Address by Dr Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland at the official opening of the centenary celebrations of St Muredach’s College, Ballina, Co Mayo

08 Sep 2006



Embargoed until 8pm on Friday 8th September 2006





* There are parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools and
accordingly the duty of the State to provide such schools is paramount.
* There is no such thing as a neutral view of education and the values
inherent in it.
* Because of this college the contribution of Catholic education to the
common good is written large in the minds and hearts of the people of the
Diocese of Killala.

I have the real pleasure today of launching ‘The History of the College’ which was
written by the late Canon Martin Halloran. This is a fine publication and a credit
to the Canon Halloran’s passion for education and love of St Muredach’s. It is a
‘must read’ for anybody with an interest in the development of the West of Ireland
and in the important contribution that Catholic education makes to Irish society.

Today I also have the responsibility to unveil a memorial to The Sisters of Mercy
who served at the College from 1923 until 1988. The role that religious communities
undertook in serving the educational needs of our young Irish people, especially in
the past but continuing to this present day, is perhaps the greatest singular
contribution ever made to the Irish people. Today I acknowledge that dedication,
professionalism and sheer selfless vocation.

A hundred years of unstinting dedication to Catholic education is a significant
landmark on the horizon of Church and civic life in this area. Our celebrations
over the next few days will take us back to the fledgling beginnings of this college
and to the sacrifices made by the people of the Diocese of Killala. We will look to
the vision of the founders. We will call to mind the commitment of teachers, lay
and clerical. We will remember the many students who passed through St. Muredach’s
Halls. As we leaf through the History of the College, achievements in class rooms
and on sports fields will be fondly recalled. We will be aware of the moments of
change and the new beginnings. We will pay tribute to persistence in good times and
in tough times. And, above all, we will give thanks for an ongoing and living dedication
to the formation of young people in a College inspired by a Catholic view of life
and of education.

As we begin these days of celebration I would like to reflect with you on the immense
contribution that Diocesan Colleges have made, and continue to make, to society. At
a time when education was not readily accessible to all, Bishops, religious, priests
and people made great sacrifices to provide for the education and formation of the
young by founding and building Catholic second level colleges. These schools are
inspired by a Catholic ethos and based on a Catholic vision of life. Our schools
are grounded in a positive view of the person, made in the image of God. They have
a respect and reverence for the “bits and pieces of everyday life” as Patrick Kavanagh
put it.

The reach of the Catholic school goes far beyond the school gates as it seeks to form
a just and caring community and society. Our schools are firmly implanted in a Catholic
Christian tradition and they have respect for the value of reason. They are instrumental
in the formation of young people that are able to take their place in Irish society
and have made, and continue to make, a vital and valuable contribution to the Ireland
that we live in today.

A diocesan college, and indeed all Catholic schools, are crucial to society. They respect
the rights and responsibilities of parents; they strengthen religious belief and identity
in a young person’s life; and, thereby hold a admirable track record in contributing to
the common good of society in general. It is worth elaborating on these three important
themes, because, from a Catholic Church perspective, they are timeless:

1. The basic educational rights and responsibilities of parents.

Parents, of course, have the primary responsibility for the care, upbringing and education
of their children. It is the task of the State to help them fulfill this vital responsibility.
Because of their primary and irreplaceable role, parents have the right to choose the kind
of education they want for their children and to choose a school that corresponds to their
own convictions, subject to standards of viability. Public authorities must guarantee
this parental right. There are parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools
and accordingly the duty of the State to provide such schools is paramount. The teaching
of the Second Vatican Council is clear.

“The state should keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity so that no kind of school
monopoly rises. For such a monopoly would militate against the native rights of the human
person, the development and spread of culture itself, the peaceful association of citizens,
and the pluralism which exists today in very many societies”.

Pope Benedict XVI puts it very clearly when he states: “I cannot but express the hope that
the right of parents to choose education freely will be respected.” (Benedict XVI, Address
to the President of the Italian Republic: L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 26(29
June 2005),

2. It is the faith traditions which have the competence and the right to determine
what is taught about their particular religion in schools. This is not a function of
the State.

