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Speech by Deputy Chair, John Coorey, at Council Dinner – 14 March 2019

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News | 15 Mar 2019

14 March 2019

Speech to mark the occasion of the constitution of the new Council pursuant to the St. John’s College Act 2018 and to thank the outgoing Council for its service.


It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the College this evening and to this dinner to commemorate the constitution of the new Council of the College under the St. John’s College Act 2018 and to thank the outgoing Council for its service. Firstly, can I say that it is a great honour and privilege to be asked to speak to the assembled current and former members of Council gathered here this evening.

Secondly, could I thank Dr Bernadette Tobin for asking me to speak to you this evening on behalf of the new Council. Bernadette was Chair of the outgoing Council for approximately 6 years and has agreed to serve a further 1 year term as Chair of the new Council to ensure continuity in governance and to assist in the transition to new leadership on the Council. As such, it was really Bernadette’s entitlement to speak to you this evening on behalf of the new Council but she has very generously and graciously asked me to do that in her stead. For that I am very thankful.

The constitution of the new Council is a great occasion for the College and whilst it has been a long and challenging process to get to this point, it is a very good point to get to. At the conclusion of our first meeting today I came away with a tremendous sense of optimism for the future of this College. I believe this new Council will work with great collegiality and purpose to advance the interests of the College and the broader College community.

I note that the new Council has 8 members who have served on previous Councils and 5 new members of Council. I think that is a good balance of the “old” and the “new”. The Council is strengthened by the significant skills of its members and by its age and gender diversity. I am delighted that we have such talented people who are not only prepared to serve but positively eager to serve the College and its community by providing their time and intelligence to the functions of the Council.

As you are well aware, the constitution of the Council was occasioned initially by an election, followed by the appointments of the Archbishop and the Vice Chancellor and then the appointments pursuant to section 6(2)(e) of the Act of another 4 members of Council. Obviously, I am very pleased with the members of Council that were elected through that process. I was also particularly encouraged by the quality of the candidates who put themselves forward for election. Some very good candidates unfortunately, were not elected but the fact that people of that quality were keen to serve on the Council is very encouraging. Similarly, the field of candidates the Council had to consider for section 6(2)(e) appointments was also incredibly impressive. The College clearly has a great body of people it can draw on in future to fill Council positions.

Could I particularly welcome Sister Mary Helen Hill and Dr Sandra Lynch to the Council. Both Sister Helen and Dr Lynch are “new” to the College and its community and they are most welcome. I know all the members of the new Council look forward to working with both of them and I hope that their time on Council is the beginning of a long and fruitful association with the College.

Could I also specifically mention Alexandra Ryan. If Alex is not the youngest person ever to serve on Council then she must be pretty close. I am sure in the latter half of the 19th Century there were some members of Council who probably went straight from undergraduate status to that of a Fellow but in the modern era of the College I can’t think of anyone as young as Alex having served before. Alex is also the first female graduate of the College to be elected to the Council. Having got to know Alex a little over the last couple of months I have no doubt that her intelligence, vitality and connection with the younger generation of graduate members will be invaluable for the new Council.

Alex is one of 5 alumni on the new Council. That representation will ensure that the alumni have a powerful (and hopefully articulate) and measured voice on the Council. Having said that, I expressly acknowledge that the alumni are one of many voices that have a right to be heard as to the mission, strategy and governance of the College.

I am sure I speak for my fellow Council members when I say that the Council will have as one of its key goals strong engagement with the broader College community which includes not only the alumni but also the current study body, the parents of current students, the University and the Church.

