ACU staff member Associate Professor Michael Griffith has been awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Mission Excellence.
Michael is an Associate Professor of Literature and Language in the Faculty of Education and Arts and has taught at ACU and its predecessor colleges for more than 40 year. Throughout this time he has been passionately committed to teaching, research, community outreach and exploring the links between literature and catholic spirituality.
The award for Mission Excellence recognizes individuals and teams who have demonstrated excellence in living the Mission of ACU through areas of service, pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and the common good.
In 1991, Michael received an award from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, for his biography of Catholic poet Francis Webb, God’s Fool. Francis Webb suffered chronic schizophrenia for much of his life and Michael’s biography acknowledged the extraordinary creativity of a man who spent much of his life on the margins of normal society.
Prior to becoming an academic Michael had worked as a nurse at Parramatta Psychiatric Hospital and when working towards his PhD he focused on the poetry of Francis Webb, who had been a patient at the same hospital.
Michael says it was his work on this poet which has underpinned much of his teaching with underprivileged and marginalized communities around Sydney through ACU’s Clemente program.
The Clemente program helps vulnerable and disadvantaged people gain access to university education.
"An opportunity arose at ACU to work with Clemente students and over that time I’ve been able to witness these students flower through their understanding of literature and creative writing,” Michael said.
"I think my work all along has been about trying to get people to interpret literature in a way that touches their own deepest, inner self. It’s a transformative power. I’ve seen that most vividly working with culturally disadvantaged students through the Clemente program.”
Michael’s work with the Clemente program has also resulted in the publication of Shifting Perspectives: The Clemente Australia Anthology, which contains the creative work of many of Michael’s students. The book was officially launched by Australian writer David Malouf in July this year.
This anthology would not have been possible had it not been for Michael’s early adoption of digital technology in his teaching, which enabled him to use blogging as a way of allowing his Clemente students to make their work public and therefore part of an online community, open to interaction with each other and with on-campus students.
Michael’s broadest contribution to both the staff and students over the years has however been his deep and abiding interest in the way that literature and the visual arts can evoke a person’s experience of the sacred dimension of life. To this end Michael has been running conferences at ACU for over twenty years which have drawn countless national and international speakers to address this interest. These have included Karen Armstrong (London), Father William Johnson SJ (Tokyo), Professor David Jasper (Glasgow), Prof Alicia Ostriker (Rutgers), Sr Veronica Brady (UWA), and countless others. Most recently, for the 2017 conference “Awakening the Sacred” Michael had the good fortune to host both Father Laurence Freeman OSB (Head of the World Christian Meditation Community) and Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr (Aboriginal Elder from the NT, an exponent of Dadirri –Deep Listening).
"It’s been very pleasing to be acknowledged for the work I’ve been doing throughout my time with ACU,” Michael said. “This award also given me an opportunity to reflect on the interconnections between different aspects of my work.”