It was while he was a student at a Catholic school in NSW that the principal of Xavier College, Chris Hayes, decided to become a teacher.
He says it was their care of individual students, their focus on excellence and the importance of making a difference in the wider community that was his inspiration.
“I was inspired because of the wonderful teachers I had at school; it was from their example that I wanted to be a teacher … because they really cared about me succeeding,” Chris says.
“I [also] just wanted to help young people, to make a difference in their lives, and that hasn’t changed in all these years.”
The decision has led to a career that has so far spanned 36 years, 29 of them teaching and leading in Jesuit schools. He has also been head of an Edmund Rice Education Australia school, St Edmund’s College in Canberra.
Chris has spent many years in Jesuit Catholic schools where the philosophy and works of St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the order nearly 500 years ago, continues to inspire students and teachers in their learning and in their lives.
It is St Ignatius’ last words, reportedly to St Francis Xavier (for whom Xavier College is named), that have inspired Chris in his role.
St Ignatius told his friend to “go forth and set hearts on fire”, to encourage people to learn at depth and give back to the community where needs are apparent.
Serving as an inspiration, this phrase has led to “setting hearts on fire” becoming a vision statement for Xavier College and a new tenet for the school, officially launched this month.
It also led Chris to undertake a project with academics from Harvard University’s graduate school of education and Independent Schools Victoria.
Chris is one of nine principals from Victorian schools invited to work on a project that falls under the umbrella of “leading learning that matters”.
As his part of the project, Chris is focused on how Xavier is setting hearts on fire, and on improving how staff inspire their students to learn.
“Whether it’s a government, independent or a Catholic school, we’re all trying to inspire our students to have a thirst for learning,” he says.
Setting hearts on fire has become the vision of not just the leaders and teachers at Xavier College, but also for the students and the wider school community.
“It becomes infectious, that idea of seeking excellence, of being helpful and being of service to others,” Chris Hayes says.
“I think that’s why some parents choose to send their children to Xavier, because we’re enrolling the family into a Jesuit education with the focus on excellence and of being of service to the community.”
Chris says there are many wonderful examples of how Xavier students have taken up the mantle to set hearts on fire: the school has been involved in the Friday Night School for 25 years, in which students work as language tutors with youngsters whose first language is not English.
The students’ voluntary work has inspired parents, who have set up Xavier’s Social Justice Network and who also volunteer. More than 400 parents of past and present students are involved.
Such actions, Chris says, are an important part of the Jesuit philosophy and the Catholic faith, which is an important part of Chris’ life and studies. In fact, his doctoral thesis at Australian Catholic University focused on the Ignatian pedagogy in schools in Australia.
“I am also very fortunate in that I’ve undertaken the full Spiritual Exercises and that has given me a pretty good insight into what it means to find God in all things,” Chris says.
Faith is important in his family’s life. Chris’s wife Margaret also works in education and they have four children (three daughters and a son) ranging in age from 15 to 30, with his youngest daughter in year 10.
Chris, who has been principal of Xavier since 2009, says that like his own teachers he hopes to focus on individual students and to inspire them and give them a holistic education involving academia, faith and community service.
“We’re focused on each individual at the school, so that they may become all that they can be and pursue lifelong learning. We’re really sowing these seeds so that they are helpful to others,” he says.
“We aim to produce leaders who are grounded in Christian faith, compassion, hope and love and who aspire to set hearts on fire.”
* Special promotion