Australian Catholic Students Association: continuing spiritual impact

Australian Catholic Students Association: continuing spiritual impact

Br Barry Coldrey

The Australian Catholic Students Association will host its annual National Conference in Brisbane, Friday, 10 July, to Sunday, 12 July, 2009, at Duchesne College, University of Queensland.

It has been seven years since the Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) was transformed to revitalise the spiritual and intellectual faith of Catholic tertiary students.

The Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops established ACSA to act as the peak body for Catholic tertiary students in Australia. Over the last seven years there have been National Conferences in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. All have drawn around 200 delegates representing every state.

ACSA has two main objectives: to provide support for the various Catholic student groups and chaplaincies at tertiary institutions throughout Australia and to proclaim a Catholic voice on issues of importance for students and young people. ACSA and its state affiliates have had a vigorous presence in opposing the gradual decriminalisation of abortion in state and territory jurisdictions.

The other goal of ACSA is to assist in the individual spiritual formation of young people, a difficult task in view of the pervasive secularisation of society and the absorbing nature of tertiary life as students move away from the influence of schools and parents.

Meanwhile, some of ACSA's constituency is changing as students graduate and enter business and professional life. This is why the Catholic Young Adults Network (CYA) was established in 2006, and why this year has seen the launch of ACSA Alumni which allows those who have graduated from the tertiary institutions to take part in conferences and support the formation of students in a practical way.

ACSA has been blessed with exceptional leadership since it was reinvigorated in 2002, notably the recent presidents Aaron Russell of South Australia and Camillus O'Kane from Victoria.

The current President is Elise Nally, who is in second year of a Food Science and Nutrition degree at the University of Queensland. Elise is active in the Newman Society, religious education programs for secondary school students and sacred music groups around Brisbane.

The Vice-President is Xavier O'Kane, a fifth year Med student from Monash University, Melbourne, and an "Old Col" of Mannix College near Monash. Xavier hails from the Riverina city of Yarrawonga and has been involved in all manner of Catholic young adult activities for years.

ACSA Secretary is Michael Gleeson, an Engineering student at the University of Queensland, the Treasurer is Claire Anthony who is studying Business (Accounting) at RMIT University in Melbourne and doing a cadetship with KPMG accounting. Publications Manager is Patrick Giam, a Law student at the University of Adelaide and editor of the ACSA Journal, New Springtime.

Other members of the Leadership Team are: David Collits, a Law/Arts student at Sydney University, Matt Restall, Adrian Simmonds, Mirian Russell and Siobhan Horsfall

Meanwhile, the success of World Youth Day '08, has energised many young Catholics to proclaim their faith more vigorously and the approaching ACSA Conference in Brisbane in July will reflect this new awareness and focus the energy. A strong array of speakers has been invited to address the delegates.

Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore has kindly agreed to give the Archbishop Mannix Address to set the tone for the Conference and ACSA's National Chaplain, Fr Greg Jordan SJ, will be in attendance.

In addition to Bishop Jarrett, Jonathon Doyle - a professional speaker whose talks at the iWitness Conference in Sydney, November 2008, were extremely well-received - will speak on "Human Sexuality and the Divine Plan". In addition to Jonathon Doyle, Melinda Tankard Reist will speak on "The Pornification of Girlhood".

Dr Michael Mason will outline his research findings around the success of World Youth Day and Karl Schmude, a member of the Board of Campion College, Sydney, will address the theme of "Educating for Eternity: Australian Catholics and the Renewal of Learning".

Dr James Franklin, University of NSW, will speak on the topical issue of "Regulating Capitalism: Economics with Social Justice" and Dr Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, will also address the gathering.

Kieran Jackson is Conference Organiser for 2009 and holds the "Functions Portfolio" within the ACSA Council. He was raised in a dedicated Catholic family on the NSW north coast. After high school, he worked for a year before enrolling at Griffith University in Brisbane to study Information Technology.

However, Kieran grew increasingly dissatisfied with a university where his Catholic values were "constantly at odds" with what he was being taught. Workplace competence was supreme over any moral or ethical considerations.

In due course, the Diocese of Parramatta offered him a scholarship to Campion College and the full-time Liberal Arts Degree in the Catholic atmosphere provided him with a new beginning. Kieran is now in his second year at Campion where he has found a "new enthusiasm to learn", a syllabus "that shapes you as a whole person" and "an intellectual dimension to my faith".

If past conferences are any guide, ACSA '09, will show that Catholic students across the nation are vitally interested in the same issues of ethics, abortion, gender, sex, love and responsibility, as well as conventional and student politics.

In addition to the formal sessions and the mingling and mixing, the ACSA Conference at Duchesne College will provide for all-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the College Chapel.

Kieran Jackson may be reached at his email address: functions @ catholicstudents.org.au or at ACSA, PO Box 171, Broadway, NSW 2006.

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