MASS FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR 2017
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Patrick’s College, DCU, Drumcondra, Monday 25th September 2017
“At the beginning of the new school year, we come to entrust to the Lord the work of education in this diocese. We remember our schools, those of Catholic patronage and all other schools and above all the young people who, in these days, begin a new year and for them a new adventure as they progress on the path of their human and spiritual development.
We pray for parents, the first educators of their children. We remember especially those individuals, families and schools that face disadvantage in any way. As Christian believers, we have to commit ourselves to working to ensure that in the growing prosperity of our nation, the needs those who experience educational disadvantage are not overlooked.
The Catholic school plays a particular role in the parish community. I am delighted this evening that the musical arrangements will be led by the choir of the parish of the Most Holy Rosary in Ashford. I attended the Jubilee of the Parish and was especially pleased by the Special Mass composed for that occasion.
In my introductory words, I stressed some of the intentions that bring us together here this evening. Obviously, we come to pray for our Catholic schools and the parents, teachers, management bodies and pupils who make up these educational communities. I also wished to include in our prayers and reflections the variety of school models that we experience in today’s pluralist Ireland.
My reason for this is to stress that in the midst of different models of education and expressions of ethos – and indeed at times of different ideologies – there is need to form new bonds and partnerships to ensure that we also have a common vision – and not an antagonistic one – of education in our pluralist nation. Such a vision must that place children at its centre and especially those children who experience disadvantage. There is need to respect difference, but there are also many common challenges.
Visiting parishes and schools, I have come to see the subtle and at times more obvious ways in which some schools experience disadvantage. Some of this disadvantage is due to external social inequalities. Some is due to lack of financial support proportionate to the particular needs of schools. A narrow one-size-fits-all financial model can easily become a straitjacket for disadvantaged schools.
Visiting parishes and schools, I know better that many the extraordinary work being done by teachers in schools that suffer social disadvantage. They are great schools working in the face of great odds and they need our solidarity.
There is much debate in Ireland about different forms of patronage and such discussion is valid and necessary. The real divides in Irish education can often be very different and as someone who grew up in an area of disadvantage I have strong feelings about the economic and social divide in which many young people still have to grow up.
Catholic schools have a non-renounceable Gospel imperative to be at the service of the poorest. This was the characteristic of the religious orders that were established to provide education and it is important – alongside the failures and abuse that have tarnished their history – that we also pay tribute to the men and women religious who dedicated themselves to the education of the poor, and especially in different times to the equal education of girls.
The best path forward for those of us who wish to foster Catholic education today is to ensure that Catholic schools in a different future live up to these original ideals.
Where do we find the drawing board for the future of Catholic education? Let me give some suggestions.
Firstly, we have to have a clear understanding of what Catholic education is. Catholic education is not education with a Catholic veneer. It is about a path of discovering what faith in Jesus Christ can bring as an additional qualitative dimension to education. Catholic education is not an imposition, but a proposition that attracts. Watered-down Catholic education will attract no one.
We have heard a short but rather complex Gospel reading. Jesus takes up themes from the people of the Old Testament especially that of Moses drawing water from the rock to provide for the thirst of the people and the beautiful image of the hills and valley of Judea being watered by a miraculously abundant spring flowing form the Temple itself. Jesus is now the realisation of that imagery. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink”.
Jesus himself is the one who brings the life-giving waters of his message as fulfilment and meaning to the lives of his followers. Religious education is not just an intellectual exercise. Belief in Jesus Christ must inspire a new path of meaning and hope into the life of the child and young adult.
Secondly, this requires a bond between the faith life of the pupils and that of his or her parents and of the religious community to which they belong. Catholic education cannot play only lip service to the primary role of parents.
Thirdly, a Catholic school is not a closed island of believers isolated or, much worse, hostile to the rest of the educational world. The Catholic school community is not a gated community. We already have too many of them. The Catholic school must enter into relationships with schools of other patronage so that it is not a source of division. All the agents of education in Ireland are called to foster relationships of respect and tolerance and welcome, in such a manner as to build a respectful pluralist model of education for a new pluralist Ireland.
A pluralist education system in a pluralist Ireland must be one where battles of ideology are overcome and not reinforced. The Catholic school must be an island of excellence and an island of excellence must, by its nature, be a bridge builder.
All of this then requires a new sense of identity by the Catholic community of the “why” of Catholic education. This must to be forged through real public dialogue between the faith community, parents and school. It is too important to be left to the polemicists and bureaucrats. The future of Catholic education is not just one about ownership but about the quality of the faith education that is provided. Faith education is not a negative but the fruit of that attractiveness of the nourishing living water that the message of Jesus brings.
That living water and nourishment is not given to form ghettos but in order to enrich lives and society. On many occasions, I have recalled an image that is dear to Pope Francis: that of the doors of the Church. He reminds us that the doors of our Churches must remain open so that people can enter and encounter the healing power of Jesus. They must be doors that are not one-way, that do not tempt us to remain enclosed within the Church building as a Church of just the comfortable and the like-minded. The Pope stresses above all that the doors of the Church must be open so that those who encounter the message and the love of Jesus in word and sacrament can go back out again into our challenging world bringing a witness to the care, the generosity and the love of Jesus.
I am grateful especially to the teachers who are here this evening and all those who work within the various Catholic schools networks. I greet the representatives of the Department of Education and Skills, and the representatives of the teachers’ organisations. May the Lord bless our common endeavours for the good of all the children of this nation. ENDS