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Berne Education Centre, Lewisham (Sydney), Thursday, 7 May 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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It is a very great pleasure for me to be with you this morning for the Official Opening o f the Berne Education Centre, here at Lewisham I say “ official" opening, because o f course the school doors have already been open for just over a week To each o f the 30 young men and women who are enrolled here as students, may I say that I hope your time here w ill be as rewarding as you could wish it to be, and that you w ill go from here determined and equipped to further your education, to widen your prospects in life and to realise all the potential you have within you to become leading and fulfilled members o f our community.

When I received the invitation to open the Berne Centre I was keen to accept. The project draws together, in a very admirable way, a number o f threads in which I have a particular interest. Firstly, it is run by the Marist Brothers, and as some o f you know I myself attended a Marist school - St Joseph’s at Hunter’s Hill, as did my w ife’ s father and our son. I welcome this opportunity to acknowledge the enduring value o f a Marist education with its emphasis not only on academic achievement- undeniably important as that is - but also upon encouraging the personal growth and character o f every student. Thus, I notice for the Year 9 and 10 students here at Berne, the School Certificate program offers not only traditional school subjects, but also two “ life skill” subjects for which they w ill also be graded And there are activities such as white-water canoeing, bushwalking, home maintenance, electronics, photography and so on . a range o f things that are designed to appeal to and encourage individual interests and talents, and thus contribute to the whole process o f learning and growing. And this is just as true for the Year 8 students, who are here for the very innovative 10-week intensive program, helping them build new and positive skills where they may be needed - whether in school-work or in social relationships with family and friends

O f course, a Marist education is also a Catholic education, and as such it is motivated by the Christian tradition o f outreach to the vulnerable and to the disadvantaged. For the students who come to the Berne Centre can be seen as being, in different ways, “ at risk” . Most w ill not be coping well in the mainstream schools. There may be learning problems and behavioural problems arising from a variety o f factors: stresses at home, peer group difficulties, the strains that arise when families are facing unemployment, low incomes and consequently low self-esteem Some may have spent time as street kids.


Some may have been in refuges and other shelters away from home. The problems faced by such young people have been in the forefront o f my concerns since I took on the job o f Governor-General. I hope that the students here at Berne, will all find that there is a way through these problems. In the individual and small-group teaching sessions, through life skills activities, the camps, excursions, work experience and voluntary service programs, and with the help and encouragement o f the full-time and volunteer staff, they w ill have the opportunity to discover the resources within themselves to surmount whatever difficulties they may face. To replace dis-order in life with order, as the Brothers put it. The fact that the students themselves have decided to seek to meet the reasonable expectations o f the Centre is, o f itself, a great starting-point for the achievement o f those objectives and o f an appreciation o f the fact that, to quote the Centre’s motto, there is “ Hope Always” .

That there is “ Hope Always” was something which came to be understood by Jean- Baptiste Berne after whom the Centre has been named Most o f you will be familiar with the story. Orphaned at a young age, he was taken in by Blessed Marcellin Champagnat only a few years after Champagnat had founded the Marist Brothers to provide religious and civil education for the young and poor in post-Revolutionary France. Disruptive and unable to settle down, Jean-Baptiste Berne ran away several times. But Champagnat persisted with the boy. He would not abandon him as he had been urged by some to do. Eventually, his efforts bore fruit. Jean-Baptiste accepted the love and help that was offered him. He became a Brother himself and he too devoted himself to service o f the young disadvantaged. Tragically, he died in 1830 at a very young age.

Ladies and gentlemen, these qualities o f compassion, o f commitment, o f outreach to those in need, have been the hallmarks o f Marist education from the beginning. They underpin this Centre; providing the foundation, the support, the framework upon which both the philosophy as well as the practice o f the Berne Education Centre has been built.

As many o f you know, the Centre replaces the Benedict Community School, initially opened by the Marist Brothers on this site Indeed, two o f the Centre’s three colours - maroon and gold - remind us o f the Benedict Community School, which operated for some 22 years until it closed last year. Yet the need for a school to meet the needs o f those young people whose education is at risk is still acute, and it was to meet it that the Brothers decided to open the Centre The third o f the Centre’s colours - green - and the new shoot in the school crest symbolise new life, new hope, and a new beginning.

Let me conclude by wishing the Berne Education Centre every success. I congratulate all those - the Marist Brothers, the students, the families, the staff, the volunteers, the administration - who have made the venture possible. The full value o f the Centre w ill only be demonstrated as its students take their places as confident, caring, contributing members o f our Australian community I have no doubt that they w ill do so. May God bless them all

And now, with the greatest pleasure, I officially declare open the Berne Education Centre.