Of some new ‘things’

Where I lived when I was a teenager, one of the aspirations of many a Catholic schoolboy was to be dating a girl from PLC, the Presbyterian Ladies College.

It was generally an unfulfilled hope. The girls not only seemed more sophisticated and glittering from a distance, they actually were. Only once was I invited to a predominantly PLC party, on the grounds of being a near neighbour, and I was hopelessly out of my depth, quite innocent of the rules of engagement. We were “Would you like to come to the dance at the church hall?” type boys; they were “Why don’t you come down to our chalet for a few days?” type girls.

There was, however, another side to PLC girls that exercised a certain fascination. They had, apparently, the best schoolgirl rugby team in Sydney. That may not have been so very remarkable, because girls’ rugby wasn’t “a thing” then. I had and have no idea who PLC played against, perhaps Ascham or SCEGGS or some other ladies’ college beyond my ken. But the idea of the PLC football team certainly added something to the mystery, or mystique, of those girls’ lives, at least for more common creatures like my younger self. Today, of course, girls’ football of all kinds is a thing, and not only for the aristocracy. That is a positive development, an opening up of possibilities for participation that barely existed in the past.

Other things that have become “things” in my lifetime I am not so sure about. One of them occurs this month, Valentine’s Day. As a teenager, I knew of Valentine’s Day from American TV shows, but I would not have known the date or have ever seen it observed here in any way. In 1966, decimal currency was introduced into Australia on 14th of February, a date that stuck in people’s minds because of a very effective jingle used in the government publicity about the change. But there was no reference to Valentine’s Day at the time. It was only decades later, Valentine’s Day having become “a thing” in Australia, that it dawned on me that it fell on “decimal currency day”.  Ask any old person, they’ll tell you the same.

So, do I mind Valentine’s Day being now in Australia? Not much, if the truth be told. But I do have a lingering unease of some sort about our simply adopting things from American culture. “Cultural imperialism” and all that, especially when the driving force seems to be a marketing exercise. And then there’s the social anxiety that’s created. I’m thinking of primary school teachers who must ensure that somehow no child misses out on getting some sort of Valentine’s message. I’m thinking of the teenage angst of those who don’t have a Valentine. Did we need this as “a thing” in Australia?

Before ending, though, I just want to mention another opportunity for young people to be part of a new thing. We have for some years run our “pastoral placement” program for people who have left school. For a certain number of hours a week they commit to service in their parishes, and on other days they’ll get to experience working in settings such DARA’s refugee service, the food van, other CatholicCare ministries, school retreats and youth groups. Meanwhile they’re helped to reflect on what they’re doing and seeing, against the background of Catholic social teaching and practice. It’s for young folks who want to explore their gifts for service and/or evangelisation. Now the good news is that, though we budgeted for six, we have nine applicants so promising that we’ve just had to take them all on. Maybe this is not as big a development as the growth of girls’ football or Valentine’s Day, but I am glad it has now taken root as “a thing” in our Diocese.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.

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