18 November 2009
Homily of Bishop Joseph Duffy at the Mass for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools in St Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Catholic schools are a genuine enrichment of the wider community – Bishop Duffy
There is a line in the Nicene Creed, the profession of faith we recite every Sunday. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life …..he has spoken to us through the prophets”.
In the context of today’s celebration, it is a fair question to ask: to what extent can we see CCMS, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, as a prophetic voice in our time ?
It all began twenty years ago, in 1989. I recall vividly the long and fraught discussions which accompanied the birth of the Council; it was by no means a painless delivery. What we got in the end was a well-thought-out and State-funded initiative and our thanks are due to the many people concerned for their hard work and mutual understanding. At that time the demise of Catholic schools was being freely forecast and indeed canvassed; the view being that Catholic schools were an accident of history, that they had had their day. I don’t have to tell you that there are those who still promote that view; and of course there are many more for whom our schools are simply schools, no different as such from other schools, with nothing specifically special to offer.
I mention this because CCMS from the beginning set out to challenge that negative attitude head-on; and to develop a vibrant philosophy and practice of Catholic education. The major motivating thesis, the underlying conviction was, and remains, that Catholic schools are a genuine enrichment of the wider community. The task was to provide the leadership to enable this vision to be clarified and pursued with professional efficiency. If we have today, which we have, a new generation of highly educated and articulate young people, they – and the wider community to which we all belong – have been the net beneficiaries. We are here to acknowledge that achievement and to give due thanks to the Lord, the source of all good things.
Meanwhile, the world has moved on. We live in a new open society, a society where more and more of the traditional religious, social and cultural boundaries are being discarded by the day. No more than in the past, the case for Catholic schools is by no means self-evident. But the argument remains the same. Catholic schools are seed beds of Catholic faith, and Catholic faith is a unique and very specific way of understanding human life, whether in ultimate terms of origin and destiny or in more immediate terms of relationships, of family and community. What goes on in our schools has to be about human dignity, about hope and trust in a loving God, and therefore about prayer and Sacraments, about outreach to others inside and outside the school.
As an upper tier of management the work of CCMS has been largely about organisation, about facilitating the provision and upgrading of services, about facilitating good administration within each school unit. Underlying all of this is a clear understanding of the more basic role of teachers in the classroom. We all appreciate that, when all is said and done, it is what happens in the classroom that counts. That is why the best compliment we can pay CCMS is to acknowledge their unqualified support for our teachers.
We often speak of teachers being at the coalface. I see Catholic teachers penetrating that coalface. They bring home to us that our Church is essentially a teaching Church, a teaching Church teaching a revealed religion. I came across a template for Catholic teachers recently which sees their work of teachers as cultivating what it calls the Catholic imagination, as opening for children and young people a sacramental vision of the mysteries of the universe, mysteries that lie beyond the scope of science and technology. In simpler language, it’s about making space for stories and poetry, for art work and music and games. One can only marvel at the work of teachers who enable young people to be touched and moved by the works of God, by the Sacraments, especially by the Eucharist.
No more than their parents, the teachers among you watch the children in your care grow and develop. What’s more difficult to observe is their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is so difficult to observe that we rarely speak about it. And, yet, when you think about it, it’s the nub of the matter. Parents, teachers, boards of governors, clergy: our common task comes home here. How do we communicate Jesus Christ in our schools? There’s a verse in St Paul’s letter to the Romans that I would ask you to think about, because I think it gets it right : “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.” When we think and talk about being a Christian, this is what it means, accepting God’s spirit of love that comes to us and grows from our knowledge of Christ. The more we get to know Christ, the more we will want to share Him with those in our care.
In offering you these reflections, I am aware that our celebration today is primarily one of school management, a formal recognition of all those involved in school management, be they Trustees, Governors, Principals or Parents. If I have moved into the classroom, it’s because I am convinced that your contribution as members of CCMS, in whatever capacity it has been, is best understood and best appreciated, not in isolation but as a partnership in the broad expanse of school life.
May I personally congratulate and thank members of CCMS, past and present, who have done a magnificent job in the service of the Church over the past twenty years. The good news is that CCMS is now about to be replaced by a new body in order to deal with new requirements. The Trustees have secured from the Government funding for a new organisation, a Trustee Support Service, which will continue the task of developing and promoting at all levels the ethos of Catholic education and appropriate systems and structures, at central and diocesan level.
- Bishop Joseph Duffy is the Bishop of Clogher. Attending the Mass today at 12 noon were parents, school Principals, Boards of Governors and Trustee representatives of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Clogher. From January 2010 the statutory functions of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools will transfer to the new Education and Skills Authority.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 767