Monica Johnson, currently the Principal of Marist College, Mount Albert, Auckland, has deep roots in the Marist history of New Zealand. Born and raised in the Hokianga, in reflecting on her own Maori, Croatian and English descent, Monica shared with us that her great-grandfather, Nui Hare, was a catechist for Bishop Pompallier. Also, Purakau, on which Pompallier built one of the earliest missions, is part of Monica’s ancestral land.
Monica first came into close contact with the Marists during the 80’s and 90’s in Whangarei, where she was the Director of Religious studies at Pompallier Catholic College, and active in the St Francis Xavier Parish. “The many Marist priests and brothers that I encountered during those years,” she says, “helped me to understand what it meant to be Marist.”
“Ministry in the Catholic Church” is how Monica sees teaching in a Catholic school. Fr Jean-Claude Colin’s model of education, and the example of Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, really resonate with her: child-centred, presence, walking alongside, belonging, supporting in a compassionate way. “Living that through education in the Marist tradition on a day-to-day basis is really significant,” she says. “The most significant thing that “being Marist” has to offer today’s society is that it is a framework through which to express and live the Catholic faith.”
Monica’s role as Principal of Marist College, with a staff of eighty and a student roll of close to one thousand, gives her plenty of scope to translate her own experience as a mother and grandmother into the lives of those she leads.
In her own words: “I take a simple, ‘motherly’ approach to relationships with people and living the values of whanaungatanga and pono. There is solidarity with others, knowing their own world-view is similar to my own, a sense of belonging and community.”
Among Monica’s highlights in “being Marist” are the bicentennial celebrations of the Fourviere Pledge which were held in the Hokianga in 2016, especially the celebration of Eucharist in the church at Motukaraka, just above her own marae, and her visit, with colleagues, to the places of Marist origin in France.
And, she says: “Every year watching the young people at Marist Youth Leader begin to understand the Marist Way and servant leadership, the huge potential for the next generation to make the world a better place.”
Finally, what would Monica say to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, if she had the opportunity to sit down with her and chat? “First, I’d express gratitude for her being such an important role model in my life --- ‘to Jesus through Mary’ is a mantra that is important to me. Secondly, I’d seek wisdom for ways to help young people to have hope and purpose in their lives.”
Monica’s legacy, already, at Marist College bears ample testimony to her self-effacing, deeply Marist leadership.