Dear members of the Whitefriars College family,
Last week our College community came together (virtually) to celebrate Whitefriars Day. This years Whitefriars Day is especially significant as we celebrate our 60th anniversary. Unfortunately, as with most things we had to rethink our approach to this special day and I am very grateful to our staff and senior student leaders, led by Josh Vujcich, Director of Faith and Mission and Mick Lafferty, Deputy Principal – Students, for the innovative and creative way they presented our Whitefriars Day online assembly.
Below you will find my address to our community:
Good morning staff, students, our parents, and friends watching from home – members of the Whitefriars College family. It is wonderful to be with you today as we celebrate Whitefriars Day. Before I go further, I wish to offer my heartfelt gratitude to you all for the lengths you have gone to in supporting each other through this challenging time. Your example and spirit are what gives all of us energy and inspiration and for that I am very grateful. May I also say to you all, Happy Whitefriars Day! A day when we look back and give thanks for all those whose vision and grit have brought us to where we are; to the present where we reflect with gratitude on those who walk with us and support us in the Whitefriars of today; and to the future where we look forward with positivity and a sense of optimism.
In the Forward to the book written by James Thompson to mark the 50th Anniversary of Whitefriars College, Fr Paul Cahill the longest serving Principal of this school, provided a concise but powerful synthesis of the identity and mission of the College. He wrote…
Whitefriars mission remains that of nurturing the development of Christian gentlemen who strive constantly for a richer life for themselves and the world of which they are a part.
For the last sixty years this continues to be the goal of Whitefriars. My experience as a student, parent and now Principal suggests that Whitefriars has been very successful in this endeavour. This has occurred due in no small part because of the Carmelites themselves. Models of integrity, of faith and generosity. People too who were not content to just go with the flow. Whose fiercely independent nature and innovative and creative disposition gave rise to a way of teaching and learning; the envy of many schools around us.
A very significant inspiration for this originally came from one man, Fr Frank Shortis O’Carm., the founder and first Principal of Whitefriars College. I often reflect on Fr Shortis and am in awe of his courage, his fortitude, and the steadfast approach he took to the development of this place when faced with some stiff opposition. You see, there were many who were against the idea of building a school out in the “sticks” as Donvale was described in those days. Initially, even some within his own order were a little sceptical. But through perseverance, hard work and a fair degree of prayer, Fr Shortis’ dream was realised.
In a reflection recorded at the time of the 50th anniversary of Whitefriars, Fr Shortis provided an insight into his own philosophy of life and faith which we can all learn from. Fr Shortis suggested that to be successful in life requires good planning, a desire to support those around us, particularly people in greatest need, all backed up by a healthy dose of self-discipline.
In the video Fr Frank was asked what message he would give the students of today. He said that we should be always be proud of our school and unapologetic of its Catholic, Carmelite identity. We must place the natural environment of our school as a high priority and never take it for granted. We should too, take advantage of what is here, the facilities, the resources, the great teachers, and other dedicated staff, to take advantage of every opportunity that is afforded to you. If you do all these things, Fr Shortis said our school will continue to thrive and what’s more it will give you a good start in life.
To conclude, his message Fr Shortis issued us with a challenge. He said, 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.
Since Fr Shortis’ official departure from Whitefriars there have been many who have picked up the ball and run with it. Other great Carmelite leaders like Fr Bernie McPhee, Fr Peter Byrth, Fr Noel Kierce, Fr Hugh Brown and Fr Paul Cahill along with John Finn, Anthony Kirley and Greg Stewart have all played their part in continuing to build our community to suit modern times. But now we face new challenges, the most significant of which is a decline of the presence of Carmelites in our midst. We are the next generation of Carmelites. Each of us is charged with the responsibility to not only maintain but to build on the spirit of the Carmelites without which our College ceases to exist.
The question we must ask ourselves is, what is my place in the challenge set for us by Fr Shortis? Am I content to let things happen around me, to be a passive member of this community or am I prepared to engage in it, to use the gifts and talents, to build and strengthen the community that is Whitefriars College? A school founded on the ideas of contemplation, community, and service? A school under the protection and care of our loving mother Mary, and a school with a clear vision to grow and develop good gentle men?
To conclude I return to the words of Fr Paul Cahill who provides a clear road map for us all as we take our College into a bright and hope-filled future.
We hope and pray, with faith and hope in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the support of and inspiration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Prophet Elijah and all the Carmelite saints – that we will be faithful to our mission of promoting this transformation of our students and, through them, our world.