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Faith and reason come together at Blackfriars

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Blackfriars Priory School celebrated the completion of its new STEM and Year 12 Centre, named the Aquinas Centre, with an official opening and blessing ceremony on January 29.

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The liturgy was celebrated by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan DD on his first official visit to the school, in conjunction with Fr Anthony Walsh OP, Prior Provincial of the Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Aquinas Centre is the centrepiece of the school’s current master plan, and will soon be followed by custom outdoor learning spaces and a fresh landscaping of the school’s front lawn area, located at the main entrance to the 4.5ha Prospect Road campus.

The Aquinas Centre was designed by Swanbury Penglase and built by Partek Construction & Interiors.

The building features state-of-the-art science laboratories, as well as tutorial-style ‘Think Tank’ rooms, an open-plan learning area, traditional classrooms and teacher workspaces for individual and group planning.

Blackfriars principal Simon Cobiac said the completion of the Aquinas Centre heralded the beginning of a new era of innovative teaching and learning at the Catholic school, which caters for boys and girls in its award-winning Early Learning Centre and Reception – Year 12 boys.

“While research suggests the most important factor in effective education is the work of educators themselves’ appropriate environments play a significant role in supporting their efforts,” he said.

The new centre is named after St Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican friar and scholar who shaped much of Western theology and philosophy, and promoted the coming together of faith and reason.

Fr Walsh said it was no accident that St Thomas was the patron of schools and universities, of teachers and students for the whole Church.

“Not only is St Thomas one of the great minds of the Western world, in his own life he helped to usher in a new way of understanding how we both learn and teach…the student is the centre of the learning, and the way that matters are presented must take into account each and every student, in their uniqueness, created as they are in the image of God,” he said.

Before blessing the building, Archbishop Patrick O’Regan reflected on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord celebrated on February 2, exactly 40 days after Christmas Day.

He recounted a story from February 3 1943 about “an act of extraordinary unselfishness by a group of people” that became a legend of martyrdom and sacrifice:

“When the Army ship Dorchester was torpedoed by the Germans just south of Greenland that night, its passengers and crew had 25 minutes to get off the boat. As 902 people went for the life jackets, it quickly was discovered there weren’t near enough. Of the 13 lifeboats, only two functioned. In the ship’s final minutes, Methodist senior chaplain George Lansing Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark Poling and Catholic priest John Washington, were helping passengers leave the vessel. Then four people appeared all of them without life jackets. The chaplains quickly gave up their own vests and went down with the ship, perishing in the freezing water. Survivors saw them, locked arm in arm, praying and singing the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” just before the ship dove beneath the waves.”

Archbishop O’Regan said while the event was not as dramatic as the sinking of the Titanic, nor did it have a blockbuster movie to record it, the ‘Four Immortal Chaplains’, as they are now known, have been honoured many times.

“They presented and offered themselves completely for the wellbeing of others as Jesus was presented to God…in the Temple of Jerusalem for the salvation of the world,” he said.

“Let us be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us to recognise the indwelling presence of the Lord with us and in others.”

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