In this speech given to the Stuartholme School in Brisbane, Australia, Sophie Howard, the school’s Cor Unum Captain, reflects on Saint Madeleine Sophie’s life and mission; how she has been inspired by her; and the qualities that a Sacred Heart education has given her.
The law of reflection. When a light ray strikes a surface at a certain angle, light is then reflected off the surface at that same angle. It seems that this law can be applied when light is not compared to electromagnetic radiation, but through acts of kindness we show towards each other. We receive back what we give, we treat others how we want to be treated, and we strive to be the light for others in a tunnel of darkness. We can learn these lessons in physics, but it is our foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, who translates lessons of science to lessons of compassion.
In Year Four, when I had to pick my Saint name for communion, I was researching possible Saints when one name stood out to me – Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat. Of course, for today’s purpose we are going to ignore the fact that I chose this inspirational woman because I wanted to have two Sophie’s in my name. Little did I know, this woman and her accomplishments would become the foundation for my Sacred Heart Education, transforming me into the woman I am today.
I find that each Stuartholme student’s education is approached the way Sophie Barat’s education was approached. Her older brother, Louis, recognised her gift of intellect, and with Sophie’s determination, passion and resilience, tutored her to become the intelligent woman she became. I find that over 150 years later, this same process exists today, each individual’s gift is recognised, nurtured and advanced so that she can become the best she can be. 150 years later, each of us reflect Madeleine Sophie’s story and embody her success.
The French Revolution was a time of brutal conflict, yet Madeleine Sophie’s passion for learning and love of life never diminished. She was the light in the tunnel of darkness that seemed never-ending. Although as a Sacred Heart Society we have progressed technologically and heavily expanded in size, we continue to exemplify Madeleine Sophie’s vision and be the light in a complicated and conflicted world. It seems that more than ever, we are constantly asking ourselves the same question: who needs our light and where does it need to shine? This spotlight, our attention is constantly drawn to tragedies of war, poverty, disease, corruption and our environment. Madeleine Sophie empowers us to use our voice and education as young women to advocate for those who cannot themselves, she calls us to truly demonstrate ‘a social awareness that impels to action’.
To take on this challenge is ambitious, and while I see this handled with pride through our social justice programs, we are also called to recognise who of those close to us need our light. We are called to recognise the importance of the individual just as Madeleine Sophie did. “For the sake of one child, I would have founded the society”. Although it may sound strange, you are that one child, and so am I. We are all children of the Sacred Heart, utilising our education for the benefit of not only ourselves but others, not only now, but far beyond these six defining years.
At the end of your final year, you will not only be handed a certificate to commemorate your high school completion, but you will have fostered a deep respect for intellectual values by discovering the diversity of the word intelligence.
Gifts of intelligence, courage and determination were recognised within Madeleine Sophie, and through our unique Sacred Heart Education, these same gifts are recognised and fostered in an environment of immense love and support, personally growing in an atmosphere of wise freedom. It is because of St Madeleine Sophie’s vision and unwavering efforts to provide young women with an education, these same gifts are recognised across 5 continents, 44 countries and 200 schools. And more than 220 years after the Society of the Sacred Heart was established, these 200 schools continue to celebrate her tremendous achievements every year on the 25th of May.
Throughout high school, we learn valuable lessons in trigonometry and analysing literature. Although as helpful, and sometimes painful, as it is – it is at Stuartholme that we uniquely cultivate a deep and appreciative understanding of the world and most importantly, ourselves. This is the most valuable lesson a Sacred Heart education has to offer.
Madeleine Sophie not only emphasised the importance of diligence and intelligence, but the importance of courage. Courage is what transforms intelligence into careers and aspirations into reality. A Sacred Heart education uniquely teaches one not only to develop academic intelligence, but their emotional intelligence, which in our progressive society is becoming equally valued and useful. It is through Madeleine Sophie’s transformative vision that we develop an understanding of not only how to write an equation but solve it. To not only find x, but discover five different ways to do so, and to help others when they do not understand. “Your example, even more than your words, will be an eloquent lesson to the world”. Madeleine Sophie calls us to act on our intelligence for the benefit of others, in whatever form it may come.
Intelligence, courage, growth, success and faith. A Sacred Heart Education does not teach us the definitions of these words but encourages us to create our own personal definitions and allows us to practise acts of these in an environment of immense support within a Christian community. We are not only taught to cultivate a personal and active faith in God, but a faith in ourselves.
Each of our studies, lives and relationships have been carefully guided by Saint Madeleine Sophie. For those in year 12, we constantly reflect on the women we’ve become, and for those in year 7, growth will come gradually, naturally and meaningfully. Nonetheless, the effect a Sacred Heart education is everlasting.
The dispersion of light. One beam of white light is passed through a glass prism and splits into a spectrum of colours – a rainbow. We embody this one light as a community, created and guided by our courageous foundress, which is translated through our transformative education into a rainbow of our individual gifts. St Madeleine Sophie has taught us that to see the rainbow, we must be the light. One light, one community, one heart.