Cardinal Sen Brady addressed the 2008 Conference of the Irish Primary Principals Network in Killarney on 31 January 2008.

Click here for full text of Cardinal Brady’s address

The needs of society, of preparing for participation in the economy, must not be taken on board at the expense of the human and spiritual needs of the young person.
Cardinal Sean Brady

In paying tribute to the work of generations of teachers, Cardinal Brady reminded delegates that education is about more than communicating information, or preparing children to gain qualifications and contribute to the workforce.

Cardinal Brady said, Catholic education is both a sacred and a secular activity. But the needs of society, of preparing for participation in the economy, must not be taken on board at the expense of the human and spiritual needs of the young person. The aim is to produce people of competence, character and conscience: people who play a full role in society people who have a Christian vision including a concern, not for themselves alone, but for others; people who have deep desire to put their talents at the service of others.

Formation of the whole person

Teaching value-free facts devoid of meaning and skill is an unsustainable and fundamentally flawed approach to education. Our goal is formation and development: to promote the formation of the whole person; of young people who are able to live in peace, at peace with themselves, at peace with each other, at peace with God and at peace with the environment.

Drawing on his own experience of teaching in St. Patricks College, Cavan, and, more recently, his experience of visiting schools around Ireland and engaging with those involved in their management, the Cardinal continued in empathy with teachers in what he described as their critical and increasingly challenging role in the formation of the whole person:

As Principal teachers you are chosen precisely because you are among the most imaginative and visionary, highly motivated and pupil-centred teachers we have. You are innovators and inspirers, people who have proved yourselves capable and creative in the classroom.

Yet if my experience of visiting schools is anything to go by, I suspect that many of you are feeling increasingly isolated. You may feel disconnected from that which energises you most. The work of inspiring and forming the mystery of every child: the challenge of creating a warm, effective learning community in the school, while supporting and encouraging parents in their sacred duty to educate their child.

This should be a matter of concern to us all, especially those with responsibility for resources and policy.

As Principals you are seen as the vision setters, staff developers, Chief Executives and that is fair enough. You expect all of this in a sense when you apply to become a Principal. But what happens when you are also expected to be the quantity surveyor, the legal consultant, the financial director, the personnel officer, the strategic planner and a wise counsellor and supporter to all of your staff, pupils and even to the local community?

Diversity

The Cardinal acknowledged that the State and all the Churches must also face up to the need for diverse provision in a pluralist society, but he re-iterated that the Catholic Church sees education as central to its mission and will continue to be involved in schools. Continuing on this theme, he added:

I admit to no small frustration when I hear the superficial allegation made that faith based schools are of their very nature divisive and inconsistent with a pluralist society. We are seeing here more a rejection of religion, or a caricature of religion than an approach to education per se. When set against the evidence, whether here or in Northern Ireland, the charge that Catholic or other faith based schools are intrinsically divisive and inconsistent with pluralism, is an ill-informed caricature which simply doesnt stack up. In fact, it is unjust and offensive to the excellent work and commitment of teachers and others who work in Catholic and other Christian schools.

No school can ever become complacent about its Christian and civic obligation to promote tolerance, inclusion and understanding as one of its first priorities. We should even be creative in exploring ways in which we can promote greater cooperation and sharing between all our schools, including different denominational, faith or other forms of school.