For many students this provided a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to visit the Vatican City, the birth place of St Catherine of Siena (patron saint of St Catherine’s) and Assisi.
Students also visited major churches such as the bombed ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which remains as the symbolic centre of West Berlin and an anti-war memorial to peace and reconciliation.
The students felt that their “eyes had been opened to the size and scale of the world”, to the “horrors of Dachau and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps and the shocking realisation that you were standing in exactly that place where such atrocities had occurred”.
Humbling moments, such as standing in St Peter’s and the Colosseum, provided a perspective on cultures and experiences different from their History studies.
Many of the students were aware that what they were experiencing could not be learned in a classroom and there was grateful acknowledgement of the blessing of living in present times.
Reflecting on the experience of laying wreaths at both the Menin Gate and the Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux, students Connor Hugo and Ellie Tilse of St Joseph’s and Zoe Kellner and Cullen Munzenberger of St Catherine’s, all agreed that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and they were proud to have represented their school, tour group and families ‒ and to be Australian.
Visiting the battlefields and war graves provided particularly special memories for some.
“I was honoured with being the first person in my family to visit the grave of my great-uncle, Private Percy Gardener, who died in the Great War,” said Connor.
“The tour group made a special effort to visit the Courcelette British Cemetery in France, so that I could pay my respects. The only thing that I wanted to say to my great uncle was “Thank you”, as I could not have gotten the courage to run through a spray of bullets, walk through bloody trenches or watch my best mates fall next to me.
“The honour of seeing his grave was one moment I can’t thank the school enough for and I’ll be sure to tell this story for many years to come.”
This was a unique and distinctive chance for students to visit some major European cities, to reflect on the futility of war and man’s inhumanity to man and represent their school on the world stage.
At all times they were true ambassadors of their schools and embodied reverence in their behaviour and attitude.
Each day began with a very personal version of prayer. Participants shared some very moving prayers and often reflected on the journey thus far, sharing a much greater knowledge and understanding of places we had visited.
“This trip was not only about sightseeing and socialising with friends,” said Connor.
“It was about education, emotion, history, invaluable experiences, culture and religion. I’m sure we all walked away with the knowledge we had experienced something remarkable.”