It is only a matter of weeks since I returned from the Holy Land. Watching the events of the past week unfold has had a profound effect on those of us who travelled together as fellow pilgrims. During our time in the Holy Land, we experienced the deep sense of history, place and story that this land evokes. A pilgrimage is not a holiday or even a tour. The prayer book that we used as pilgrims’ states:

Just as it was for the Magi in the Gospel, the star that draws and guides today’s pilgrims does not always shine with the same brilliance; but still they rise up and respond to an intimate whisper. They know not what awaits them, nor can they imagine the detours they will take, the difficulties that confront them, the people they will meet, and the words they will hear.’

During my time in the Holy Land, I was struck by the perspective that I found. The struggle with the many paradoxes I encountered and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift of faith, that was first given to me by my family, nurtured through my education and given space to flourish in my role as a Catholic educator, especially in a Kildare Ministries context. I will never hear the scriptures the same again having the perspective of place to overlay with the message of the Gospel writers. I felt the connection of being part of a story that is thousands of years old and yet still brings life to thousands, millions of people around the world, many who were making the same pilgrimage. There must be good news to sustain such a faith tradition.

I was reminded of the need for a faith that was considered and thoughtful and not a blind interpretation of scripture or tradition. So often in holy places we were reminded ‘this might be the place… but we are not certain’. In every case it was the fact that people have been gathering or visiting a particular place that deemed it holy. I was surprised that I found a resonance with the daily call to prayer whilst in the Islamic areas of the Holy Land and appreciated the commitment of the Muslim and Jewish people to their practice of their faith tradition. I was challenged by the paradox of the way humans can focus on power and territory whilst proclaiming a message of love, peace and a forgiving God. I haven’t resolved this yet and it will continue to challenge me. In fact, there are many things I am only now reflecting on and reconsidering for what they need to teach me. I guess this is the power of pilgrimage and a reminder that God is always speaking to us if we allow the space to listen.

Next week we will farewell our Year 12s as they conclude their academic year. This is one of the important markers in a school year where we reflect and celebrate. Our Year 12 cohort have been wonderful leaders for our College community ably lead by our College Co Captains Ava and Charlotte and the Year 12 Student Leadership Group. They have been energetic, generous, community minded and lived out our motto of ‘Strength and Kindliness’. We look forward to gathering with families on Monday evening at our Graduation Mass followed by a morning of reflection, gratitude and celebration next Tuesday where our College will say thank you and farewell. We thank the Year 11s who have said ‘yes’ to leadership roles for 2024 and trust they will continue the legacy of this year’s leaders.

We know that VCE exams will shortly commence for a number of our students. This is a time to channel all they have learned not just about their subjects but also about focus, agency, commitment, resilience, responsibility, partnering with teachers and self care. We encourage our students to ensure they optimise the connection with their teachers and the invaluable feedback and advice they can give at this time.

As the year starts to draw to a close we also begin to see the fruits of our student’s endeavours and this was clearly on display at our VCE Arts Exhibition last week. The diversity of pieces from across the full range of visual and performing arts were a treat for all those who came along to enjoy the works. Our College band and trio of violinists added to the atmosphere and the spirit of celebration of the Arts at Clonard. Thanks to our Arts Staff Team for their support of the evening and the wonderful work they have done with students throughout the year. Later this term we look forward to our Year 7s showcasing their Growth projects which have been an extended work across the year.

We have reached a milestone with our STEM Building as the final stage of the concrete slab was completed last week. It is exciting to see the footprint and be able to walk through the spaces that will become our labs. The next stage will start to take shape around mid November as the main steel structures are installed. The students and staff have been adaptable and accommodating of changes to our spaces as we work on this great facility for the future.

This weekend we come to the end of a long period of dialogue and discernment around the referendum. Over the past months, I have shared with our community resources and thinking points from the Kildare Ministries Trustees and the Australian Bishops. We have been asked to think deeply and discuss widely as we come to our choice. Just this week I read a letter by Bishop Vincent Long who reminds us that we are a Gospel community who are guided by the principles of social justice. He calls for us to remember that when we strengthen reconciliation with First Nations people we strengthen our nation. As we go to the referendum, let us bear in our hearts the words of St Paul: (1 Cor. 16: 14) – Let all that you do be done in love.