In just over a year Saint Mary MacKillop Colleges, Wagga Wagga, will be turning out into our relativistic Australian society 20 young men and women who have been formed in good Catholic homes and, for the last six years of their schooling, in these Colleges.
They have taken daily religion classes using texts written by the school and centred doctrinally and morally in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. During the final two years of their schooling, their religious studies consisted of courses in Catholic theology, philosophy and apologetics.
These young people have prayed together before the school day and before every class, using a treasury of the Church's prayers compiled by the school and Catholic devotions such as the Rosary and Stations of the Cross. They have attended weekly school Mass in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite and encountered the rich culture of the Church in hymns and Mass settings, in both Latin and English.
They have been ministered to by priests of proven orthodoxy and excellent pastoral skills and been taught for five years by religious sisters and fine Catholic lay teachers deeply committed to the Church and its Magisterium.
Imagine the impact on Australia if this group were the norm rather than the glaring exception. Imagine what transformation would take place in our society if a majority of the untold thousands of students leaving our Catholic schools every year were equipped as these 20 young people are to go out and 'make a difference'. We'd have thousands of religiously literate and knowledgeable apostles, unapologetically pro-life, with healthy personal ideals, high levels of social awareness and educated consciences.
We are not talking here about the formation of students who are paragons of holiness and virtue or academic wonders. But in the NAPLAN tests for which they sat in 2009 the league tables published in the Sydney Morning Herald had the school ranked 42 in the State and in the first 100 across the nation. Last year, in the School Certificate 73% of this class came in the two top bands in English and 82% in Science. And they go to Mass on Sundays and regularly to the Sacrament of Penance.
In terms of culture they have not had access to great resources - one of the disadvantages of being in a new, struggling school - but they have won a choral championship in the local eisteddfod and put on musicals and plays. They have studied among other works, and sometimes under sufferance, several Shakespearean plays, novels by Dickens and Jane Austen, works by some of the great poets in the English language and stories by classical Australian authors. They are not leaving school ignorant of their cultural heritage as so many young Australians seem destined to do, given the present educational climate.
Parents in southern NSW and Victoria should consider these Colleges for their children, given that they are prepared to provide weekday boarding opportunities (in Years 7-12) with good Catholic families.
The school is committed to single-sex education as soon as numbers permit and while at present the classes are small - some being 10 or even less - this allows for a highly effective teacher-pupil ratio and the consequent tutoring opportunities this offers. However, it is clear that, for the present, with numbers like this, boys and girls must be housed and taught in the same classrooms, although the sexes are separated in both classroom and playground.
Discipline and pastoral care go hand in hand and there are strongly-stated expectations of student behaviour. This is not to say that all is idyllic on the campus but one feature which visitors to the school must notice is the quiet working atmosphere throughout the school. Things like courtesy and personal presentation are expected, if not always delivered, and there is an ongoing and conscious emphasis on the life of Christian virtue in all its aspects.
School fees and uniform costs, etc, are modest, but let no-one imagine that a project like this school is a for-profit affair. Running costs are high and the sacrifices demanded very great.
The Colleges exist by reason of God's grace and the ongoing signs of His Providence are such that there seems little doubt this school is indeed in line with His will.