A total of 112 Catholic secondary schools have come under the control of a new lay trusteeship set up by five religious congregations, in an effort to maintain the value of faith-based education amidst the declining number of religious vocations.
The move is said to be one of the most significant changes in the trusteeship of Catholic schools in Ireland since the foundation of the state.
Catholic Education – an Irish Schools Trust (CEIST), a limited charitable company, has taken responsibility for trusteeship of the Catholic voluntary secondary schools, which make up 31 per cent of the faith-based secondary schools in the Republic.
Although a decline in vocations is a significant factor, the move is also being made to allow the religious orders to devote a greater amount of time to other ministries such as work with the poor and involvement in the healthcare sector.
The congregations involved are the Daughters of Charity; the Presentation Sisters; the Sisters of the Christian Retreat, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy and the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
The orders have appointed 18 lay and religious members to oversee the trust and a board of directors to manage its affairs.
Day-to-day management will be the responsibility of each school’s management, in accord with the Education Act 1998. The schools will be supported by the trustees from a central office based on Maynooth’s business campus.
Speaking on behalf of the congregations, Sr Elizabeth Maxwell of the Presentations Sisters said:
We have spent 10 years preparing for this day. Our founders, both lay and religious, were driven by their faith and the needs of their time to provide education, based on gospel values. Today we live in different times and education is available to all. Our faith-based education mission will continue through CEIST with the growing support of our lay colleagues.
Bishop Leo O’Reilly of the Irish Bishops’ Conference said the bishops supported the move and looked forward to working closely with CEIST in promoting a vibrant Catholic sector in Irish education.
Speaking as the new CEO of CEIST, Anne Kelleher said: “This is a great challenge and a great opportunity. I am delighted to be a part of this exciting new venture. I look forward to building on this extraordinary tradition, knowing that working with our school communities, we can together build a better future for our young people.”