What is the relevance of the ancient Benedictine tradition, and the charism of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, established in Sydney in 1857, for the communities of young people educated in contemporary Good Samaritan schools today?
This was the question in my mind as I began a wonderful two week Benedictine pilgrimage to Italy and England, organised by Good Samaritan Education (GSE), in April. There were 20 of us in the group: College principals and board chairs and GSE members, under the gentle, wise and generous guidance of Sister Elizabeth Brennan, sgs.
At the heart of Good Samaritan Benedictine spirituality are key values that guide the Good Samaritan sisters and all members of the Good Sam family to reach out in loving compassion to neighbours in need. Polding, founder of the Good Sams, had a strong missionary orientation, and established the sisters to go out to where the need was greatest. That has been their story ever since.
It was incredible to visit ancient churches in Rome that Benedict knew as a student, a millennium and a half ago.
We stood immediately under the high altar of St Peters in Rome, where historical, archaeological and scientific evidence, as well as church tradition, suggests the bones of St Peter might rest. We followed Benedict’s path through Norcia and Subiaco, and were saddened to find the neglected state of the church of St Scholastica. We gathered for quiet prayer around the tomb of Benedict and Scholastica at Monte Cassino.
In a different way, the journey through England was equally wonderful: the monasteries Polding knew, frequently set in the most beautiful countryside, often surrounded by fields of lambs, bunnies and daffodils. They witnessed Easter as a Spring festival celebrating new life in ways we find hard to appreciate in the Australian autumn. The Benedictine value of Stewardship was much in evidence.
How important it is for us, in our very busy modern lives, to occasionally take time out to appreciate the rhythm of prayer that the English monks and nuns live out. The daily cycle of prayer, with its focus on the scriptures, also evidences the Benedictine values of Balance and Community. In particular, the evening prayer was a beautiful, reflective and restful rounding out of the day. Similarly, the monasteries and convents were real places of tangible Peace.
Overwhelmingly, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to experience and reflect on the value of Hospitality. This Benedictine value can be extremely powerful when done genuinely and well. At Stanbrook Abbey, now set in beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, almost all of the community of 20 Sisters greeted the bus, and farewelled us, and all gathered to welcome us at afternoon tea. The hospitality was palpable, and seemed to be a foundation on which the place rested.
Grounded in the Benedictine tradition, Polding wanted the ministry of the Good Sams to be out in the world, where the needs were most demanding. My learning from the pilgrimage was that this challenge remains for Good Samaritan Education today. How do we build on the Benedictine values and tradition and the charism of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan to engage contemporary teenagers in the practical needs and demands of their world?
We are in a good position to continue this conversation. Our schools are built on a solid foundation of Benedictine values, a window into the gospel which is about 1500 years old, witnessed by the practical energy and action of the Good Samaritan Sisters. The values of Stewardship, Balance, Community, Prayer, Peace and Hospitality are just as fresh, relevant and challenging today as they were for Benedict and Scholastica.
Dr Mark Askew, Board Chair, St Scholastica’s College, Glebe