It has been 40 years since Sr Jan Barnett asked me to don a veil and speak about Mary MacKillop’s mission. I was addressing my peers, who were seated cross-legged on the hall floor in front of me at Saint Joseph’s Girls High School, Kogarah, NSW.
The 45 young leaders attending the inaugural Young Josephite Retreat on Tuesday 28 September did not have to don a veil, but they did gather via Zoom to learn about the vision and mission of Mary MacKillop. The aim of the retreat was to deepen their understanding of the Josephite charism and how it may shape their leadership to take action for social justice in their school communities.
This initiative is the brainchild of Karen Oxley, the Josephite Volunteers Coordinator and member of the Josephite Justice Network, and Dominique Farah, Education Officer, Sydney Catholic Schools. They saw the need to provide an opportunity for young leaders from Years 9-11 in Josephite schools across Australia and New Zealand who display a passion to serve, to connect and exchange ideas to promote justice. The initial vision was for a three-day retreat but due to COVID restrictions, this was heroically transformed into a zoom-packed three hours.
The groups were expertly facilitated by Josephite Action Group (JAG) volunteers, two of whom were Year 12 Josephite students (Emilia Nicholas and Violet Cabral) who gave up their precious study time to assist.
The young participants were given the opportunity to hear Mary’s story, reflect on the qualities Mary demonstrated as a leader and identify these qualities within themselves or those they felt inspired to emulate. By inviting the students to see Mary as a young leader just like them, the students felt not only inspired but empowered to take action in their own communities. The impact of this exercise is clearly seen by the student’s comments below:
In the final hour of the retreat, the leadership team of each school met to exchange ideas about how this vision can be best transformed into action for justice in their own communities.
As an educator for over 30 years, the past five years spent in the international sphere, I am very used to working with articulate and socially aware students. However, it has been a long time since I have heard young people speak so passionately and insightfully about issues of justice and, perhaps most importantly, articulate their role in how to enact it. This is clearly reflective of the high calibre of the self-aware and globally conscious young people who participated in the retreat and the justice work their teachers do within their schools.
It was truly inspirational to hear students talk with authority and knowledge about the injustices that exist in the world and then make the all-important connection as to how they can create greater awareness and change in their own communities.
Upon reflection, as a student of the Josephites, I should not have been surprised. The memory of my days as a student leader have shaped who I am to this day.
I was a part of this retreat experience with: my ex-Principal, Sr Jan Barnett; my best friend and ex-Vice Captain, Karen Oxley; the fabulously articulate and highly skilled facilitator, and former School Captain of Mount Saint Joseph, Milperra, Joelle Sassine; Emilia Nicholas (Holy Spirit Catholic College, Lakemba); and Violet Cabral (MSJ, Milperra). This group spans 70 years of Josephite lineage and is testament to the impact the Josephite tradition and student leadership has on those lucky enough to be a part of it.
As a teacher, I never doubt the strength and courage and inspiration of young people, but this retreat reminded me of the power that comes from a shared vision and the Josephite tradition. I have no doubt that this vision and these values will continue to pulse through the veins of those young leaders long after they too leave their school communities and make their way into the world.