While the corrosive message of the dominant secular culture and the uncertain - lowest common denominator - focus of some areas of Catholic secondary education, have all played havoc with the faith of many young Catholics, this sterile malaise was absent from the Lake Hume Resort, Albury, NSW, during the recent 4-6 July weekend. The resort was the venue for the 2014 Conference of the Australian Catholic Students Association which drew 200 attendees.
ACSA Conferences dazzle with the confidence of these, healthy, confident and talented young leaders. The toxic agenda of the cultural majority means nothing to them. Most are university students, some are alumni and a few are finishing apprenticeships and trade training.
They are untroubled by cafeteria, pick-and-mix, a la carte "Catholic" belief patterns with agnostic "New Age" prayer, unorthodox liturgies and the sterile, soft-left political correctness of many conferences associated with some organisations.
In contrast, the Albury, ACSA 2014 Conference was a celebration of Catholic faith with aspects of a traditional retreat. There were thoroughly-prepared Masses, all-night Adoration, the ready availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the input of guest speakers exploring their themes from an unambiguously Catholic viewpoint.
Some years ago, ACSA attendees at the 2007 Conference in Canberra clapped, yelled and stomped their approval as the keynote speaker, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said: "I am neither left-wing, nor right-wing; I am neither liberal nor conservative. I am Catholic. I teach the full message of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church, full and entire." The same spirit was around at the recent ACSA Conference.
ACSA's recent history
It has been over twelve years since the rejuvenation of the Australian Catholic Students Association, previously known as the International Movement of Catholic Students (Australia) which has seen ACSA transformed into an instrument for revitalising the spiritual life and intellectual faith of Catholic students around the nation.
ACSA is established under the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops to act as the peak body for Catholic tertiary students and young alumni across the nation. It is one of the "points of light" of the Church in Australian in challenging times.
ACSA's annual highlight is the National Conference which has taken place in major centres: Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Albury, over the last twelve years
The association's main objectives are to provide support for the various Catholic student groups and chaplaincies centred on tertiary institutions across Australia and to proclaim a Catholic voice on issues of importance to tertiary students and young professionals around the country. In addition, ACSA assists in the individual formation of young people, faced with the hazards and challenges of the secular spirit prevailing at most of the national tertiary institutions.
The conference highlights at the Lake Hume Resort, Albury, included:
• The opening High Mass in the Dominican rite led by Fathers Paul Rowse OP and Mannes Tellis OP together with the all-night Adoration on the Friday and Saturday evenings.
• The active presence provided by Bishop Michael Kennedy of Armidale, NSW, and the three Dominican Sisters (of Nashville, Tennessee): Sr Mary Magdalen, Sr Mary Helen Hill and Sr Cecilia Rose.
• The attendance of four prominent seminarians from Vianney College, Wagga: Stefan Matuszek, Adam Waugh, Connell Perry and Reece Beltrame.
• The impressive guest speakers, including Bishop Michael Kennedy, Professor Tracey Rowland, Dr Robert Tilley and Father Paul Rowse OP.
• The Conference Dinner, the Mannix Oration – given by senior journalist at The Australian, Tess Livingstone – and the ACSA Ball which followed the Oration allowed the participants to dance the night away.
Since its regeneration in 2002, ACSA has been blessed with impressive leadership and on Sunday morning the Annual General Meeting and election of 2014 Office-Bearers took place. Positions on the executive were keenly contested with select ballots required for most roles.
In the end, Christian Ellis, an Economics student at the University of Sydney was declared President with Allessandro Cowley as Vice-President. Anne-Marie McLaren remained as Secretary and Michael Smith won the position of Treasurer. There were seven state representatives (including the ACT) to provide an eleven person Committee.
Whence these fine leaders?
Many Catholic educators, exhausted "in the trenches" of the Catholic secondary education system, marginalised by careerists in the schools and "trendies" in the Catholic education offices might wonder where such dedicated, gifted and articulate young Catholic leaders emerged? They have rarely seen such young men and women.
The answer appears to be that they were formed in an "underworld" of influential Catholic families, of the vital networks of strong religious orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Capuchins, Jesuits) in new congregations such as the Canberra-founded, Missionaries of God's Love, in new religious movements such as the Fraternas, the Verbum Dei Missionaries or the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Communities. There are also the passionate members of the Latin Mass communities.
Some of ACSA's members were home schooled or attended new Catholic parent-controlled schools such as Redfield and Tangara Colleges in Sydney, a few went to Protestant grammar or Christian schools or attended exclusive Jesuit colleges where family affluence and high social status gave them the confidence to buck peer group pressure and the toxic anti-religious aggro around some Catholic schools.
Altogether they made up the 200 young leaders who attended ACSA's successful Conference at the Lake Hume Centre in July 2014.
Contacts: ACSA, P.O. Box 171, Broadway, NSW 2007; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org