50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PRESENCE OF THE URSULINE SISTERS
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Brigid, Cabinteely, 29th August 2013
We have come to celebrate the anniversary of the coming of the Ursuline Sisters to Cabinteely in 1963. We have come to thank God for the work of the Sisters and to celebrate a process which has continued and developed over these years into an important educational achievement which has benefitted this Cabinteely community and as the years past also a much wider community. We have seen some symbols of this process at the beginning of our Mass.
1963 was an interesting year, perhaps a year that marked a turning point in history around the world. If we look back we find that on the world level it was countries like Vietnam and Cuba which were to the forefront on the international agenda as the tensions which emerged after the end of the Second World War and the development of the cold war began to intensify and reach a sort of climax. However, the world was changing. 1963 saw, for example, the first nuclear test ban treaty put into place, a process in which Irish foreign policy had played a very significant role. Ireland was moving into a new place as an independent country.
In the United States the civil rights movement began to see its first great political successes, even though at a great cost to people like Martin Luther King. It is hard for us to imagine that only such a short time ago it was necessary to fight so hard for basic human rights and recognition. President Kennedy had come to Ireland in summer 1963 and only months later he was assassinated.
In Ireland there were reforms of the educational system through the promise of the introduction of community schools. Within the Church, Pope John XXIII died. Interestingly RTE television that evening shut down all transmissions after the nine-o-clock as a gesture of respect. Pope Paul VI became Pope and the Second Vatican Council moved into its second session and the first liturgical changes were introduced. Renewal began to move forward rapidly within the Church worldwide and in a special way here in Ireland.
In November the Beatles came to Dublin and not every parent at the time considered the Beatles as the most desirable image for their children. It is hard for us to imagine the level of anxiety caused by what was then considered long hair, but would be considered rather short by today’s standards.
Just in case you think that I have come to give you a history lesson, let me admit that my main source for this short history has been to look up 1963 on Google.
1963 was indeed a remarkable year and it was at that time that the Ursuline Sisters came here to Cabinteely. It is hard for us to image what the world was like 50 years ago and it is difficult to remember, for example, what it meant in those days when a religious congregation came into a new and growing community. It was a sign of hope and of a different future for the young people of a parish. A new school meant not just a new building but a sign of a leap in the quality of education within the community. In 1963 the Ursuline Sisters came not to enclose themselves in their convent but to become a focal point of leadership in education and in community building. Their presence over these 50th years has always represented dedication and an enrichment of the community.
Let me come back to Google for a moment. Education in those days had none of the advanced communications technologies and opportunities that we have today. RTE television was only two years old. The number of telephones in the country hardly reached 50% of families and communications were often left to old “press button A or B” of the coin box telephones on a street corner, with the conversation limited to three minutes – which was not conducive to building a romance by telephone
In such limited access to information, the teacher and the community of sisters became then the vehicle of opening of the minds of young people to the realties and the challenges of their own lives and of their place in creating a future community. How many of the girls of that time will have been helped by the sisters to develop a real sense of what education was about in its deepest meaning? The Sisters committed themselves totally to fostering the talent of young people and encouraging them to take on a sense of responsibility for their own future and that of the community. Once again we tank the Sisters for so many years of dedication.
The Sisters in their commitment were inspired by their faith which they wished to share with the young people entrusted to their acre. The Sisters were called to lead their pupils to develop their faith at a moment where the Beatles were only one dimension of the changing culture in which young people had to develop their faith in Jesus Christ. Ireland was changing and the religious culture of Ireland was changing. Perhaps the Church in Ireland was somewhat blind to just how great those changes were even as far back as 1963 and is often still today slow to recognise the significance change in religious culture.
1963 was a time when the challenge between the old and the traditional clashed with the new and with the pace of change. Despite what is often today considered the common wisdom, very often it was religious sisters who played a vital role in opening the way for mature integration of the past into the challenges of the tomorrow, both as regards religious education and with regard to a mature vision of life. .
Our second reading this afternoon reminds us of how we need at any stage in time “preachers and teachers” who witness in their own lives to Jesus Christ as the one who opens our hearts to receive the gifts of the spirit so that we “can live steadily and without blame”. At a time of great change it is not always easy to discern what the term “steadily” means in our lives. All of us – whatever our age – need to be open to the challenges of the future. We need to be marked by and desire to foster a sense of Christian freedom and initiative. We do not need a conformist Church. We need a Church of mature and authentic common commitment and concern for the spreading of the Gospel. That Gospel is perennially new and must always be presented in ways that are new, but we are not called to reinvent the fundamentals of faith The Gospel is Good News and must always be presented with the enthusiasm which is the inevitable characteristic of those who believe that they are the bearers of good news. The Gospel of Jesus is never alien to the world of any time. What is important is that we understand the real Gospel and never allow ourselves to impose on ourselves or others aspects and rules which really have nothing to do with the Gospel. The Gospel frees us to be fully ourselves.
This does not however mean that we can create our own Gospel and a way of life which suits us as a particular moment. The Gospel challenges us. Our Gospel reading this afternoon challenges us to rethink what greatness means. Greatness is not about outward success and prestige or celebrity. The Gospel reminds us that greatness is much more about the fundamental fascination and innocence and innate goodness which is the mark of the child. Catholic education must produce a generation intent not only on personal enrichment or power or success in the narrow sense or short term financial advancement. Catholic education must far more seek to foster a generation of people who have the simplicity and the tenderness to be authors of a different humanity, a humanity not of indifference but of care. Education is not an end in itself aimed just at exam results or even educational excellence. It is about fostering young adults who are not shy to recognise the place of idealism in life and is prepared to place talent and excellence at the service of a world.
The Christian message is a message of love and Catholic education has a responsibility to foster a real culture of love which is not narcissistic but which remembers how Jesus loved through self-giving love. We have to learn to love but also to be able to be loved and to recognise that in all life’s challenges we are embraced with the love of God, a love which really wishes for us to come to the fullness of our humanity through going beyond that humanity.
We look back to 1963 not just to a date in history when the Ursuline Sisters came to Cabinteely but to a process that began then and which must continue today and tomorrow offering to young people in all the uncertainties of today’s world the hope that they can, with God’s help, be truly the people that God wishes them to be and attain fulfilment and happiness in their personal, family and professional life. We give thanks for the work of the Ursuline Sisters and we place our trust in the creativity and goodness of those who today and tomorrow continue that work.