Annual School Mass 2006 Homily Notes of Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Huntstown

14 Sep 2006







There are few places in Dublin, indeed in Ireland, which mirror the educational
challenges of our nation today more completely than this area of West Dublin.  
West Dublin – and indeed this parish of Huntstown – constitutes an icon of the
changes taking place in our society.  This is an area where the population is
growing and changing, an area where young people are filled with hopes and
aspirations for their future, an area with great schools – not without their
difficulties – and with extraordinary teachers.

It is important, as the recently published OECD report did, to pinpoint the past
inadequacies of our country’s investment in education and the negative effects
that this has had on our schools.  It is equally important to pay tribute to those
teachers who despite such inadequacies have inspired in children a real passion
for learning.  Our teachers have worked in difficult situations to ensure that
every boy or girl under their care, with their individual talents and problems,
really could become the people that God wants them to be and become a new generation
of which we can all be proud.

As a society we have much to be grateful for in our teachers.  But gratitude would
be empty if it was not accompanied by a desire to ensure that the profession of
teaching is accompanied with the economic and social recognition it deserves.   

There is a tendency in society to turn to schools in order to heal all the ills of
society.  This cannot and should not be the case.  The teacher cannot resolve all
the problems of society. Teachers are however in a unique situation. After the
child’s parents they are the most influential person in a child’s life, especially
in primary school. For a growing number of children the teacher is indeed the most
stable influence in their lives.  This is a great responsibility and I am genuinely
humbled at the enthusiasm with which, especially young teachers just out of College,
throw themselves with passion into not just teaching but into real education and
formation of young people in such a dynamic manner.

Nonetheless teachers can only play their part.  One of the strong characteristics
of the Irish educational model, especially in primary schools, is that it is
community-rooted. You can see here in Hunststown how this bond between school and
community is of great benefit to both.   

Boards of Management not only carry out the difficult task of ensuring the day to
day management of the school but they also represent a strong bond with the local
community which looks on the school as a genuine social good.  In Fingal County
there have been innovative experiments in making the school building a resource
for the school and community together.   Boards of Management need greater resources,
however, and they need formation to improve their capacity.

Hopefully it will be possible in the years to come to foster an even greater involvement
and support of parents in the work of the school.  This is important also in the area
of religious education.  I am acutely aware of the isolation which many teachers feel
in their work as religious educators in Catholic schools.  I would hope that Parish
Pastoral Councils will be catalysts in identifying ways of shaping a new configuration
of a unifying relationship between school, parents, parish and the wider community which
will bring out the best of our community-rooted educational system.

One of the characteristics of a Catholic school is that it should be a unifying force.  
Catholic ethos is often regrettably portrayed as a kind of ideology, set within an
ideological battle.  The primary witness of the Catholic school – shared with Schools
of other Christian denominations – is that of witnessing to the extraordinary vision
of life that faith in Jesus Christ offers to young people.   Religious education is
not a marginal extra in the Catholic school.  The message of a God who loves – who
reveals himself in Jesus Christ as one who gives himself totally out of love – is
the transforming message that the Catholic school brings to the child and to society.   
That love embraces everyone.  That love can transform everyone.  The Catholic school
must reflect such a vision of transforming love.

One of the characteristics of current reflection on Irish education is the emergence
of a new culture of evaluation.  It seems to me that there is a much greater public
awareness of and attention to what is happening in our schools than there was when
I was a student.  Schools are increasingly being held to account by parents and other
public institutions.  “Whole School Evaluation” is just one of the results of this
culture.  We have seen the publication of crude forms of school league tables, students
are invited to rate their teachers on websites and schools themselves are increasingly
seeking to draw attention to their “achievements” as they compete for students.

