Principals of Catholic schools from around Melbourne gathered on Wednesday 21 April for the 2020 Celebration of Principalship.
Originally planned for December 2020, and available at the time as a digital experience, the rescheduled event was the first physical gathering of Catholic principals in almost 18 months.
Beginning with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, the evening was an opportunity for current and retiring school leaders to be recognised for their leadership of Catholic learning communities across the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli reflected on the role of the principal as 'someone who is meant to be the beginning of what is undertaken, and the one who sets the direction for those who follow.'
'To be a principal, therefore, is to be a foundation, a source for others in the great endeavour of schooling our young,' he said.
'As the new constitution of Melbourne Catholic Schools puts it: Catholic schooling seeks to provide the young with the best kind of education possible, one that fosters a formation of the whole person that is deeply and enduringly humanising.'
'To whom might we look for an originally, well-lived humanity? ... look to Jesus Christ.'
The celebration continued at the Park Hyatt with presentations to long-serving and retiring principals, as well as student performances. On hand to assist on the night were students from Simonds Catholic College, West Melbourne (altar servers), Academy of Mary Immaculate, Fitzroy (Mass choir), St Aloysius College, North Melbourne (dinner choir) and soloist Celeste Murone of Loyola College, Watsonia.
Jim Miles, Executive Director of Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS), praised school leaders for supporting their communities through the challenges presented in 2020.
‘You led your schools through multiple transitions to remote and flexible learning, school closures and assisting the Department with contact tracing’, he said. ‘I know of principals who were calling members of their school community to check in on them despite being unwell themselves,' Jim said.
'Others were involved in organising food and other essentials for community members in self-isolation.
'These efforts ensured that our schools continued to deliver a high-quality Catholic education and helped to keep our communities safe.’
Homily by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
It is a quirk of linguistic history that the word by which you are called, principal, is spelt with ‘al’ at the end, while the word to which it is related by sound is spelt with a ‘le’ ending. Principle (with the ‘le’) is the noun, meaning a fundamental truth or proposition; while your word for principal (with the ‘al’) is an adjective, meaning first in order of importance. Both derive from the Latin word ‘principum’ meaning the source or foundation for something. And so begins the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John, in principio – in the beginning. Not as in start or commencement, but in order of precedence and priority.
School principals are, in this sense, not the first in terms of delivery – speak to your class or subject teachers about that! – but first in terms of purpose and direction. A school principal is someone who is meant to be the beginning of what is undertaken, and the one who sets the direction for those who follow.
To be a principal, therefore, is to be a foundation, a source for others in the great endeavour of schooling our young. But what is that endeavour, which you have accepted as your mission? As the new constitution of Melbourne Catholic Schools puts it:
Catholic schooling seeks to provide the young with the best kind of education possible, one that fosters a formation of the whole person that is deeply and enduringly humanising.
I like that phrase ‘a formation … that is deeply and enduringly humanising.’ This is a neat way of summing up the principle (with an ‘le’), the fundamental truth, by which we seek to educate the children and young people in our schools. But for an endeavour to be truly humanising, it needs to pursue excellence as its fundamental purpose to allow each human person to flourish. A humanising excellence is threefold in character: it is of the head, the heart and the hands – or to use more fancy words: of intellect, goodness and action.
Your ‘al’ principalship is a calling to live well this threefold excellence in your own life and mission, so that you may be a witness to it for the sake of others. But how might this be achieved? Certainly, there is the task of pursuing your own formation so as to live your life in a deeply and enduringly human way. To do this, you may wish to ask to whom might we look for an originally, well-lived humanity? And I would answer, look to Jesus Christ.
For he is – in his humanity lived for our sake – the Principal of us all. He is the First before all else – who is able to say simply of himself ‘I am’. He is the beginning; the foundation; the source of any fulness of life we might claim. And of himself, Jesus would say: I am the bread of life. I am he who nourishes for life – never allowing hunger; never allowing thirst. Jesus nourishes, as a spring flowing from the source nourishes.
Who is a principal in our Catholic sense? A principal is someone who nourishes, in the image of the original Nourisher, for the sake of the lives of those for whom they are responsible. May you be the best of principals, drawing always on the foundational source of your life, Jesus Christ.
Melbourne Catholic02 October 2023
Justin McLellan (CNS)02 October 2023