If there is one popular myth about education which needs to be challenged it is the
assumption that to remove religion and religious ethos from schools is to make our
schools somehow neutral and therefore acceptable to all. This is simply not true. There
is no such thing as a neutral view of education and the values inherent in it. Similarly
it is not true to say that the only appropriate way for a diverse pluralist society to
deal with religion in schools is by presenting all world religions without any in-depth
formation in one particular tradition.

Parents will tell you that their children sometimes have a great knowledge of world
religions but express concern that they are almost unaware of belonging to a particular
Christian tradition. These parents have a right recognized in international instruments
of human rights to have their children educated in accordance with their own philosophical
and religious convictions. Catholic parents in Ireland should not be reluctant or shy
about claiming this right. Such a claim is fully consistent indeed, I would argue more
consistent, with respect for diversity and participation in a healthy pluralist society
than some form of neutralization of difference based on sincere conviction.

Those for whom religious belief is central to their lives are no less entitled to have
their approach to education and its values reflected in the provision of schools and
their curricula than those who believe that religion has nothing to do with education
or that only a multi faith, multi denominational approach is acceptable in a secular
society. Religion is more than a subject. It is a way of life and a faith to be handed

The Faith-school strengthens the ability of the particular denomination or religion to
pass on its values and beliefs to its own members. It enhances the ability to see the
value of the particular religion. A living example of this mission is our presence here
today as we celebrate one hundred years of Catholic education in St. Muredach’s College.

Bishop John Conmy made a decision one hundred years ago to found a college on this site
to provide for the education of the young and their formation in Gospel values. It is
the bishop who on behalf of Catholic parents and the Catholic community holds ultimate
responsibility for ensuring that Catholic education is provided within the diocese.
Bishop John Fleming, successor to Bishop Conmy, is firmly committed to the future of
St. Muredach’s College as a provider of excellent education for the young people of
this area. He knows that it is a place where they will be introduced to Gospel values
and invited to live their lives in the tradition of the Catholic faith. He knows that
they will make a huge contribution to the future of society wherever they may find
themselves and particularly in north Mayo and west Sligo.

3. The contribution of Catholic education to the common good.

Roman Catholics share with other Christians and members of other world religions the
view that education has a spiritual element. A Chief Rabbi of Britain once said
‘Secularize education and you diminish it.’ You diminish its power for children; you
diminish the dignity of teachers; you diminish the value of education as an end in
itself. Despite the weaknesses, failures and mistakes from time to time, we are convinced
that faith-based institutions in general, and Catholic schools in particular, contribute
to and enrich Irish society. Students develop a sense of meaning and values by being
assured that love, spirituality, sexuality, social justice and care of the universe
ultimately do matter.

Families and society as a whole benefit from these institutions which mediate moral
and spiritual beliefs, together with those attitudes necessary for a continuing sense
of community as well as cultural and spiritual identity. “That Catholic schools help
form good citizens is a fact apparent to everyone. Both government policy and public
opinion should, therefore, recognize the work these schools do as a real service to
society. It is unjust to accept the service and ignore or fight against its source.”
(The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School #46)

Irish society of a hundred years ago and the Irish society we live in today are very
different. The dramatic changes for the good and some for the worse influence the
direction of Catholic schools such as St. Muredach’s.

There are many developments that have influenced our society for good and have enhanced
the quality of life in this country. We know the improved access that we all have to
health care, to education, and to the social and legal resources that support the rights
of all people. A downside of the success of recent years has been the growth of a
consumer culture and materialism that tends to numb the human spirit. Pope John Paul
II warned: “The more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain
unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis IV. 28)

Catholic education must prepare students to live in our culture and to embrace all that
is good in it. Catholic education does more. It helps students not simply to adapt to
the culture and to make a creative contribution to it but also to be critical of the
aspects of culture which go against the values of our faith tradition.

Students cannot do this alone. They need to be members of a community which encourages
them in the task of living faith values, values that are sometimes at odds with the
prevailing values of our society. In a society that is increasingly secular there is
more need than ever for an education community which is based on the infinite promise
offered to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He came that we may have
life and have it to the full.

