I would like to welcome everyone back and extend a special welcome to all our new students and their families. May our New Year flourish with new discoveries, wonderful inspirations and fill our hearts with much peace and happiness. I feel extremely blessed to be joining or should I say returning to MSJ, particularly as a past MSJ student. It was some 25 years ago, as a quiet and timid Year 7 student, I walked into these very gates filled with wonder and enthusiasm. To give you just a very quick background, I have worked in two schools previously being MacKillop College, Werribee, and Thomas Carr College in Tarneit, where I have held a range of leadership roles and taught in a broad number of domain areas. MacKillop College, as you know, is a Josephite school (AJJASS) and Thomas Carr College, which you may not know, also has strong links to St Mary of the Cross. Thomas Carr was the second Archbishop of Melbourne, and he asked Mary and the Sisters of Saint Joseph to come to Melbourne to work with the vulnerable. Now, returning to the MSJ community, particularly as a Catholic leader in my 20th year of education, provides a real sense of personal joy and belonging. I hope through St Mary’s encouraging spirit, I can bring about new possibilities to make a significant and valuable contribution to this Catholic community.

College Theme 2023

This year, our new College Theme is, ‘Our Joy in Our Belonging’, which has been linked to St Paul’s scriptural passage, ‘We who are many, are one body in Christ’ (Romans 12:5). We hear this more than once in the New Testament, but what does it mean? This message emphasises when we come together, keeping Jesus as the head, we can do wonderful things for God. He has made us rely on each other, just as the body has parts that work together. Therefore, our theme sets us a challenge, to open our hearts to everyone. All are welcome to explore, discover and challenge. May we understand how truly blessed we are to be a part of the body of the Christ and seek joy in knowing that we have a place right here to belong. We thank Year 12 student Lucy McFarlane for designing our College Theme Banner this year.

“I created this design with inspiration from the people around me. I have friends of different cultures, sexualities, and beliefs, but we are one, and we all belong at MSJ. The rainbow in the image represents the MSJ houses, LGBTQ and diversity. I put the hands together to show a sense of togetherness and connection. No matter where we come from and who we are, we can all belong. And we are all in this together.” (Lucy McFarlane)

Opening College Mass

With every new year comes a fresh start and what better way than joining together for a Thanksgiving Mass celebrated on Friday 24 February by Archpriest Michael Kalka from Mary, Help of Christians Parish, and Fr John Healy from Holy Trinity Parish. This was wonderful occasion for our entire College community with special guests in attendance. The Mass reflected the key messages of our College theme which ties in perfectly with Mary MacKillop’s legacy and the Josephite Tradition. Mary MacKillop believed that the compassionate love of God was available to all she met. No one was excluded. Fr John’s homily was extremely engaging and invited representatives from each year level to come forward to partake in a story which brought alive the Gospel message. We had an array of student and staff volunteers in roles such as processions bearers, readers, extraordinary ministers, and our music ministry were outstanding.

Celebrating Lent

In preparation for Ash Wednesday, we hosted for the first time a ‘Burning of Palms Ceremony’ with Fr John Healy. Fr John spoke about the meaning and rich symbolism of palm branches and their connection to Ash Wednesday. They remind us of the palms laid to cover Jesus’ path as he arrived in Jerusalem, just before he was crucified. Traditionally, the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. This year, we invited all our College community to bring in palm leaves to be blessed and burnt. Our ceremony included prayer, ritual, and music. Students, as part of this ceremony, were invited to cut up the palms ready to be burnt with the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.

To mark the beginning of the Lenten Season, we hosted a whole school Ash Wednesday Liturgy which was led by the Faith Team, student leaders and choir over the College PA system. This meant that the entire College community, students, teachers, and support staff stopped as one united community to pray, reflect and reawaken our conscience to enter more deeply into the Lenten season. To add to the sacredness of our liturgy, our prayers, readings and hymns reflected the solemn season. Each classroom was set up for prayer with a sacred space that included a purple cloth, candle, cross and jar of blessed ashes from our Burning of Palms ceremony. At the conclusion of the liturgy, we were encouraged to take up the Christian challenge of service to others through our annual active participation in the ‘Caritas Australia Project Compassion Appeal’. This was a very meaningful and reverent occasion for all, and it was lovely to witness many of our staff purposely dressed in the colour purple sending the message to our students that we’re all in this together.

"I am extremely proud and impressed by the way the Ash Wednesday Liturgy was celebrated this year at MSJ. It is the first time I felt that students had fully immersed themselves in the experience, as we were invited to think about contributing to a more just world. Having us come together in House groups enabled the liturgy to flow with integrity, encouraging all to begin this journey on a more personal level.

The attention of students was drawn to the beautiful scriptures, rituals, music, the rich silence, and prayers of the liturgy. It was a great way to begin our reconciliation with God, and mark the beginning of another blessed Lenten season”. (Kate Lavers, College Captain)

We also had the pleasure of being invited by Fr Michael Kalka to attend Mary, Help of Christians Parish Ash Wednesday Mass. Five Year 7 students and Principal Kate Dishon joined the local primary school students, staff, and St Mary’s community. The Year 7 students in attendance were very excited and proud to be returning to their past primary school. Events like this strengthen our partnerships with our local parish community.

Over the Lenten period, the College community have been putting their compassion into action by hosting several fundraising events which include a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Stall, Casual Clothes Day, a Bake Sale, Easter Hampers, and several other House events. Our current donation tally to date is $2,673.70. This is an outstanding effort and truly shows that if we all come together for a common cause, great things can happen. At the end of the term, we look forward to donating our funds to the Caritas Türkiye and Syria Earthquake Appeal and the Project Compassion Lenten Appeal.

Catholic Education Week

We look forward to celebrating Catholic Education Week (12-19 March) where we will maximise every opportunity to proclaim our Catholic identity through hosting and participating in a broad range of events and activities over the course of the week, which include the St Patrick’s Schools Mass at the Cathedral, Young Speakers Colloquium, and a Visual Arts Display. Back on campus, we will have a staff morning tea with a College Captain Address, guest speaker Mr Michael McGirr, Mission Director of Caritas Australia, will speak at our whole school assembly along with faith-filled quizzes during morning pastoral, Chapel prayer, staff accreditation opportunities, fundraising events, lunchtime club activities and some very fun Irish celebrations for St Patrick’s Day. We feel this week will be a true representation of the 2023 CEW theme, ‘Forming lives of faith, hope and the love of Christ’.

Reflection Days and RE excursions

Reflection days and religious education excursions are an integral part of the mission of Catholic Education and our facilitators’ serve in partnership with our College to successfully complement our RE Program ensuring the most positive student outcomes are achieved. Our Year 7 students will be attending their Belonging Days on 20, 21, 22, 27 March at the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre. A place of great inspiration and opportunity for our new students to connect to the spirit and charism of Saint Mary of the Cross and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

Our Year 10 students have the privilege of attending two significant days, one being a World Religions Excursion on Tuesday 21 March where they select a place of worship or museum to visit to learn more about this faith tradition and engage in interfaith dialogue. On Wednesday 22 March, all Year 10 students will be back on campus for a ‘Healthy Relationships Day’ facilitated by ‘YOUR CHOICEZ’: a dynamic values-based education program. The presenter, Katie Kobler, will address the major issues impacting young people, and students will have the opportunity to reflect and contribute to this engaging event.

Anne Severi - Director of Catholic Identity