This week is Catholic Schools Week (26th Jan.-2nd Feb.), an annual week of celebration and reflection on the value of a Catholic Education. Catholic Schools Week takes place at a time when the ongoing involvement of the Church in the education of young people is continually being called into question. Very often the debate is reduced to the issue of control. The Catholic Church is portrayed as keen to keep control with as many schools as possible and reluctant to surrender patronage. While many Church leaders have agreed that the school system needs to reflect the greater plurality of faiths and cultures that now exist in modern Ireland, it is worth bearing some important points in mind – points that need to be restated with renewed clarity at a time when the distinct value of Catholic Education is being questioned.
First, the impression is often given that Catholic Schools are exclusively for Catholics. This is not true. For example, here in our parish school in St Aidan’s Enniscorthy there are children from over 30 countries with many of them non-Christian. We believe that the presence of these children in our parish school strengthens the social integration needed for any civilization to remain intact and to flourish. Yes, there is a Christian ethos in Catholic schools from which flows the Catholic spirit of being universal, embracing the whole. This spirit of welcome, community and mutual respect is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his values, his vision and the understanding of the human person that he came to reveal.
Second, the goal of education is to help us become all we can be. But who are we? This is the key question that shapes what happens in a Catholic school or any school. For Catholic Schools, the human person is made in the image and likeness of God who was created by God to accomplish a purpose on this earth to make it a better and more humane place. We believe that in accepting this calling and responding to its demands in love, brings fulfilment and joy to the person themselves and those they serve. This involves the development of all dimensions of our human nature to serve this vision of the human person and to fulfil our potential for good using all the talents we have received from God. A Catholic Education values and promotes growth in physical activity and exercise, social and inter-personal skills and academic skills. It also values and promotes religious and spiritual formation because the human person is, by nature, a religious and spiritual being. That is why the teaching of religion and prayer is part of the curriculum in a Catholic School, based on the understanding of us being more than achievers, doers and learners. First and foremost is not what we do but who we are as children of God, called by name with an infinite value and destiny.
These are just some reasons why Catholic Education matters. It’s not just about control of our schools that is at stake but the very vision of the human person on which education programmes are based.
This week we thank all who are involved in making our Parish Schools efficient, welcoming, caring and inclusive communities.