It is a time of change for the Church, and also for Good Shepherd College in Ponsonby, said the chair of the college’s senate at the final graduation ceremony for the institution.
Dr Tony Lanigan told graduates, college staff and guests at the St Columba Centre on June 7 that this was the last such ceremony for GSC because the New Zealand bishops plan to merge the college and The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand into a “single provider body”.
“But the bishops remain fully committed to forming seminarians in New Zealand . . . and, as I understand it, they are also committed to developing a higher educational profile and opportunity for the workforce in our Catholic schools,” he said.
Dr Lanigan, a civil engineer, looked back on the achievements of the college since its trust deed was signed in 2000.
“Since the original graduation in 2003, there have been, through the Sydney College of Divinity, . . . 112 Bachelor of Theology degrees awarded, and, since 2009, there have been 86 Graduate Diplomas in Theology,” he said.
He also noted that GSC has stacked up well in terms of research done, given the number of staff and students, according to national measures.
Near the end of his address, he cited a quote from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman in The Idea of a University: “If a practical end must be assigned to a university course, I say it is that of training good members of society. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought to detect what is sophistical and to discard what is irrelevant.”
“I reckon in all respects we aligned with that pretty well,” Dr Lanigan said of GSC. “What’s more, we employed women as well as men, so I think that is pretty positive.”
Earlier on, he noted that, in 2001, there were 22 diocesan seminarians, 3 Marist seminarians and 6 lay students studying at the college.
“Today, that composition has changed to 15 seminarians and 44 non-clerics.”
He thanked academic and support staff, past and present, who have contributed to the success of Good Shepherd College.
He particularly thanked the Society of Mary, which has provided the base of teaching staff over the years, as well as “partners” the Sydney College of Divinity and the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
“You have all contributed to making Good Shepherd College a reliable and a reputable place for students wanting to undertake tertiary theological study in a distinctly Catholic environment. And I thank you.
“I pray the Holy Spirit will guide the establishment and operation of the new enterprise.”
Also in his address, he reflected upon the Catholic upbringing he received and the impact of Vatican II.
Dr Lanigan then spoke about ongoing change in the Church, especially in recent times.
“You know perceptions of many things have changed,and particularly of the Church, and I just witnessed the clerical abuse worldwide . . .
“People are questioning — what is the meaning of Church? I have heard close friends of mine, who have had the same upbringing, I’ve heard them say — I am in danger of not losing my faith, but losing my religion.
And that disturbs me, but maybe it is good that they are asking the question?
“I just know that there is disquiet at how the institutional Church appears to operate.”
After speaking about the crisis of Israel’s faith connected with the destruction of the first Temple and the Babylonian exile, Dr Lanigan referenced Scripture scholar Raymond Brown’s thinking that the Church, as Israel did, can learn a lot about God in such times of turmoil.
Dr Lanigan also observed that, with media and social media, people “have the opportunity to read more widely about a diversity of views from within and from without the Church. And I think that the Church is better for it”.
“People can access worldwide trends easily, and particularly within the Church and wonder why things move so slowly in New Zealand.”
He referenced overseas developments like increasingly parish-based formation for those preparing for priesthood (in Ireland), as well as things happening in other churches such as part-time clergy, women as clergy and married clergy.
“So where is the Church on that? People ask these questions validly and I think answers are deserved.”
“The wondering and the questioning go on,” he said. “It is a sign of being healthy.”
Dr Lanigan also spoke of the power of witness, especially by those carrying out the corporal works of mercy. He referred to what he had seen during his involvement with housing charity Habitat for Humanity and in disaster relief overseas.
Another theme he developed in his address was the sense of awe and wonder at the presence of God, experienced through creation.
“I want you, as graduates, to not lose that sense of wonder and awe in the joy that is the God around us,” he told the graduates.