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From the Principal

Term 1 is flying by with many important community events still on the calendar.  We are looking forward to the ‘Back to Siena’ evening and the blessing of our refurbished Convent.  We will gather to honour and give thanks for the Dominican Sisters who established this school and for all who have gone before to create the Siena story of the past seventy-nine years.  The project was originally conceived some years ago as part of a long term Master Plan and a vision to reopen the old wooden doors to the Convent as the gateway to the College.  It has been a great pleasure to continue our partnership with Williams Ross Architects to refurbish the Convent.  Their sensitive designs and finishes have allowed the beauty and craftsmanship of this building to shine through again and for it to be reinstated at the heart of the College as a place for our community to meet, to remember, and to reminisce about the College’s early beginnings.

As part of the refurbishment, ceramic artist, Mary-Lou Pittard was commissioned to design tiles for the fountain that is in the centre of the cloister.  The deep blue border of the tiles matches the beautiful blue dome of the Chapel and they commemorate the Pioneer Sisters of 1867 and the opening of the College in 1940. The Pioneer Sisters, eight, courageous young Irish women, left the port of Dublin on a wooden sailing ship almost one hundred and fifty two years ago.  Their legacy was Dominican schools along the east coast of Australia and seventy-three years later, Siena College. The tiles feature the native flowers after which the College’s four Houses are named, the Waratah, the blue Dianella, yellow Cassia blossoms and green of the Kurrajong.  The tiles also feature the lily of St Catherine, the orange trees of St Dominic, and the flowers of a native Australian Correa that symbolise our place in Australia.  They pick up the design of the tiles around the Chapel door that were installed to celebrate the Year of Mercy and the 800 year anniversary of the Dominican Order in 2016.

The project has involved many people in the community and the generous support of donors to our philanthropic campaign of past years.  On 30 April we will be holding an Open Morning for the wider community and neighbours to visit the Convent and Chapel and I encourage you to join us for a tour of the iconic building and cloister. 

It was wonderful to see so many of our new families in attendance for the traditional Year 7 Welcome Evening on Friday, 1 March.  Refreshments were much appreciated on such a hot evening and I thank Siena Parents’ Association Presidents Sebastian Gadaleta and Carmel Musco, the SPA Committee and all the willing parent helpers for their welcome and hospitality.

Ursula Harris (Class of 1984), was the guest speaker for this year’s International Women’s Day breakfast. She spoke of her role as a cartographer and scientist, and of her many months spent in the Antarctic in a largely male dominated field.  We continue to be inspired by the courageous and empowered Siena women who return to share their stories.  I thank Claire Moody and the SRC for their efforts in organising this sell out event, the proceeds of which support the Kopanang community in South Africa. 

A number of staff and students depart for distant places prior to the end of the term and will be commissioned and blessed at our weekly College Eucharist in the Chapel over two Thursdays, 21 and 28 March.  Michael Petrie, Jennifer Levett and Bronwyn Ilott, along with Dominican Sister, Sheila Flynn, will accompany a group of nine students to South Africa to work with the women and families of the Kopanang community near Johannesburg.  Our students are so privileged to have this experience that takes them out of their own context and immerses them in the culture and spirituality of a vastly different country and people.  Sister Sheila Flynn described an immersion as ‘an invitation to enter the context of the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized, and to view the world in a radically different way, from the heart and the hearth of the other.’  

I am joining Tina Di Camillo, Anthony Vadala and twenty-three excited students on a language and cultural trip to Italy.  We will visit Venice, Siena, Florence, and Rome.  For me it will be a wonderful opportunity to visit places of significance to Dominicans, especially the small walled town of Siena where St Catherine lived and worked.  

The recent College Swimming Carnival was a great community day with close to perfect weather, enthusiastic cheering from all four Houses and strong competition with many students electing to take part.  It was a wonderful display of Siena spirit to have seven hundred girls entered in events.   Congratulations are extended to all competitive swimmers and divers who secured a place or achieved a personal best and to the students and staff who took to the water to participate on the day.  Thanks to the excellent leadership of Head of Sport, James Houghton, and all staff who oversaw events on the day, it ran like clockwork and was much enjoyed by all who participated.  

On Tuesday, 12 March, Siena College staff participated in an enriching Staff Faith Development Day as we welcomed Dr James Nickoloff to our College.  Dr Nickoloff is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and a highly regarded theologian at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, a Dominican university.

I take this opportunity to correct the misrepresentation of Siena College’s position on the Climate Change strike.  Our College motto is Veritas, Truth. We are absolutely committed to educating young women to think critically, be discerning, have a voice and speak their Truth. The College absolutely endorses and acknowledges students’ rights to give voice to their very genuine concerns regarding the Federal Government’s record on Climate Change Policy.  I am supportive of the Siena students who decided to join the collective action and add their voice to the calls for action to combat climate change. I am equally supportive of students who chose to remain at school. No student will be penalised in any way for attending the strike. The College’s VCE Handbook includes provision to complete School Assessed Coursework (SAC) early where there is an anticipated absence.  Students were reminded of this provision and some took up this option.  The College’s position is that participation in the strike was a decision for individual students and their parents.  

It is hard to ignore the events of these past weeks and the scandal, grief and sense of betrayal over the findings of the Royal Commission into sexual abuse and the recent conviction and charging of Cardinal George Pell.  Our College is committed to ensuring the safety and protection of all members of the Siena community and to respecting the humanity and dignity of all.  We remain committed to honest dialogue, open and transparent processes and to compassion and support for all victims of abuse as the legal process takes its course.  The hope in all of this is that the time for remaining silent as a Church and a community, is past. We hold in our prayers all people who have been abused, and their families and loved ones, wherever and whenever that abuse occurred.  May they be listened to, receive justice, healing and peace.  

 

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