What Distinguishes a Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ School?

The Education Ministry

Mary Aikenhead Education Australia, which currently encompasses four schools, namely Catholic Ladies College and St Columba’s College in Melbourne, Mt St Michael’s College in Brisbane, and St Vincent’s College in Sydney, seeks to sponsor and promote exemplary contemporary education, in the Catholic tradition, principally for young women. In the tradition of Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity, at the heart of this ministry is a sustained commitment to serve others, particularly the poor and marginalised.

When the Trustees established the Mary Aikenhead Education Australia Advisory Council (MAEAAC) in 2013, it asked the Council to work with the Colleges to “develop a set of contemporary indicators which identify education in the tradition of Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity of Australia”. The MAEAAC established a working party chaired by Council member Professor Marie Emmitt and supported by MAEA Executive Officer Peter Kelly to undertake this project, which has involved extensive consultations with the Colleges. Why was this a priority project for the Trustees of Mary Aikenhead Ministries and the education ministry?

What Defines a School in the Mary Aikenhead Tradition?

There were a number of reasons for undertaking this project. In particular, ministerial PJPs (public juridic persons) are entrusted with ensuring the ministries under their stewardship not only flourish but remain faithful to their Catholic heritage. For Mary Aikenhead Ministries, it was important to establish clarity about what defines a Catholic school in the Mary Aikenhead tradition in order to take this heritage purposely into the future.

Further, there are some 60 other schools formerly conducted by the Sisters of Charity of Australia (many of which are now part of Catholic Education Office or religious institution school systems) which share this heritage and for which Mary Aikenhead Education Australia is now the ‘flag bearer’ for contemporary interpretations of the tradition and for development of resources underpinning Catholic education in the Mary Aikenhead tradition. Some of these schools have links with Mary Aikenhead Ministries, such as attending its conferences, pilgrimages and joint school activities. In fostering their connections with Mary Aikenhead Ministries and potentially inviting them into partnerships, it is important to have a deep understanding of the essence of Catholic education in the Mary Aikenhead tradition.

Professor Gabrielle McMullen AM, Peter Kelly and Professor Marie Emmitt following their presentation

Professor Gabrielle McMullen AM, Peter Kelly and
Professor Marie Emmitt following their presentation

Additionally, the focus on a particular charism and its associated story is a means of enlivening and strengthening the Catholicity of a ministry. Some schools without this heritage have joined a religious institute or PJP school system as a means of fostering their Catholic identity. Catholic Education Offices are also approaching religious institute and PJP schools systems to consider sponsoring new schools in areas of population growth. The Trustees of Mary Aikenhead Ministries would welcome other ministries joining the PJP but, before this occurs, there needs to be clarity about the nature of Catholic ministry in the Mary Aikenhead tradition. The indicators project is key to gaining this understanding for the education ministry.

Finally, it is envisaged that, within cyclical reviews of Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ schools, a component related to the contemporary indicators would be included. This would ‘measure’ the faithfulness of the schools to ongoing commitment to the charism which marks them as a Mary Aikenhead Ministries’ school.

Moving Forward

Importantly, in undertaking the indicators project, there has been clear understanding that the ‘charism’ inherited from the Sisters of Charity continues to evolve under Mary Aikenhead Ministries, while the 200 year legacy of Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity is treasured and honoured.

Much work has now been undertaken to date and the Trustees are indebted to Professor Emmitt and her working party. Recently the ‘embryonic’ indicators were presented to the 2016 Education Symposium held at Mt St Michael’s College on 3-4 June and a report of the project was presented by Professor Emmitt, Peter Kelly and Trustee Professor Gabrielle McMullen at the 2016 National Catholic Education Conference held in Perth on 19-22 June.

Gabrielle McMullen AM

Trustee, Mary Aikenhead Ministries

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