Community is one of the four key pillars of Dominican life and therefore of our Catholic, Dominican College. But what do we mean when we talk about “community”? Is it more than just about gathering together for events? Is it more than the fact that we happen to work, study or play in the same “place”?

“Community” certainly includes those ideas but it also refers to that much larger community of Catholic Christians who help shape the way we see and understand our world. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the day on which the church was born, with all the freshness, energy, enthusiasm and love of new birth. Two millennia later, much has happened that inspires but also disappoints. Today we pray for a rebirth of that vibrant, inclusive church that is the promise of Pentecost where mutual understanding was not impeded by differences of language or culture. It is our responsibility and privilege as a community to go out to bring God’s compassion into the world; to build a more just world, beginning with the most neglected.

An Irish Dominican Sister, Maeve McMahon OP, based in Cabra, Ireland, has written about Pentecost Sunday, that

“The Holy Spirit is guiding us in this time of crisis just as he did the early disciples. He speaks to us through our fearless leader, Pope Francis, who said during the Easter Vigil, ‘To return to a lively love of the Lord is essential. Otherwise, ours is a “museum” faith, not an “Easter” faith.’ Just as the Holy Spirit led those assembled in the upper room to understand that they had to go out to tell the world the good news about Jesus, the Holy Spirit has led Pope Francis to understand that we cannot be rooted authentically in our Christian identity without being in dialogue with the world – all of the world. On another occasion Pope Francis said, ‘It hurts the heart, when, before a church, before a humanity with so many wounds of war….Christians begin to do philosophical, theological, spiritual “byzantinism”. Rather, what is needed is a spirituality of going out. Go out with this spirituality….do not remain securely locked inside. This is not good…we must go out.’ After Pentecost, the first disciples went out from their safe haven to preach about the reign of God. Empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit, we, too, must go out to bring God’s compassion into the world; to build a more just world, beginning with the most neglected. Let us not be afraid of the task on hand.”

So, in this update I wish to share different ways we are actively building community within the boundaries of Santa Sabina, between the campuses, and beyond the College. This week is Santa Fest on the 6-12 campus, a week dedicated to promoting awareness of and funds for our South African and Solomon Island communities. Immersions to both countries are offered to our Year 11 students, but all of the students from Years 6-12 learn about the significance of our relationship with our sister school in Montebello, South Africa, the Kopanang Women’s project in South Africa, and the Dominican Sisters and students in the Solomon Islands. Wednesday began with an Immersion Breakfast for past, current and future students interested in participating in our immersion program to South Africa or the Solomon Islands. Hosted by the students, but with great leadership and organisation from Ms Natasha Kempers, we enjoyed breakfast, great conversations and the generosity of the community in donating a wide range of prizes for the raffle and silent auction. It was great to welcome back our immediate past graduates and ex-staff who have been involved in immersions.

The Santa Fest concert today invites student and teacher participation in entertaining everyone but more importantly raising funds. Our Year 12 girls have been involved in challenges with St Patrick’s boys, and clearly showed them how to play netball defeating St Pat’s 28-15.

Staff and students were on opposite sides of a debate on Tuesday with no clear winner, judging by the acclaimation of the audience. There have been various other events including food stalls, the Montebello Mile, the Lip sync battle and busking.

Last Friday was a busy day for the Santa Sabina community with something for everyone from our youngest students’ participation at their annual Athletics Carnival to our alumni who were present at the Golden Girls and Boys celebration. On days such as this the spirit of community and tradition is so evident. The alumni from the 1969 cohort and earlier joined us for Mass and then high tea, and then visited new and old places in the College. They are always interested in knowing the latest about the College, and are eager interview subjects for our Year 10 History students who love hearing about what Santa was like in the “old days”. One of the boarders from the 1963 cohort was explaining to the students of today about the impact of the Dominican Sisters on her education, and how the additional philosophical and ethics sessions that were arranged for the boarders were just one example that has stayed with her. This particular ex-student was delighted to be talking to Rachel Frecker from Year 10 to hear about the success of her team in the recent Ethics Olympiad. As always I was delighted to welcome my sister, Pam (Herrett) Higgins, class of 1963, to this event.