The governing body of this College is its Council and the Council is, in very large part, the embodiment of the independence of this College. That independence is a key part of the uniqueness of the College and its preservation is key. That independence is in no way threatened by (and is entirely consistent with) the strong engagement with both the Church and the University. The governance debates, which are now thankfully well and truly behind us, had some positive and negative aspects to it. One of the key positive aspects was a very robust discussion amongst the broader College community about the place of this College within the University, the Church and the broader community. One of the key things that emerged from those discussions was a strong desire among the alumni and the broader College community for the Church to support the College spiritually, strategically and, hopefully, financially. I know that Bishop Umbers is particularly keen to see the Church providing greater spiritual assistance and guidance for the College and that is an objective the entire Council supports. I hope that the Archdiocese can provide assistance in many other areas as well.

This College sits within the magnificent grounds of the University of Sydney. The College is very much a part of the University community. We are joined not only at the hip with the University but  I would also suggest at the ankle and shoulder. Good relations with the University are not only desirable, they are essential. Whilst ensuring the strength of that relationship is a matter for the entire Council, I acknowledge David Pacey having recently joined the Council and his skills, expertise and connections within the University are very welcome. I am particularly keen to work with David on developing the best possible relationship we can have with the University. Could I acknowledge at this point in time the assistance and advice provided by the Vice Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, Professor Stephen Garton and Associate Professor Richard Fisher of the University who were very generous with their time to a wide variety of people engaged in the governance debate.

In terms of the ongoing work of the new Council, the last point I would like to make is that at today’s meeting the Council approved a statement to be placed on the College’s website. The statement reflects a lot of what I have said here this evening. Significantly, it notes the importance of the alumni to the College and makes reference to the renewal of our structures to engage with the alumni as a first priority. I can assure all of those gathered here tonight and the broader College community that this Council will do everything possible to make good on that commitment.

Turning to the outgoing Council, the first and obvious thing to say on behalf of the new Council and the broader College community is a very heartfelt thanks for your services. The constitution of the outgoing Council occurred during a crisis period in the College. At that point in time, the request to serve on the Council in that context might be politely described as unenviable. I am also sure that when most members of the outgoing Council agreed to assist the College by providing their service, I am sure they did not contemplate the length of that service. The observation that “no good deed goes unpunished” readily springs to mind.

I note that a number of outgoing Council members could not attend this evening but I would like to publicly thank :

  • Professor Anthony Shannon
  • Father Dominic Murphy
  • Father Peter Williams
  • Sister Giovanni Farquer

To those members of the outgoing Council who were able to join us this evening could I express a very sincere thanks of the current Council members and the broader College community for your service:  Professor James Frankin, Professor Marie Carroll, Father Brendan Purcell, Father Danny Meagher, Mr Joseph Hayes, Mr Daniel Hill and the Honourable Ken Handley.

Prior to dinner this evening, I was speaking with Father Brendan who spoke with great affection about his time on the outgoing Council. Father Brendan told me of the great level of cooperation and collegiality that existed in the outgoing Council and how, even on controversial matters, the discourse was always civil and respectful. That level of collegiality is sometimes not seen by people outside of the Council and reflects very well on those serving on that Council.

Whilst it is no doubt unfair to single out one particular member of the outgoing Council, could I particularly thank Justice Ken Handley for his service. As most of the people here tonight appreciate his Honour practises his faith in the Anglican tradition. For his Honour to have served for so long and with such distinction in a Catholic College is testament to his generosity and to the very high regard in which he is held by the Church and the College community.

To conclude, the College is in a very good position not only from a governance point of view but also culturally and academically. That success is in large part due to the efforts of the retiring Fellows. In noting the current health of the College, I must make special mention to the efforts of the Rector and his management team. The work of the Council would come to nothing if it is not supported by a strong management team. I know Adrian and his team work tirelessly in the background and quite often their work is not appreciated. To that end, I specifically thank Adrian together with Tony Walters, TJ Christie, Vic Andallo and Christina Goh.

The new Council starts its tenure with the College in a very good place. There are challenges ahead of us and it will no doubt take us a little time to find our feet but I am very confident the continuity we have on Council will greatly assist in the transitioning of function to the new Council and the new leadership of the Council.

John Coorey

Deputy Chair of Council




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