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From the Principal

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”  - St Catherine of Siena 

It is the Easter season, the most significant time on the Christian calendar and for all of us at Siena College, it is the week of St Catherine’s Day, officially celebrated on 29 April.  The Feast of our College Patron, St Catherine of Siena, is always a very special day of prayer, community, outreach to others in the Solomon Islands, and some fun with our traditional Fiesta.  

This week has also been a time of remembering the Jewish holocaust where six million Jews were put to death in Europe in the second world war.  On Monday evening Siena College was privileged to host a Christian memorial service in memory of this appalling time in the world’s history.

I was moved by an article written by Gemma Di Bari who teaches at Siena College, that was published recently in The Age newspaper.  Gemma was inspired to write after an excursion last term with some of our students.   

“Like the writer’s pen and the sculptor’s chisel, experiences and stories fashion who we become.  At the entrance of Siena College stands a statue of St Catherine. The plaque reads that she 'walked amid chaos and was a force to be reckoned with'.

At the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, to an audience of young female students, Sarah Saaroni, aged 93, spoke in a gentle voice but with the conviction of her beliefs, that one must not hate but rather seek to understand what can happen when we do not fight for what is right.  She spoke also of the importance of sharing our stories through the spoken and written word and through one’s art.

Catherine of Siena was a woman who walked boldly into situations knowing that she would be opposed, but she had a firm belief that she had to use her voice to bring justice to unjust situations.  At fifteen she joined the Dominican sisters as a lay woman, she wrote letters, convinced the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon, and lived her life dedicated to the pursuit of truth.  

Also as a fifteen year old, Sarah walked amid chaos, witnessed atrocities and used every inch of strength to survive on her own without any family members. She considers it her duty to speak of her life in Poland as a young Jewish woman at the start of World War II, so a younger generation can learn.  Sarah spoke about her fear, which walked with her at every turn as she dodged soldiers and anyone who threatened her survival.

Catherine’s letters written more than six hundred years ago influenced the political and religious men who governed with absolute power. She did not shy away from issues but rather was motivated with zeal and tenacity to call for change.  Catherine’s predisposition for endurance meant she allowed no one to intimidate her to leave the path she was on.

In 1981 at the age of 55, Sarah began working with clay, first as a potter then as a sculptor.  Many of her works now grace the rooms at the Jewish Holocaust Centre where they tell the story of the Jewish experience during the horrors inflicted on her people.  All her statues are poignant but one stands out. It’s of Dr Janusz Korczak, who attempted to save orphans from the Warsaw ghetto.  When German soldiers came to collect children from the orphanage, Korczak refused the sanctuary he was offered, saying that he could not abandon “his children”.

What was their message? Become the sculptor of your life. Speak wisely, act courageously and contribute to your world.”

Sadly, these past weeks have shown that we have not learned well from the pages of history.  We have seen people killed in places of worship, Moslems praying in the mosque in Christchurch, Christians in Sri Lanka in revenge attacks and tragically at this time of remembering the holocaust, Jews in their synagogue in California; people killed because of their religion or race, atrocities committed out of prejudice and hatred and fear of difference.

We all have great capacity for goodness and kindness and when we get to know others who are different from us, we no longer fear them.  

Over the break, I had the privilege of travelling to Italy with twenty-three lovely Siena girls and my colleagues, Tina Di Camillo and Anthony Vadala. It was approaching Easter and we visited many churches, amongst them a most extraordinary twelfth century church beneath which excavations have revealed a fourth century church, and below that a first century church, a Roman house and a pagan temple.  Visiting San Clemente is like walking through the centuries of Rome’s history.  

In this Church is the most beautiful mosaic crucifix I have ever seen and one which for me was about the message of Easter, about the new life we are invited to and the peace and harmony we can bring to the world, each in our own small way.  It is a call to us to listen to the views of others and to embrace diversity and be enriched rather than diminished by fear of difference.  It is ablaze with a golden background and beautiful colours. Peace emanates from the face of Jesus and the cross is growing as a tree with water below.  It is a tree of life with a rich network of branches that spread across the dome like a large vineyard. Between the shoots in amongst the coils there are shepherds and peasants and animals and people of all kinds.  The hand of God reaches down from above to bring the world life and reconciliation.   

Pope Francis reminds us that our joy in the risen Jesus, the Easter Jesus, is to a quiet call to love and service.  May our Siena community always be a place of kindness and compassion, inclusion and respect.  May we flourish amidst diversity and be enriched by our differences

It is lovely to share the following news with our community:

Grace Power has been recognised for her outstanding achievements in VCE Health and Human Development in 2018 via a Premier’s Award.  This is also a tribute to the excellent teaching and mentoring of Anne Rice.  Congratulations to Grace and Anne.  We are very proud of them both. 

College Business Manager, Tony Grant and Assistant Business Manager, Mark Baldasso graduated this week with an MBAE, a Masters of Business Administration (Executive), conferred by the Australian Catholic University.  They have invested many hours in study and lectures over the past three years and this is a significant achievement.

Deputy Principal Bernadette Donnelly is the recipient of the 2020 Principals Association of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools (PAVCSS) Memorial Leadership Scholarship.  It is awarded annually to a leading educator in a Victorian Catholic Secondary School who shows outstanding leadership capacity in a particular field in his/her school, has strengthened his/her own leadership  capacity through study or project involvement and contributed to the broader dimension of Catholic Education through membership of committees and organizations.  The Scholarship provides $5,000 towards participation in a recognized Leadership Program and towards accommodation and air fares.  This is well deserved recognition of Bernadette’s outstanding leadership of learning and teaching. 

Sarah Clark from our Music Department was chosen to play the Last Post at the Anzac Day Rugby League Game.  Once again, this is a great honour and a great credit to Sarah’s musicianship and service in the Army Reserve. 

I extend our warmest wishes to Kerryn McGillen and all our musicians who are travelling to Generations in Jazz this weekend in Warrnambool.  I know they will do the College proud.

It was lovely to welcome mothers and daughters of generational families to a gathering in the Heritage Centre.  The memorabilia there attracted much attention including the old uniforms on display.  

Thank you to all who attended the Board and Community Night in the Susan Alberti Auditorium.  We are so appreciative of the wonderful support and encouragement we receive from the Siena community.  At this event, Mr Sean McGing announced that he will conclude his time as Board Chair at the forthcoming AGM.  Sean’s outstanding commitment to this College over many years will be acknowledged as he passes the baton to incoming Chair Kath McCarthy.  We are grateful to Kath for taking on this role in the future.   

May the term unfold well for you all.


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