Dear members of the Whitefriars College family,
When people ask me “what is Whitefriars College?”, my response is that we are a Catholic school for boys’ in the Carmelite tradition. Emphasising the word “Catholic” is deliberate because our foundation stems from the Carmelites, led by Fr Frank Shortis, who envisioned and established a faith-based educational institution for boys in Donvale back in 1961. Their motivation was to develop an educational institution founded in faith and grounded in the message of the Gospel.
The faith landscape of our society in 1961, when Fr Frank and his dedicated group of Carmelite priests and brothers founded our College, differed significantly from that of 2023. At that time, 88.3% of the population identified as Christian, with approximately one-third of them being Catholics. Only 0.4% of the population stated no religion on their census forms. Fast forward to 2021, according to the ABS census, 43.9% of Australians identify as Christian, with 20% of them aligning with Catholicism. The number of Australians declaring no religious affiliation has experienced a substantial increase to 38.9%, marking a 30% rise since the 2016 Census.
You will be pleased to know that I am not about to launch into an analysis of this data or try to provide some sort of social commentary on the place of faith and religion in modern Australia. As the Faith leader of this College, I do reflect every day on the place of our institution plays as a school of learning, life, and, most importantly, faith in today’s context. I contemplate how we can continue to be messengers of Jesus’ message to the young individuals we serve, adapting to the contemporary world.
So, why do many individuals choose to send their children to Catholic schools, specifically Whitefriars College? Perhaps they seek meaning and purpose in their own lives? Maybe they want their children to explore the profound questions of life, to have the time and space for self-reflection, and to understand their identity and life’s direction? It could be because they believe that we are more than just flesh and blood, and that each of us has a spiritual dimension which needs to be nurtured and grown? Perhaps they are part of the 43% who wish their children to receive a Christian education and grow in their faith? Whatever their reasons may be, our role at Whitefriars is to provide their sons with knowledge, learning opportunities and moments of introspection and reflection as they seek purpose and meaning in their lives.
Every day at Whitefriars, we contemplate how to engage and connect with our young men within the realm of faith, religion and spiritual discernment. During these moments, I often recall my dear friend Fr Frank Shortis. In an interview conducted shortly before his passing in 2016, our beloved first Principal of Whitefriars College shared his wisdom:
We have planted the Carmelite Spirit and ethos here at Whitefriars. “It is your task to continue to build on it in a variety of ways to suit modern times.”
Fr Frank was a visionary educator who understood that change is the only constant in the world. He would say that we can either be overwhelmed by change and do nothing, or we can embrace it. Regarding the evangelisation of our Christian faith at Whitefriars, we have unquestionably chosen the latter. We acknowledge that our young men come to us with a wide range of faith experiences and understandings, from no faith background to regular church attendees, from those deeply rooted in faith to those with no faith at all, and to those expressing their faith in different ways.
In such an environment, we cultivate inclusive and supportive religious education and faith programs. These programs are continually developed, reviewed and adapted to meet the needs of our students, providing them with the luxury of time and space to discern the significance of faith in their lives. Beyond the classroom, our boys are presented with opportunities to put their learning into action through social outreach activities, retreats, immersions, and prayer and spiritual discernment experiences.
One recent opportunity for our young men to deepen their personal faith came in the form of our student Sacramental program. Eight of our remarkable students chose to continue their faith journey by participating in this valuable program, which supports them in receiving the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.
On Pentacost Sunday, our young men, accompanied by their families and friends, gathered at the Whitefriars Chapel to receive these sacraments from the esteemed Bishop Tony Ireland. It was a truly uplifting and inspiring event to witness these boys, who willingly chose to be present, supported by their loved ones, as they continued to strengthen their relationship with God, their community and their family. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Mr Joshua Vujcich, Deputy Principal – Faith and Mission, and Fr Paul Sireh for their support of this significant faith learning program at Whitefriars, and a special thanks to Bishop Tony for joining us on this momentous day.
As we approach the conclusion of Term 2, I wish our entire community moments of reflection and extend my best wishes to our staff and students for success in their mid-year exams and assessments. In the upcoming weeks, may you appreciate those who have inspired you in the first half of 2023 and find joy in celebrating your own achievements. Gentle Men of Whitefriars, I am deeply grateful to be a part of your unique faith journeys here at the College.
Almae In Fide Parentis
Mr Mark Murphy