Mount St. Anne’s, 25.10.23 @ 2.45pm
We are coming to the end of the third APTCS Annual Forum. A forum which offers us the opportunity as a community of patrons and trustees to meet and reflect on pertinent issues regarding patronage of our Catholic Schools. It’s our belief in the value of Catholic Schools that holds our association together and indeed brings us here today.
I tend to stay with the scripture of the day, no matter what celebration is being honoured and today is no exception. At first hearing, the readings perhaps jar a little, even the language grates a little, but let’s stay with them.
We hear from St. Paul making a plea for self-discipline, while St. Luke calls for alertness and action. The last line is perhaps where our focus most will rest: “when a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him”.
We have all been trusted with something beautiful – our Catholic schools. We owe it to those who turned the very first sod, who held the very first cake sake or raffle, who made the initial approach to the department – congregations, individuals, dioceses – and who passed those same Catholic schools onto us to hold them, develop them and reimagine them.
As we gather to celebrate this Mass at the end of our day together, let us together acknowledge our past, recognise our present and anticipate our future …
I was in Heywood Community School, Ballinakill last Friday, an amalgamation thirty-three years ago of the Brigidines, the Presentation Sisters (Durrow), the Salesians and the Vocational School (Abbeyleix). It was their Annual Foundation Day Mass.
I was in Presentation De La Salle, Bagenalstown yesterday to celebrate their 40th Anniversary, an amalgamation of the Presentation Sisters and De La Salle Brothers. Presentation De La Salle is a CEIST School while Heywood Community School is under the patronage of the join patronage of the Salesians and the ETB. Both schools acutely conscious of their founding intentions.
And that’s just my diary, any of the fifty-five present could give a similar account of their movements and interactions on the education landscape in recent days.
I want to just pause a moment. Think of the last Post Primary School you visited? Think of what brought you there. Think of what you saw as you looked around. What made it Catholic?
My message on those visits to Heywood and Presentation de la Salle in recent days was simple, using Matthew 6:25-33 reminding us in the clarity of language – “do not worry”. Young people worry too much, they get anxious too easily, they, like us all sweat the small stuff too readily. In a nutshell ‘don’t worry, you are not on your own’. You are each loved by God, treasured by God, held by God.
That message brought me back to our APTCS Forum a year ago as we tried to pin down ten sentences that described Catholic education. A little like the ethos question in teaching interviews, we can promise the sun and moon, but does it do what it says on the tin!
I like to think that students in our schools are encouraged to be the best that they can be. I like to hope that our schools assist young people to develop that moral compass to navigate the difficult moments of their life. And I like to dream that our schools see each student and staff colleague as made in the image and likeness of Christ.
Parental choice is very important and we hear a lot about it. The Genesis Research carried out in 2019 and also in 2021 tells us that the most important value parents have in our schools is the word ‘Respect’. Parents also want their sons and daughters moral compass developed in both the Primary and Post Primary Sector with the importance they place on ‘Teaching right from wrong’. 82% of parents of Post Primary parents saw this as very valuable.
Both the Genesis Research and the Grace Project are vital and have powerful findings as we heard at a recent Inter-diocesan RE Conference in Carlow. I fear there is the risk that until someone starts to interpret that data and make it user friendly for us, the value of both pieces of research will have passed their use by date. Perhaps we make too much of parental choice, we should survey our students, they love their schools. No better ambassadors for their schools than Year Heads like Caoimhe and Conor yesterday in Bagenalstown.
Returning to our scripture of the day. St. Paul tells us to mind the body, he is not just talking about the corporal frame, it’s the entire gambit we see around us. It is education in its many facets. We have a duty to mind education but also to realise we are stronger together.
For too long the 38 diocesan Schools have been pretty much left to paddle their own canoe, alongside their brothers and sisters in different trust bodies such as CEIST, ERST and Le Cheile, all well resourced and supported. It is good to have an association that brings us together. I know APTCS is looking over the hedge at the Primary Sector, I would add don’t forget our Third Level cousins.
We need to see the body of education in the whole, in the frame, in the round. Pope Francis speaking to Italian school teachers and parents reminds us “education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative, either it enriches or it impoverishes, either it makes a person to grow or it lessens (them)”. There is no such thing as valueless education, despite the media’s contention, those who run secular or state schools are not by any stretch of the imagination value-free.
St. Luke reminds us when a great deal is given to us, we have huge responsibility to do the best we can with it. I imagine that’s the logic around setting up Trusts, developing Charters and teasing out Mission Statements. But everything is only as good as what it does. Do our young people feel loved, respected, cherished and held? And maybe that’s why my message to Heywood and Bagenalstown is kind of key, are our schools intentionally Catholic or in name only? Do our students realise they are loved by God, treasured by God, held by God?