Leadership matters. Unfortunately the standard of leadership on view recently in different parts of the world and in different sectors of modern life often leaves a lot to be desired. The bizarre and sometimes childish behaviour of some of our public figures and world leaders who hold the lives of so many in their hands, yet seem to care so little, shows us that leadership matters probably more now than at any time in our history. The failure of some of our leaders to agree ways forward to reverse climate change, to tackle poverty, injustice and inequality is there for all to see. The media is awash with examples of bad leadership and individuals in positions of influence who are poor role models for others. It is easy to feel that there is little hope when faced with problems on this scale, yet as Christians and as educators, we are never without hope.
In our experience one source of that hope is the experience of working with our student leaders, our Captains, our Head Boys, Head Girls, our Prefects and others who inspire, lead and care for their peers. That was what moved us to call together some of our inspirational student leaders to this very special conference.
The Mount 175 Student Leadership Conference hosted by the Senior Leadership Team at Mount St Mary’s College in April 2018 was organised by the school as part of Mount 175, the college’s 175th anniversary celebrations. The Conference brought together student leaders including Head Boys, Head Girls, Prefects, Captains and others who hold informal positions of leadership from 10 schools in the UK and around the world. Students from schools in London, Birmingham and Manchester joined others who travelled from Italy, Spain, Argentina and the United States to create a rich forum for discussion and exchange of ideas. A total of 72 delegates and representatives from the following schools attended:
- Boston College High School
- Cardinal Griffin
- CASP Barcelona
- Cheverus Portland Maine
- Leon XIII Milan
- Mount St Mary’s
Northlands Buenos Aires
- St Bede’s Manchester
- St Ignatius Enfield
The Conference was effectively in two halves. In the first half the delegates listened to four keynote speakers and interacted with them via SLIDO, an innovative and highly effective online conference tool. Using SLIDO we were able to gather and display questions from the delegates to put to the speakers. We were also able to conduct in time surveys of delegates with questions being asked of them on various topics. The second half consisted of short presentations from each of the visiting schools who spoke with pride about their own school and shared examples of the kind of projects they lead.
The Conference was opened by Fr Adrian Porter SJ who set down the challenge to each of the delegates to answer the question: “What kind of person do I want to become?” The inspirational Dr. John Paterson followed with a fantastic insight into what can happen when students take ownership in schools and when they dare to lead. John introduced the students to the Sightbox and interacted with the delegates who threw up new ideas about what could help students whose vision is impaired.
Later on the first day our local MP, Lee Rowley, spoke passionately and personally about his journey into politics. With impressive courage the MP faced a barrage of questions from a tough audience on issues as wide as Syria, Brexit and whether or not he regarded Die Hard as a Christmas movie! Raymond Friel closed the first day of the conference with an impressive reflective summary. That evening the delegates enjoyed fish and chips and mixed easily with each other. It was striking how easily they connected and shared. In a way the aim of the Conference had already been achieved on day one. What followed was a wonderful bonus.
Day two opened with a presentation by Raymond Friel who shared with us the inspirational story of Ora et Laban, a remarkable movement that galvanises people together in the Philippines to join the fight for a society free from oppression and injustice. Raymond’s presentation left a lasting impression with the delegates.
Our final piece of input came from Her Worshipfulness Ms Anne Murphy, Lord Mayor of Sheffield. Once again we heard an intensely personal story from a woman who had decided when she was much younger that she wanted to make a contribution to public life. She had the delegates hanging on every word as she told stories from her youth and recounted some of her work with the poor and the marginalised while she had been a councillor.
So much richness already by Saturday lunchtime, but we had only reached half way. The Conference delegates then flipped from being contributors and participants to become the main presenters. One by one each school’s representatives stood before their peers and shared their stories. One after another we heard inspiring messages of hope and commitment. Some spoke about the wonderful things they do in their schools to help those who are struggling and to make sure the student voice is heard. Others talked of the prayer life in their schools and others again talked about how they partner with schools around the globe. The stories took on their own life and moulded together into a wonderful afternoon of hope.
On Saturday evening the delegates gathered at the Shrine and were led in the traditional boarders’ prayers by resident Jesuit priest and past pupil Fr Michael Beatty. It was a very special moment when we sang the Salve Regina and recited the Mount Prayer, a ritual that has been performed by students at our college every Saturday night since the mid 19th century.
This all set us up wonderfully for the formal Conference Banquet which was a true celebration of companionship and was enjoyed by all. During the banquet we heard powerful personal testimonies from three different people with extraordinary career stories. One story in particular had a massive impact. It came from John Hegarty, a young Jesuit in training from New York. He grew up a few blocks from the world Trade Centre. He witnessed the tragedy of 9/11 first hand and shared vivid memories of how he and members of his family had tried to help those caught up in the tragedy. He then spoke about how he decided to sign up for the US army to join the fight against terrorism. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan however brought him to the conclusion that only love and service can conquer hate. After much reflection he answered the call and is now in his final years of formation as a Jesuit.
On Sunday morning we gathered for a mass of thanksgiving, with three of the delegates serving mass and others involved in the readings, the prayers and fine singing.
As we parted, it was clear that we had shared something special. The delegates went their separate ways having been dismissed at mass by Fr Beatty who urged them to go and spread this good news.
Mount St Mary’s College