Principal's Blog - 7 February 2020

05 Feb 2020

Dear members of the Marcellin community,

A very warm welcome to 2020. It has been a positive and energetic start to the year for both students and staff. The teaching staff began last week but of course many of our facilities, grounds, finance and administration staff have been busy through most of January ensuring that everything was in place for the start of the academic year. Years 7 and 12 began last Friday and the remainder of the young men began classes on Monday of this week.

My first impressions of Marcellin College have been overwhelmingly positive. I have thoroughly enjoyed my early interactions with the students and have found them to be engaging and welcoming. I have also had the opportunity to meet many parents through the various parent information evenings this week which has also been wonderful. Over time I hope to be able to meet other parents and speak with them about their hopes and aspirations for their sons here at Marcellin.

A highlight of this week is the Dux Assembly being held today. Over 2,000 students, staff, high achievers from the Class of 2019, parents and carers and special guests gathered in St Marcellin’s Hall to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the Class of 2019. It was a beautiful ritual of acknowledgement and celebration, not only of the young men returning, but of the College more broadly. Please find below my address to the community.

Best wishes for the week ahead.

Good morning staff, parents and carers, special guests and young men of Marcellin College. I would like to add my personal welcome and thanks to our special guests, Dr Frank Malloy, National Director of Marist Schools Australia, Ms Julie Ryan, Regional Director for Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, and Mr John Robinson, Regional Director for New South Wales and ACT. It’s a bit of a Direct-a-thon here this morning. It must be pretty quiet down in the MSA offices at Brunswick at the moment! But on a serious note, we really value your presence with us today. Marcellin College is a proud Marist school with an enduring connection to our Marist history and spirituality and your presence here today is a real endorsement of our mission and work here at Marcellin. So, thank you.

At this time too I would like draw your attention to one of our guests in particular. Julie Ryan, who right at this moment is probably starting to squirm in her seat a little as she is a person of great humility and wouldn’t want to be singled out today, was recently awarded “The Medal of the Order of Australia” for service to Australian Secondary Education. This is by any measure a remarkable recognition of, in Dr Malloy’s own words “…many years of selfless, generous and transformative service and leadership in Catholic education.” So Julie Ryan, OAM, as a Marist community that benefits from your great work, we acknowledge your award and congratulate you on it. Please join me in acknowledging Julie with a round of applause.

And now, to these young men from the Class of 2019, let me add my congratulations to you on your outstanding achievements. I particularly commend Aury and Stephen for their fine words – words of gratitude, dealing with challenges, and above all, words of hope for the future for all of you who will graduate from Marcellin over the coming years. I’m going to take a few minutes now to tap into and elaborate on these important messages you’ve been hearing this morning.

As Giacomo suggested earlier, I’m sure there wouldn’t be one of these young men in front of me who did not experience some disappointment or perhaps even failure at some point in their academic journey. But they are here with us today, not only because they possess innate ability and have a strong work ethic, but I guarantee you they also have a significant amount of resilience and hope which they have tapped into to overcome the inevitable challenges along the journey.

There’s a scene in Tim Winton’s novel “The Shepherd’s Hut” where a tortured young soul, the very uncouth and foulmouthed 16-year-old Jaxie Clackton, is running away both literally and metaphorically, from an abusive and tragic family life back in his small hometown in Western Australia. He bunks down for the night in the middle of the bush – alone and frightened. He gets a fire going, more for company and security than for warmth, eats a tin of pineapple pieces for his dinner, and settles down to go to sleep…but he can’t get to sleep. His mind is racing with all the things that have happened in the previous few days. He starts to think about his abusive father and other disturbing things. The reader is then presented with his thoughts and this gives real insight into his state of mind.  He tries so hard to clear his head, but he can’t. And then he says:

Honestly, sometimes you’d rather be a dog. A mutt doesn’t torture itself with thinking. It just lays in the sun and goes to sleep. And that makes sense to me. Keep’s a dog’s life bearable, doesn’t it?

What a desperately sad state this young man is in. For him, at that moment, the only way to make life bearable is to not think – to block everything out.

But we can all be a bit like that sometimes. We can be overwhelmed by our circumstances and feel that the only way to survive is to block it all out. Psychologists though would tell us that’s not very healthy. It’s not very healthy because it can lead us down a path where we wake up one morning and we seem to have lost hope. Perhaps a better way, is to address our challenges. To face up to them as well as we can, even when things look grim. But that’s pretty hard to do on our own - we need to seek out support and be able to trust others. Jaxie Clackton is able to eventually find his support in the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of places. Through this new relationship, he rediscovers friendship and trust and ultimately, hope.

Our Catholic faith and our Marist story, both say a lot about hope. There are many stories in scripture that give us cause to be hopeful and hope filled. And what about the story of our founder Marcellin Champagnat? A couple of years ago, Brother Michael Green wrote an article entitled The Marist Dream. In it, he laments the crisis in credibility of many of our leaders, both here and overseas, including what has happened in our Catholic world. But he goes on to say we need to stop ourselves from becoming cynical and disengaged because, if we do, and I quote Br Michael here:

It would be a pity because people, and especially young people, need hope. Purpose and identity are fed by hope.

He goes on to say:

Without hope, we (ie Marists) would lose our reason for existing.

He then challenges all of us involved in Marist education with these words:

You and I continue to be called as Marists to have the privilege and the responsibility to be engaged in the lives of young people and to offer them hope ……. We’ll do it, as Marcellin did, with strength of mind and gentleness of heart, and with a tender and resilient closeness to the God who abides.

For these young men who we are acknowledging today, I would like to think that those words ring true and provide a pretty fair assessment of the teachers who have walked this, for the most part, 6 year journey with you that came to a conclusion last year. They have worked with you, encouraged you, yes, sometimes challenged you, and hopefully inspired you. If, as Br Michael suggests, your purpose and identity are fed by hope, then your teachers have provided a veritable feast for you.

And what about your parents and carers? What a great decision they made to send you to Marcellin. I’m sure there are many happy and proud parents in the room today. Parents have a huge responsibility and getting you through school is only one of the challenges.

So, what happened to Jaxie Clackton? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out! But we’ve all got a bit of Jaxie in us. We all have our challenges and we all feel overwhelmed at times. Many of these young men we are honouring today have had times of doubt and perhaps even times when there has been a feeling of hopelessness. But gentlemen, you have made it and you should take pride in that.

But I’ll tell you what Jaxie didn’t have that many of you do have. He didn’t have the support and encouragement of a loving family; he didn’t attend a school with committed, caring and knowledgeable teachers and mentors, – and, he didn’t have loyal friends who stuck by him.

So, in the end, this hugely significant and meaningful day for these young men of the Class of 2019 is about 3 things:

  1. Pride in their achievement;
  2. Gratitude for the people who helped them get there; and
  3. Hope for the future – which is anchored, in the words of Br Michael Green, “… in a tender and resilient closeness to the God who abides”.

Again, my congratulations to our high achievers and blessings to all in our community for a successful and rewarding 2020. I am looking forward to it immensely.

God bless.

John Hickey