Australia’s First School on Marriage and Family

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Australia’s First School on Marriage and Family

This summer, the Archdiocese of Hobart hosted the inaugural Matrimonium Summer School. Running from January 21-25, the School was a five-day exploration of love and marriage in the Catholic tradition.

The Summer School was designed to be not just a series of lectures, but an immersion experience of the twin paths which lead to the Catholic faith–truth and beauty. It included talks, discussions, prayer and excursions to heritage sites steeped in Tasmania’s unique history.

The school drew twenty participants, nine from interstate and others from Tasmania. A further twenty came for the public lecture given by Professor Tracey Rowland (University of Notre Dame) on January 23. They were a mix of married and single, male and female, Catholics and catechumens. Some came for personal development and others for professional.

“I was quite blown away by how well it worked,” said Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family in Hobart who planned, coordinated and managed the school.

“We effectively created a safe space where people could reflect … on the rich teaching of the church,” he said.

The school was inspired by the teachings of Pope St John Paul II on love and marriage, called the Theology of the Body. Archbishop Julian chose the Polish saint as the ‘patron’ of the school. Many of the speakers also had connections with the recently-closed John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, including Professor Tracey Rowland, former Dean of the Institute, and Anna Krohn, academic counsellor.

Particular highlights included the talks given by Peter Holmes (University of Notre Dame) on the “masculine genius” and the role of manhood in Catholic life.

“I think there’s been a lack of speaking on this area,” said Ben.

“But men really need to hear this, because masculinity is being attacked in our culture”.

Newlyweds Henri (21) and Tianah (20) Taylor travelled to Hobart from Wollongong, NSW, to attend the Summer School. They are preparing to enter the Church this Easter and came to learn about how their new faith could support them in marriage. 
“[The teaching] was provided to us in such an optimistic way, not in a silly optimistic way, but also not in a pessimistic nihilistic way,” said Henri.
“A big thank you to Ben, for the way he’s managed to bring all these incredibly intelligent people to speak on these issues in a very judgement-free, but intelligent way.”

Tianah was grateful to be received with “love and compassion”.

“Everyone was so excited to meet us because we're coming into the Church. We're having children that we're going to raise in the faith.  It's very welcoming and very warm and it's beautiful,” she said.

“And also creating a safe space for these kinds of topics to be discussed. This is such a safe space for us to discuss things that we feel in our hearts, in regards to marriage, and having children.”

The couple, who were engaged in Tasmania last year, agreed the Church has a lot to offer young couples.

“My girlfriends ask me, “What are your doing?” It’s almost as if they don’t see anything other than this hook-up culture. They don’t see marriage as an angle. They see it as something that they’ll potentially just fall into…which is very unfortunate,” said Tianah.

“They’re reaching the age of 35, 40 and going “Oh my God, I need to start having children. I need to find a husband.” And then they rush into marriage and they fall apart because their heart really didn’t go into it.

“There is intent with marriage in the Catholic Church. Whereas in the secular [world] it’s just, ‘I guess I’ll get married now. I don’t plan to have kids or anything, but I guess we’ll get married.’ It does have this pessimistic twinge, because there is no intent,” said Tianah.

Complementing the academic side of the event were the daily historic excursions, including a trip to the Cascades Female Factory, the Cascade Brewery, a bushwalk in Wellington Park, and sung Vespers with the young Benedictine monks in Colebrook. In this way, students were able to see the theology of the lectures reinforced through art, architecture, history and nature—it was theology written in stone. 

Ben was thrilled by the success of the first Matrimonium Summer School and looks forward to hosting it again next year. He hopes to welcome even more participants from Tasmania, interstate and beyond.

Image: Henri and Tianah Taylor attended the school in January.