Our Tech Girl teams from Years 3-9 have been working hard on developing an app to solve a community problem this term. They are currently conducting market research and wireframing the app in preparation for coding and marketing. Although we are midway through the competition there is still so much work for the girls to do and as such we organised a Santa Sabina College Tech Girls Day where all eight teams, ranging from Year 3 to Year 9, were able to connect, collaborate and work on their projects together. The Tech Girl Superhero competition is a 12-week program designed for girls aged between 7 and 17. Students are matched with an industry professional to act as a mentor to help support teams of girls to solve problems, develop leadership skills and work their way through the program. Our industry mentors, all female, are giving up their time for our girls, to empower the next generation of women.

The Tech Girl teams use the design thinking process to identify a problem in their local community to solve. Then they research and document a solution in a business plan, build a working app prototype and pitch it in a public video. This year we have a total of eight teams entered into the competition from Years 3 to 9 who are creating a range of apps. Some of the apps in development include “Youth Connect“, an app that provides young people with work experience. It provides users with internships, apprenticeships, part-time and voluntary work. Another team is developing an app called CO_U,  its aim is to inform high school students in Australia on the effects of their continuing abuse of resources and greenhouse gas emissions on various parts of the world, in particular, the Kiribati Islands. Through sharing real stories about communities who are affected by global warming, the app inspires users to discover their own greenhouse gas emissions and challenge themselves individually or with a group of friends, to lower their emissions and act more consciously and sustainably. Users can also learn more about what carbon is being produced by large corporations and factories within our own borders. The Year 3 team has developed an app called The Friend Market for elderly people who are isolated and lonely in our community. The app is designed to keep us connected with elderly people by offering them a way to keep company and make new friends with people from all backgrounds. There are different features like Teach me, Talk to me and Take me where people can exchange ideas and share experiences together.

On the weekend we offered our College and our resources to the staff and students of Hunter Wind Ensemble. Our Head of Instrumental Music Mr James Pensini provided an inspirational workshop to this community. The gift of both our home and our staff was truly appreciated by the visitors from the Hunter region. It was a life-changing event for some students who travel around 300kms to rehearsal. Many of them are the only instrumentalist in their school.

Building community is an ongoing project. This week concludes with the opportunity for staff on the 6-12 campus to be immersed in spirituality workshops. As teachers in a Catholic, Dominican school, it is important that their professional learning encompasses both their academic studies and their understanding and practice of spirituality.  Some staff will be travelling to Maitland, the origin of the Eastern Australian “birth” of the Dominican Order, while others are visiting Tallong, our campus in the Southern Highlands. Our primary colleagues are immersed in their IB PYP workshops. It’s so hard to believe that the PYP at Santa Sabina is already five years old. Our staff from Del Monte and Mary Bailey House will have their own spirituality workshops later in the year.

Our parents are such an important component of what it means to be a community. We do not take you for granted but continue to look towards our partnership with you to ensure the best possible education for “our” children. I look forward to seeing some of you at tonight’s P&F meeting where we’ll hear about the IB from Coordinators Karen Campbell (PYP) and Julie Harris (DP). Parents are busy organising our special 125 celebrations, including this year’s dinner on 23 August  (please come!), and the College Fair on 23 November. The next event, our Celebrating 125 Years Concert at Sydney Town Hall next week on Friday evening 14 June at 7:00pm will be a celebration of community through music, with Dominican Sisters, parents, Board members, ex-students and guests all forming an appreciative audience for our talented students and staff.

As we approach the end of the financial year, I urge you to contribute where at all possible to our annual giving appeal. The provision of scholarships through donation has a benefit for students of the future, and our building focus this year is on restoring the current Large Ensemble Room, in the 1905 building, to something of its original beauty. The hidden stained glass windows of this former chapel will be revealed, the mezzanine level which was constructed in the late 1960s will be removed, and the room will be opened up to its original dimensions. It will operate as a music rehearsal area, an exhibition space and an event venue.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.’ Acts 2, i-iv  (NRSV)

Maree Herrett