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South Africa


Reflection from Mr. Joe Master, English Department, on his recent trip to South Africa with Mrs. Kathleen Stinehart, Theology Department.  The purpose of this trip was to establish a relationship with our three sister-schools, Brescia House (Johannesburg), St. Ursula’s School (Krugersdorp), and St. Bedes (Subiaco).

"On our last full day in South Africa, Kathleen Stinehart and I had the pleasure of doing a presentation for the “Grade 12s” at Brescia House School—they are also known as “matrics” because they will soon be taking the national Matriculation exams to pass on to university.  One of the first things the students noticed was that we in Saint Louis shared with them the “school” badge albeit in red to Bresica House’s green.  They were both amazed and excited to realize that the motto of “Serviam” and the Ursuline crest extends beyond their country to all parts of the globe.  After our talk and the ensuing conversations, the students marveled at the wonderful sisterhood all UA students share; it remains our hope that we continue this relationship building into the future.

South Africa is a study in contrasts: at times,  while at the amazing technologically advanced Brescia House School in Johannesburg, or at the Victoria and Albert Marina in Cape Town, I felt like I was in a first world city that would rival the likes of New York or London or Cape Cod.  At other times, as we traversed the bumpy dirt roads outside Polekwane heading to the mission school of St Bede’s in Subiaco, I knew I was in the developing world where poverty, lack of adequate water or healthcare, and no discernible infrastructure or electricity proves a daily challenge.  But what most often greeted me in these disparate worlds were smiles and kind words, and always, always, “Good morning/afternoon sir!  Welcome to our school!”

The Matrics class this year at all three Ursuline supported schools we visited—Brescia House (Johannesburg), St. Ursula’s School (Krugersdorp), and St. Bedes (Subiaco)—share another thing in common: all were born in 1994, the year apartheid as a constitutional governmental policy ended in their country.  These graduates--black, white, coloured, Asian-- are a new generation that has never known the legislative racial segregation forced on all citizens of South Africa until 1994 and the democratic elections which led to Nelson Mandela’s presidency.  I would be naïve to suggest, though, that these students have not experienced or continue to experience the vestiges of violence and upheaval that such change brings.  In all of our encounters in South Africa, though, Kathleen and I sensed hope.  In all three schools students sang with gusto and pride their national anthem, an amalgam of the history of South Africa, the lyrics employing  the five most widely spoken of South Africa's eleven official languages - Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza) and English (final stanza). One cannot but be moved to tears listening to it.

We also spent time in a school for severely handicapped children in Subiaco, housed in a one room former community center, the brainchild of a Dominican sister and supported by the Ursulines, where the electricity can be turned on for only 10 minutes a day when the children are put to bed because it is so expensive and so erratic.  But the children live and grow and smile, they are grateful for touch and grateful for our presence.

There is a massive tree in the courtyard of the Benedictine Priory on the grounds of the mission in Subiaco that sums up South Africa for me.  The impressive size of the tree staggers the imagination especially its presence in this community and climate. When I gazed at it I was reminded of St. Angela’s advice to all of us: “Never cease to cultivate the vine entrusted to your care.”  There was so much cultivation of love and hope in our trip to South Africa.  We have only begun to nurture our spiritual connections, and  it remains my hope and Kathleen’s hope that we move forward with our schools and our students in deepening these bonds."

South Africa