Honouring legacy of St John Henry Newman

Guests at this year’s Saint John Henry Newman Annual Symposium were reminded of the important contribution Catholic universities make to society by educating the poor and developing compassionate and ethical future leaders.

Hosted in Fremantle on Monday night by the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA) in partnership with the Australian Catholic University (ACU), the Symposium honours the legacy of Saint John Newman who is recognised as the architect of the modern Catholic university system.

This year’s keynote speaker was Fr Dennis Holtschneider CM, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, who said St John Newman’s vision was for universities to do more than simply prepare students for the workforce.

“Higher education is richer when we consider it as more than job preparation,” Fr Holtschneider told the gathering of about 120 distinguished guests.

“That is why we teach ethics at Catholic universities. That is why we teach philosophy, and we teach religion to our students. Not as a history of thought exercise but so that our students might one day do the right thing when the right thing is required.”

Reflecting on the life of Jesus and the courage he demonstrated by championing the poor and marginalised in society, Fr Holtschneider said Catholic universities must also continue to open their arms to those from all walks of life.

“It’s fine to educate all strata of society, but we can’t call our universities Catholic if we aren’t educating the poor,” he said. “We can’t say we are following Jesus if our institutions are simply helping the children of the rich become even richer.”

Guests at the event included His Excellency, The Most Reverend Charles Balvo, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, UNDA Chancellor, The Honourable Christopher Ellison, Vice Chancellor Professor Francis Campbell, ACU Vice Chancellor, Professor Zlatko Skrbis, Bishop Gerard Holohan, Consulate General of Croatia, Mr Ivica Glasnovic, and University Trustees and Governors.

In delivering the response to the keynote address, National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins said Catholic schools shared the same responsibility as universities to educate the poor.

“Today, we know that students from lower income backgrounds, students with disability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are under-represented particularly in our Catholic schools compared to the public sector,” she said.

“We are constantly challenged to remove barriers to enrolment and access to a Catholic education and this means reducing barriers to Year 12 completion and transition to university.”

Notre Dame’s Chancellor, Christopher Ellison, said the symposium highlighted the ongoing importance of Catholic education in the modern world.

“More than 150 years after Saint John Newman wrote his seminal work The Idea of a University, his ideas remain as relevant today as they were in his time,” he said.

“It is our duty as Catholic educators to honour his legacy by putting his ideas into action each and every day. Notre Dame is also proud to partner with ACU to deliver this annual event which brings people and ideas into the public square, just as St John Newman had envisaged universities would and should do.”

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