Address for Catholic Education Week
Statement Released: Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Your Excellency, Quentin Bryce, Governor of Queensland, Mr David Carrigan the Chair of Queensland Catholic Education Commission, Mr Michael Byrne, the Executive Director of Queensland Catholic Education, Joan Hendricks, Chair Indigenous Education Committee, Terry Sullivan Member for Stafford, representing the Premier and The Minister for Education, the Honourable Jenny Macklin, Deputy Federal Labor Leader and Shadow Minister for Education, Training, Science and Research, Lady Mayoress, Ms Lisa Newman, Mr Andrew Slack, Patron Catholic Education Week, State and Federal Parliamentarians, Mr Bob Quinn and Mr Kevin Rudd, Students, Distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I began my secondary education in January 1951 at Nudgee College. A companion that day was David Carrigan, the present Chair of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission, condemned later on to share a locker with me. Eventually at the end of my senior year in 1954 I decided in the final months, that I would become a priest. A fellow student at that time, Dennis Murphy, later president of the Queensland Labor Party, a Member of Parliament and a close friend of the present Premier, Peter Beattie, was also thinking of being a priest, but at the last moment postponed his decision. Nevertheless he bet me twenty pounds that I wouldn’t make it to ordination, and when I did seven years later, came to my ordination in Stanthorpe and paid me in books one of which was Das Kapital by Karl Marx. Later as a member of parliament he was tragically struck down by cancer at a comparatively early age. I made contact with him after many years and was able to visit him before his death, I said to him “I still have your books”. He replied “They probably need revising, as do all our ideas eventually.” His words were a subtle admission that he had moved on from where he had been at the time of my ordination. I am certain however that despite his changing ideas he never ever lost his passionate desire to know, a desire that Catholic education seeks to impart even as it skills young people both to cope with life and contribute to it. We often describe Catholic Education as quality education within a context of faith. The faith indicated is not just blind faith that in some unhelpful way might undermine education, but rather a reasonable faith that grows over the years parallel to our knowledge. At its best, faith and education support each other as they mutually probe for an ever deeper knowledge of the mystery of life and existence. If education can impart a thirst for knowledge in the students it serves, it will be giving them a life-long gift that ensures that their education will last forever. Only yesterday I celebrated Mass for my extended family at my sister’s home, Albany Creek. My grand-nephews and nieces were sitting on the floor in front of the altar. After giving them the final blessing I said to them “Now go out and change the world”. My grand-nephew Tom all of 8 years old, corrected me, the Archbishop, from his place on the floor saying “Why should we change the world? It is already good.” He went on, “If we try to change it we may make it mean”. I didn’t enter into discussion with this budding philosopher at that time but I did harbour silent admiration for whoever is teaching him at St Mary’s Catholic School, Beaudesert.
This week I will be seventy years old. On Saturday night my family honoured me with a birthday party at Paddington. In my short speech I indicated that I have never been happier in than I am now, because I believe that at seventy I have a better grasp of faith than I ever had earlier, and am much more comfortable in trying to communicate it to other people especially young people. At the same time I carry a certain frustration about my ability to communicate it as convincingly as I would like. Over the years I have discovered that faith drives me not away from the world and existence but rather towards it more than ever, and helps me search for the hidden depths and meaning in it, much more passionately now than I did at the tender age of eighteen when I decided to be a priest. Religion is meant to enhance education, and provided that we get the balance right it will do so into the future for the benefit of Education, the expansion of the common good, and ultimately the greater glory of God. Talking in the Cathedral on Friday night to the Lourdes Hill College celebrating ninety years of education I bemoaned the fact that we have great difficulty in communicating the excitement of the Christian vision to young people today. If we could do so, not only might we prevent young people from squandering their precious gift of life by searching for excitement in the wrong places, but we might encourage them to have a passionate desire for knowledge through a love of God’s world. That love should make students more determined than ever to explore the mystery of life ever more deeply for their own benefit and that of others whom they will ultimately serve. I am sure that Catholic Education’s desire to better integrate faith and education will only improve into the future for the benefit of the system, the satisfaction of its students, and ultimately the common good of society. May God continue to assist us in this task of integration. It is now with the very deepest satisfaction and much pride that I declare Catholic Education Week 2006 officially open.
Archbishop John Bathersby D.D.
Released by the Catholic Communications Office