Whilst we will all have our own special memories of 2013, one of the reasons History will look back on 2013 as a year worth remembering is because it is the year in which Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope to relinquish the office since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. The conclave to select his successor elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina who took the name of Francis. Pope Francis has quickly endeared himself to all. I think of him as our first “popstar Pope”: his barefooted, frank and humble approach has allowed him to creep so quickly into all our hearts and his popularity continues to grow by the day.
On June 7, Pope Francis addressed students of Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania. As he gazed out over the audience of 9000 students, alumni, parents and teachers, Pope Francis declared that he suspected his prepared speech for the occasion would be “a tad boring” and that he would rather just take some questions from audience members.
A teenage boy told the pope that he was trying hard to believe in God and be faithful, but that he often struggled with doubt. "What can you say to help me and others like me?" he asked Pope Francis. The Pope responded that a life of faith is a journey. He went on to add:
“Journeying is an art because if we're always in a hurry, we get tired and don't arrive at our journey's goal,” he said. “If we stop, we don't go forward and we also miss the goal. Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult. … There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall … but always think of this: Don't be afraid of failures. Don't be afraid of falling. What matters in the art of journeying isn't not falling but not staying down. Get up right away and continue going forward. This is what's beautiful: This is working every day, this is journeying as humans. But also, it's bad walking alone: It's bad and boring. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, that helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at that goal, that 'there where' we're supposed to arrive.”
Although Pope Francis’ words relate the journey of faith, they are as applicable to the journey that we undertake as a school: amidst the day-to-day haste and weariness, it is important that we continue to look forward toward the horizon; that we continue to consider the destinations reached as well as those yet unreached. We must also not be afraid to admit where we have failed or fallen because each of those milestones is a reminder that we are “going forward…working every day… [and]… journeying as humans”.
The appointment of Mr Jeffrey as College Headmaster at the end of 2012 has allowed me the time and space to lift my head and “look forward toward the horizon”. At the start of the year, the Board of Governors approved a new five-year plan for St Benedict’s. This plan is available for perusal on the school’s website and includes proposed capital developments and the following broad strategic imperatives to be addressed over the course of the next few years:
- Education for Citizenship
- Capacity Enhancement and Staff Development
- Transformation and Diversity
- Financial Sustainability
- Establishment of an Old Boys Association
Term 2 of 2013 saw all three sections of St Benedict’s involved in the full-scale quality assurance process facilitated by independently appointed mentors and conducted under the auspices of the Independent Quality Assurance Agency. The School Evaluation Reports submitted in the wake of these processes are available for download on the school’s website and are very complimentary of the work that is being done at our school. The areas identified for development and improvement through this process have been incorporated into the school’s strategic five-year plan. The school has also completed Statements 1 and 2 of the Signs of God’ Presence, the tool used to guide the spirituality and ethos of Catholic schools.
The spiritual life of the school was greatly enriched with the appointment of Fr Vitalis Marole as a fulltime chaplain. Father’s presence at the school has enabled us to celebrate Holy Mass on a daily basis and to more regularly facilitate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Father Vitalis was also instrumental in arranging visits from Archbishop Tlhagale and Archbishop Slattery. In October, 46 Grade 10 boys were confirmed into the Faith and 53 boys received First Holy Communion. With a fulltime chaplain on the staff, we have also been able to commence conversion classes for those boys who find themselves drawn to Catholicism. On behalf of our entire community, I would like to express our gratitude to Father Terrence Barnard, the Oblate Provincial, for his visionary approach in this regard. It is an initiative which I hope will enjoy continued support.
We are blessed that as a school we continue to attract staff of the highest calibre. At Preparatory School level, our ranks were strengthened through the appointment of Victoria Albers, Chris Couperthwaite, Glynnis Huggan, Lynette Isherwood, Bongi Mthitshane, Bobby Vas and Nicola Vorster. We were also delighted to be able to appoint Hendrina Haji Joannou in an administrative capacity in the Junior Preparatory School.
The College staff complement was increased with the appointment of Mark Gregory, Shavaun Hanekom, Dominic Kester, Theresa Nel, Tessa Scott, Jodi Shipton, Brad Smith, Jarrod Taylor, Matthew van Craeynest and Frank van der Linde.
Chris Breedvelt returned to the school as a fulltime administrator for a network which now comprises over 400 machines. It was this year that we finally gained access to a fiber optic cable which will no doubt lead to even greater expansion in the years to come. Our Auxiliary and Support Services were restructured which lead to the appointment of Chiquita Candy, Dean Marshal and Sean McCann.
We were also delighted when Prof Mary Scholes accepted an invitation to join the St Benedict's Board of Governors. Prof Scholes is an educationalist of note and her contribution to St Benedict’s - on all levels - has already left its mark.
During the course of the year we bid farewell to Richard Stonier who departed for Rome. Richard regularly emails updates regarding his formation as a priest. I look forward to the day that he returns to our school to celebrate Mass with the St Benedict's community. At the end of this year, Steven Edwards and Jarrod Taylor will leave our employ. Both will be greatly missed.
It is with hearts filled with great gratitude that we will bid farewell to Mariaan Coetzee, Audrey Levenson, Daniel Nendouvhada and Debbie Park-Dobell who all retire from St Benedict's at the end of this year. Their contribution to our school, over many, many years is truly immeasurable. On behalf of all associated with the school, I leave each of you with the following blessing:
Thank you for your insight, your guidance, your companionship,for your integrity and professionalism,for all the sacrifices you made for the education of our boys.May God bless the path you take and may He bless your future labours with success.May your new-found freedom bring you great pleasure and deep satisfaction.May God bless you body with health and your soul with joy.May the work that you have done here continue to flourish in your absence.May God watch over you and shield you from harm.May all your prayers be answered.
Sadly, our 2013 academic journey has also been characterised by what Pope Francis calls “dark days”. Amongst the darkest were those that brought news of the sudden passing of Devon Pretorius, David Vieira and David Webbstock. These were tragedies which deeply affected our entire school community. All three of the boys were true "Bennies boys" and will be missed by all.
As Pope Francis rightly points out, it is “bad and boring” to journey alone. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all associated with out wonderful school for the good and exciting privilege of “walking in community”: the St Benedict’s Trust, the Board of Governors, Mr Edwards and Mr Jeffrey – our Headmasters, the Executive Management of our schools, the academic and sporting staff as well as the administrative and auxiliary staff. Thank you all for the friendship, the love and the help.
I would like to thank and congratulate the editors of our three school magazines – Terry Edwards, Francene Kapp and Margarita Nichas. Printing deadlines have come and gone and you can be very proud of your efforts to capturing the spirit of 2013. Thank you for all your efforts and well done.
Finally, thank you to our wonderful parents and all our boys – you are the lifeblood of our school; the very reason why we exist. Without you nothing we do or achieve would be possible or worthwhile.
Part of the opportunity and the challenge of Advent and Christmas is to slow down and appreciate the unique spirituality of the church’s liturgy at this special time of the year. This is made all the more difficult because all around us society is rushing toward Christmas and doing so in the most secular, commercial way. There usually isn’t much opportunity for quiet reflection, but I hope that you can do so and that - in quiet reflection - Christmas will bring you face to face with the Eternal Word, in whom is incarnate God’s wisdom, truth, mercy and compassion.
May the peace of Christ be with you at Christmas and throughout the New Year.