St.Joseph’s College Port Macquarie Opening Address by Father Leo Donnelly

March 21, 2009 12:09 pm

Bishop Jarrett, distinguished guests, my first duty today is to read a letter from the minister for education workplace relations and social inclusion and deputy prime minister, the hone Julia Gillard. We live in a society that is very conscious of people’s rights. There is much discussion these days about a bill of rights, something that must be given much thought since the experience in some countries with just such a bill can mean a loss of personal freedoms. But today we might think rather about obligations because setting up a school, any school, brings with it a number of obligations given that what occurs in a school has a profound effect on the future of its students. Today we look around at these splendid new buildings with some pride. But it is what happens within the walls of this school that really matters so if you are going to set up a catholic education facility an obligation is generated. One might notionally separate that obligation into a civic obligation and a sacred obligation. Regarding the civic obligation it obvious that there is the basic requirement to prepare young people to take their place in our society, to accommodate themselves to the best standards of our society and to reach out beyond them. The sacred obligation is to acquaint the young people who enter our schools with the existence of that other world, the world of ultimate reality ‘“ god’s world, to acquaint them with the fact that they are invited to be citizens of that world also and prepare them to take their place in the society of god’s faithful people, his church. All of this was summed up by cardinal Newman when he wrote, ‘for why do we educate except to prepare for the world’. There are, of course other teachers at work outside the school. There are parents who are the foundation of the educational endeavour and the schools most important collaborators. The culture into which we are born has a profound influence in our lives ‘“ a teacher sometimes for good sometimes for evil. We live in a culture greatly influenced by secularism whose philosophy can basically be described as a view of life that limits itself to the human here and now to the exclusion of god here and hereafter. A nation that submits itself to such a philosophy launches itself on a sea of moral uncertainty. . There is confusion in the minds of many as to the true philosophy that guides the political organisation of our nation. And the confusion is compounded by the words secular and secularist. It is correct to describe Australia as a secular society. This simply means that according to our constitution there is no established national religion. But there are those who would see secularism as the nation’s guiding light. The United States Supreme Court described secularism as a religion, and as the constitution forbids the establishment of a national religion ‘“ that rules our that particular philosophy as the mandated guiding star of our nation. The reality is that we are a liberal democracy ‘“ which Winston Churchill once described as the worst form of government ‘“ except all the others. I guess he was saying that an oppressive dictatorship is easier to operate. It is in this Australian liberal democracy that these young people must be prepared to take their place. And in doing so they are expected to carry with them their Christian convictions into what we might describe as the public square. And one thing is certain in the nation’s public square there is no place for the Christian who is half-hearted or faint-hearted in a true liberal democracy an opinion should be no more disqualified for being religious than it is for being atheistic, Marxist or Freudian. There is no legal or constitutional question about the admission of religion into the public square. The only question is whether or not all citizens, religious or otherwise can participate and influence public life freely and equally. The fact then that the constitution guarantees your right not to practice my religion, also guarantees my right to try and convince you of the value of adopting my religious tenets as public law. The students who pass through this school into adulthood will have a responsibility to take their place in that public square and commend to their fellow citizens those standards and values which Christ our lord presented to us and which as citizens also of that other country they will proudly profess. So it is that the church and Christians generally have every right to enter into the debate on moral matters of public importance such as homelessness, poverty, embryonic stem cell retrieval or long-term abortion, in fact any moral situation that affects the well being of our nation. There is that well-known saying that all that is needed for the triumph of evil is the silence of good people. It would be our fervent hope that the young people who pass through the walls of this college will be profoundly conscious of their Christian calling and dignity and always be aware of that other saying that to whom much is given, from them much is expected. It would be remiss of me if today it did not pay a tribute to some of the people who have made this school possible. First on that list is our wise and committed parish finance committee who wonderfully advise and consent on parish initiatives of this kind. Amongst them, and in that context I would give special mention to Steve quirk ‘“ our expert numbers man. I note that he has gone noticeably grey since he came to work for the parish. I wonder how many Tuesday planning meetings Brian Tierney Jim Obrien and Anne Obrien have attended over the last twelve months. Whatever it is they have delivered a magnificent result and deserve the thanks and congratulations of our parishioners. Paul Obrien from the diocesan priorities committee has been guide, philosopher and friend as we weaved our way through the thickets of government and block grant authority regulations. Very special thanks to Paul. The architects McNeil and Ellis have excelled themselves and I have no doubt that this is a quantum leap forward in school design. Of course no building is ever quite perfect. I was asked recently if that strange device on the end of the multi-purpose centre was an indication that skirmish has set up business on the school grounds. And let me not forget the builders, the commercial property group who have been under great pressure from the beginning to make this opening date possible. The regional school in Walters street was the mother school of catholic secondary schools in the parish. Every one of the other three campuses emerged from that school. In the process. The old regional always drew the short straw when it came to buildings and resources as the new emerging campuses always had the more urgent claim. So the regional had to put up with a large number of temporary buildings of doubtful quality and lesser resources.. In spite of that Anne Obrien and her most dedicated staff managed to operate a school where any parent could happily enrol their child, knowing that the outcome would be a quality education. Today I would like to pay a tribute to Anne Obrien and her staff. They deserved better. Now they have it. Finally ‘“ that is word I am sure you have all been waiting for ‘“ finally I would like to offer my most sincere thanks to the parents who have supported this educational endeavour ‘“ and parishioners for their ongoing and enthusiastic commitment to catholic education in the parish of st. Agnes.