Such accountability is not necessarily a bad thing.  Parents, in particular, will
naturally seek as much information as possible in order to provide the best possible
education they can for their children.  The real difficulty is often with the criteria
that are used to determine what constitutes the “best education” and how schools are
to be ranked.  There is a danger that education will be measured merely in terms of
“points” achieved and entry to what are considered the most desirable professional
careers.  Could schools be tempted to accept only those students who promise to be
“successful”?  How are we to value the achievements of schools and teachers who work
with students who because of disadvantage or inequality of opportunity could not easily
aspire to the highest leaving certificate grades?

We must be attentive as a society that we do not allow a system of evaluation to emerge
that would, perhaps inadvertently, privilege a utilitarian understanding of education.
Education cannot be judged exclusively in terms of quantifiable economic or technical
outcomes.  A good educational system undoubtedly brings economic advantages to society
but education should never be seen merely as a form of economic investment.

Catholic schools, on their part, may be in need of their own instruments of evaluation.  
Our Gospel, this evening, focuses on the judgment and evaluation to be effected by the
Son of Man at the end of time.  What should interest us most in this context are the
criteria of judgment.  The real measure of fidelity to Jesus and his teaching will be
the ways in which his disciples are seen to have treated the weakest; the hungry, the
thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoners.  

In Catholic schools, we must never cease to ask ourselves how we are serving the poor
and the marginalized.  Jesus always demonstrated a special care for the poor.  Schools
that seek to be faithful to Jesus and his teaching will always have service of the poor
at the heart of their mission.  They can only judge themselves to be “successful” when
they are satisfied that they are welcoming and meeting the needs of the poor.  Catholic
educators should be recognized as advocates for the poor and, as I have repeated on
many occasions in education, as in healthcare, only the best should be good enough
for the poor.  Catholic schools and educators should never imagine they have a monopoly
on the care of the poor but commitment to the poor should never fail to be their

I would like to make a special appeal to religious congregations, who in the past have
made such an enormous contribution to Irish education, as they now focus their attention
on their future role.   Take up the charism of your congregation with the same
inventiveness as your founders and foundresses did in the past and identify how you can
address the needs of those who might otherwise miss out on educational opportunity.  I
would personally be concerned, for example, if the religious presence in voluntary
secondary education were to become predominantly associated with the education of the

Coming back to our Gospel, I am pleased that welcoming the stranger has become one of
achievements of Catholic schools in Dublin and again I pay special tribute to the schools
here in West Dublin. I am proud of your openness to the children of the many immigrants
who are now present in and contributing to the life of our nation.  I am aware of the
challenges that are faced by many schools – challenges of an unprecedented nature – but
I want to acknowledge and give full credit to the schools, teachers and parents who are
committed to meeting these challenges and offering a first class education to all the
“children of the nation”.  It is in your classrooms that a new Ireland is being created.  
It is in our schools that the values of acceptance of and respect for all peoples
irrespective of difference – values that are at the heart of the teaching of Jesus –
are being taught and fostered.  

Catholic schools will find distinctiveness in their mission to provide an education that
is in accordance with the words, the teaching and the healing actions of Jesus Christ.  
Catholic schools must communicate to their students something of God’s all-encompassing
and inexhaustible love for them thereby assuring them of their absolute worth and dignity.  
In a world that seems to say that a person’s worth depends on his or her achievements
or possessions the importance of this teaching cannot be overstated.  Children must be
challenged to understand and interiorize Christ’s teaching. The teaching of Jesus includes
also the equally counter-cultural assertion that true happiness is to be found in service
of our neighbour rather than just in pursuit of our own needs.  

Our young people will respond.  I have just returned from our Diocesan Pilgrimage to
Lourdes where we were accompanied by over 200 young helpers who showed in their extraordinary
care for the sick the best that is in our young people.   The goodness of such young
people shows me at least that our efforts in Catholic education are worth it.  My hope is
that as many young people as possible will come away from school with that same sense of
goodness, idealism and commitment.  

Clare Roche
Communications Office,
Archbishop’s House,
Dublin 9.
Telephone: (01) 836 0723
Facsimile: (01) 836 0793