiro’ – to transform the world.
Archbishop Fisher spoke of Mary as a model of genuine conversation, who questioned others and listened with an open heart and mind.
He said the word conversation came from the Latin term ‘convertiro’ – to transform – and encouraged them to engage with opportunities for this and social justice.
The Archbishop said these ‘opportunities for goodness’ made schools a kind of ‘gym for the soul’.
“We are challenged to rebuild a culture of civil discourse where we can debate serious questions with passion and candour, but also converse humbly and respectfully,” he said.
“As leaders of schools today and of our community tomorrow, I pray that you will cultivate the art of genuine conversation.
“In doing so you will be cultivating character, habits of listening, pondering, speaking and acting in service of God and others. That will set you up not just for a good 2018, but for the best life beyond.
“I hope some of you will become spouses and parents, priests and religious, teachers or politicians, but that all of you will be people with a sense of purpose, of mission, of readiness to ‘convirtiro’ – to transform the world. And that starts now.”
After the talk, focus groups with student leaders from a mix of schools discussed how to respond to Mary’s example as leaders in their school communities, and the challenges they may face in the task.
The event provided a deeper look at leadership and faith ahead of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in December. It ended with a blessing of the students, many only one month into their Year 12 leadership roles.
Students share their thoughts on the inspiration Mary provides them as school leaders, ideal qualities for their role and the challenges it presents.
De La Salle Catholic College Ashfield social justice leader Alfred Niumatawalu:
“As leaders we face the challenge of being able to voice your opinion and have the courage to stand firm in word as well. We spoke about discovering new ways to present ideas and opinions to the community.
“We feel that growing up in an environment where there is increasingly more conflict in the world, having the courage to voice your opinion is important not only as students but as leaders in the wider community and church.”
St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove committee captain for social justice and school liturgical life, Dana Stribk:
“We spoke about the importance of leaders showing good communication skills – most importantly listening. We believe that Mary showed this through the way she communicated with God, and that highlights the respect and trust they had for each other.”
St Mary’s Cathedral College administration prefect Liam Barrett:
“One of the things our group thought was especially difficult in school communities was being able to profess your faith. We live in an increasingly secular society and while we are all at Catholic schools not everyone is as engaged, so standing firm on a Marion example is a particular challenge.”
Mary Mackillop College Wakeley college captain Erin Zappia:
“Mary Mackillop being a good role model has an affect on what we do at the College and how we strategise.
“Leadership is really about service. You’re not just a leader by having a badge; it’s by serving others so that’s what needs to come first.”
Mary Mackillop College Wakeley vice captain Jassamyn Reyesvega:
“Definitely communication and understanding are the most important leadership qualities – being leaders not for ourselves, but for our school and the students there. Being able to communicate ideas not just to our leadership team but to every cohort of girls helps because understanding their values and what they want is important.
“The forum was an opportunity to meet new leaders from other Catholic schools of the same age.”
Mary Mackillop College Wakeley house captain Krystina Sammour:
“We really try to take the student voices and put them into what we implement because without the students we aren’t leaders.”
Holy Spirit Catholic College Lakemba school captain, Rose Kim:
“We had a common thread of servant leadership – approaching students, staff and the whole school community. Through serving others and putting others first we are able to show humility, patience and passion, which are the qualities that Mary ultimately showed.”
Champagnat Catholic College Pagewood leader Rick:
“Our inspiration from Mary in our school leadership – she had blind faith, even though she didn’t understand sometimes what was going on, she stayed true to what she believed in and met challenges with faith.”
Brigidine College Randwick leader Georgia:
“We believe the most inspirational thing about Mary was her ability to balance her lifestyle. As leaders we are faced with the challenges of sport as well as our HSC life and sometimes that means making sacrifices for the people and the students that we represent.”