Australia’s Assyrian community marks historic opening of St Narsai Assyrian Christian College, Sydney

On Sunday 21 January, the new campus of St Narsai Assyrian Christian College, a year 7-12 co-educational Christian independent college of the Assyrian Church of the East was officially opened in a historic ceremony at Horsley Park, New South Wales, Australia.

The ceremony was led by His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia AM, Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East’s Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon with the participation of representatives from sister churches and more than a dozen members of local, state and federal government. Of particular note was the presence of both The Honourable Gladys Berejiklian MP, Premier of New South Wales and The Honourable Luke Foley MP, Opposition Leader.

The event was also attended by dignitaries representing numerous Assyrian political, social, cultural and charitable organisations along with members of the Iraqi diplomatic corps and guests from as far as the Middle East and the United States.

St Narsai Assyrian Christian College is the first Assyrian senior secondary College to be established in the western world and will cater to more than 500 Australian-Assyrian students following its inception in 2006. Its sister school, St Hurmizd Assyrian Primary School in Greenfield Park was established in 2002. Between both schools along with a childcare and early learning centres, the educational institutions of the Assyrian Church of the East in Australia now cater to more than 1500 students.

In her remarks to the 700-strong crowd, Premier Gladys Berejiklian reflected on the thousands-year-old history of the Assyrian people noting that St Narsai’s marks the “continuation of the history, culture and legacy that has graced the world for thousands of years”. She went on note her pride in the Assyrian-Australian community having “a school of this magnitude and calibre in the heart of New South Wales”.

Addressing the attendees, Opposition Leader Luke Foley added that the College would “preserve the unique language, culture and faith” of the Assyrian people. He went on to reflect on the traditions inherited from the Apostles of Jesus Christ and handed down over the last 2000 years praying that the “sons and daughters of those people who turned to the Lord when the Lord sent Jonah to Nineveh are watched over by the Lord” here in Australia.

The College is named for St Narsai, a 5th-century Assyrian saint noted for his unique theological and scholarly works including a vast canon of commentaries, expositions, sermons, hymns, poetry and homilies. The life and teachings of the venerated saint give inspiration to the school’s motto and foundational belief in excellence, commitment to teaching and dedication to the spreading of knowledge and Christian values.

His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia AM, Archbishop of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon gave the function’s keynote address. Commencing his remarks, the Archbishop noted that “education is the fundamental foundation of any society which wishes to enrich itself with the fruits of knowledge.” He went on to reflect on the founding vision and inspiration for Assyrian education in Australia, stressing that the Assyrian culture and the tradition of the Assyrian Church of the East desperately need to be protected.

“Assyrians like many minorities in the Middle East have suffered long and hard to maintain their identity. Assyrians have been subjected to continuing unprecedented ethnic and religious persecution and prejudice that have forced a massive exodus of Assyrians from the Middle East to the western world”, said the Archbishop.

Therefore, the College seeks to enrich its students with the heritage and Christian values of the Assyrian Church of the East, developing individuals who strive for excellence, who are life-long learners and who live their faith. His Beatitude also stressed his “vision and mission to give to our children the best education that this school can and will provide.”

The educational institutions of the Assyrian Church of the East in Australia would not have come to fruition without the courage, inspiration, vision and leadership of His Beatitude who has prioritised and spearheaded these major projects since his consecration and appointment as leader of the Assyrian Church of the East community in Australia in the early 1980s.

Stages 1 and 2 of the 4-stage, $35 million project are now completed. Between March 2019 and March 2020, the third and final stages will commence construction, culminating in the finalisation of the St Narsai Assyrian Christian College campus in Horsley Park. The Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon is also presently in the preliminary planning stages for its second and first primary schools in New South Wales and Victoria respectively.

Like its sister primary school before it, the College is the first and only Assyrian Church of the East secondary institution established in the western world. The grand opening ceremony of the campus marked a historic and unforgettable day in the history of Australia’s Assyrian community and in the life of the Assyrian Church of the East. In both Australia and around the world, it has been heralded as a symbol of hope and survival for the Assyrian people in the diaspora.

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