The growing fragility of families and the over-extension of parishes put new demands on
Catholic schools. In some cases they have become the primary place where young people
experience the Church as an alternative community. That is a community shaped by faith,
hope and love more than by the values of our consumer culture. This places an awesome
responsibility on schools to become a faith community in communion with the parish and
the wider Church community.

In this regard the Catholic Church last year established a Strategic Planning Group in
order to prepare a strategic plan for the provision and development of Church interests
in education. The preparation of this plan involves a consultation process with partners
in education. No doubt we shall all have an interest in its outcome and in its successful


We cannot be in Mayo these weeks without being party to the celebration and anticipation
of the All Ireland final. What a game with the Dubs that had us all riveted! Seven past
pupils of this college (James Nallen, David Brady, Ger Brady, Ronan McGarrity, David
Clarke, Patrick Harte & John Healy) are on the panel and the team doctor Fergal Ruane
is a past student. Think for a moment of the success of this team and of the price and
impact of that success.

It is the privilege of St. Muredach’s to have been part of it as also it is the privilege
of the Church. Not only on the football pitch but in many other areas have the pupils
of St. Muredach’s made an extraordinary contribution to life. Young people have gone
forth from this college to become parents, workers, craftsmen, professionals in various
fields, priests and religious and thus have allowed the values of a St. Muredach’s
education and formation have its influence felt both far and wide.

Because of the existence of St. Muredach’s College the parents of this diocese and beyond
had and continue to have the right to choose a Catholic education for their child. Because
of St. Muredach’s College and the support of State funding young people have the benefit
of an education in a Catholic ethos conscious of its own identity and respectful of others.
Because of this college the contribution of Catholic education to the common good is written
large in the minds and hearts of the people of the Diocese of Killala. And it is interesting
to note that the history of St. Muredach’s records that no-one was ever refused a place
because of their means.


When Colleges such as St. Muredach’s were founded part of the founding intention was the
education of young men who would give serious consideration to becoming priests and thus
committing their life in a singular way to the spread of the Gospel. Many young men from
St. Muredach’s followed that path. I have no doubt there are countless people whose faith
is linked to the ministry of priests whose vocation to priesthood was first nurtured in
this college.

At no time during the history of St. Muredach’s College was the need for priests greater
than at the present time. I urge the staff of this great college to invite the students
of today to consider if they are being called to become priests or Religious and so
dedicate their lives to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II
said that each generation is a new continent to be won for Christ. Labourers for that
harvest are needed. There is no doubt that some present-day students are being called
to Religious life and priesthood. As you educate young people to follow the many attractive
careers open to them today do not hesitate to encourage them to give some thought to
vocation to priesthood and the religious life.

We thank God for his Spirit who inspired the founders of St. Muredach’s College. We give
thanks for a hundred years of dedication and service on the part of staff, parents and
pupils. We look forward to the years ahead with enthusiasm and hope.

I congratulate all associated with the celebrations of the centenary, Bishop Fleming,
the pupils, the President, Father Martin Barrett, and staff, the Board of Management
and parents. May you be always blessed in your endeavours and through the intercession
of St. Muredach may your College flourish in the years ahead.

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

* The Official Opening of the Centenary Celebrations of St Muredach’s College, Ballina,
Co Mayo will take place at 8.00pm tonight in the College Assembly Hall. The Archbishop
of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Dr Seán Brady will officiate at the ceremony which
will incorporate the launch of ‘The History of the College’ written by the late Canon
Martin Halloran and the unveiling of a memorial to The Sisters of Mercy who served at
the college from 1923 until 1988.

* On Sunday 10th September at 3.00pm there will be a Concelebrated Mass in St Muredach’s
Cathedral, Ballina with His Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio
to Ireland, Most Rev John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert, Most Rev Thomas Flynn, Bishop of
Achonry and Most Rev Thomas Finnegan, Retired Bishop of Killala. The Bishop of Killala,
Dr John Fleming will be the principal celebrant and will preach the homily. The current
President of the College, Fr Martin Barrett will be present along with former presidents
of the college. In attendance also will be priests and people from the Diocese of Killala.

* On Sunday 10th September at 6.00pm a tree-planting ceremony will be held in the grounds
of St Muredach’s College, Ballina, Co Mayo. His Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto,
Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland will officiate.