The text of a speech by Br Bob Wallace cfc AM – former Headmaster of Waverley College – at the 106th May Procession and Feast of Edmund Rice on 1 May, 2016
“I would challenge you here today to look at the place that Jesus gave to his Mother — your school patron — Mary — and to the other women who are written up in the Gospels and see that a fundamental teaching of Jesus is respect, in every sense, for women.”
Thank you for the invitation to speak today and for the good wishes around my fifty years as a Christian Brother.
When I joined the Brothers at the age of 28 it was just to see if this is what God wanted me to do with my life—work for the education of young people, especially the marginalised. Well, one way or another, it seems that is what God wanted—I am still here!
My fifteen years at Waverley College were very happy ones and I have many memories and friends from that time. Hence it is good to see the ongoing very significant building developments that are nearing completion. Mr Paxton gave me a personal tour of the new areas earlier today.
Since I left Waverley it has become part of Edmund Rice Education Australia. I had a look through your recently published Strategic Plan and was impressed with the extent to which it links with and develops the Edmund Rice Touchstones of –
- an inclusive community
- liberating education
- justice and solidarity and
- gospel spirituality.
A ‘May Procession’ in honour of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, may seem to some to be hard to understand in this day and age.
In spite of some rigidities and misplaced practices, which have grown up over the years, Christianity has always been strong on affirming the need to honour and respect women—guided by the very significant place that Jesus obviously gave to his mother—Mary.
Over history, and in all cultures, there has been a strand of an attitude by many men that disrespected and even abused women. It is clear that our society even now is not free of this.
Whatever mistakes the hierarchy might have made, and does continue to make, about the place of women in the official church, Christianity has always been clear and strong about respect for women.
Jesus’ own words on several occasions make this clear, but if you look at the interaction of Jesus with women in the Gospels this becomes crystal clear. A memorable example is Mary Magdalene. Some might remember the famous rock musical—Jesus Christ Superstar—which was in fact all about Jesus’ relationships with women.
Mary, his mother, and the patron of Waverley College is at the centre of this teaching and practice of Jesus.
This teaching of Jesus was about how we must respect and treat women as equals in every way.
Even though there are still many forms of inequality for women, there are good signs of a greater understanding and practice of this teaching. There are still differentials in pay, in career opportunities, and many other areas that need redressing.
It is important to understand that this has a Gospel basis and is not just a cultural thing.
Given this, there is one aspect of this that I would like to challenge the men of Waverley about.
This is the matter of domestic violence.
Objectively it is hard to imagine anything more awful and wrong than a man abusing, hurting or bashing his wife, girlfriend, sister or partner. It carries all of the stigma of cowardice, bullying and egoism.
I would challenge you here today to look at the place that Jesus gave to his Mother — your school patron — Mary — and to the other women who are written up in the Gospels and see that a fundamental teaching of Jesus is respect, in every sense, for women. You have to challenge yourselves to remove any latent feelings that society may have given you that somehow men have rights over women.
You have to call out such violence and abuse.
It is not just that we should avoid such actions: You will probably rightly say, “I would never do that,” however it is more than that.
We all have an obligation to ensure that provisions for women in danger are sufficient—that there is adequate Government funding for women’s refuges, for support services and counselling.
This will require that you take some political action about this when the need is there and you have the opportunity.
It should be a mark of Waverley men, given the long tradition of respecting Mary, that they see this without any qualifications.
You are challenged to be really strong men — caring for, protecting, loving, advancing the women who will come into your life.
The College motto — Virtus Sola Nobilitat — Virtue Alone Ennobles —challenges you to do this.
Work against this scourge of domestic violence and, better still, show that you do understand the basic Christian belief that God loves EVERYONE equally — in this discussion, women — but genuinely everyone of every race and creed.