The duty of a Catholic educator is to bring young people into contact with Christ – Bishop John Kirby

30 Mar 2007


30th MARCH 2007

The duty of a Catholic educator is to bring young people into contact with Christ – Bishop John Kirby

The Bishop of Clonfert, Bishop John Kirby, this morning blessed Lusmagh National School in Banagher, Co Offaly. At the Mass, Bishop Kirby said: “Minister, Very Rev and Rev Fathers, people of Lusmagh and guests. This Mass is celebrated to give thanks to the Lord for the successful completion of the extension and renovation of Lusmagh National School.

Christ said: “Let the little children come to me”(Mk 10: 14). The duty of a Catholic educator is to bring young people into contact with Christ, so that he can “Put his arms around them, lay his hands on them, and give them his blessing” (Mark 10:15). Everything we do should ultimately be directed to that end. As Christian educators we have to return to gospel values. It was because of the gospel that we became involved in education initially. The Christian school will give material progress its proper place as a secondary place behind human, spiritual, social, and cultural values. Consequently religion forms part of the curriculum to help young people to see the world as Christ sees it.

The most recent document from the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education highlights a whole range of religious and human values that should permeate our schools. It should create a family atmosphere that is rich, humanly and spiritually. It should be characterized by simplicity and concern for the world and for the poor of the world. It should mediate between faith and culture, being faithful to the newness of the Gospel while respecting the methods proper to human knowledge. It points out that students are fundamentally part of the family or community and not just receivers of ‘doled out’ bits of information. It speaks of the school as a place of evangelization, of authentic apostolate and of pastoral action. In a Catholic school, faith and culture are brought into harmony. In order to develop this role, there must be real collaboration among the members of the school community i.e. teachers, parents, and pupils. Through this, schools will foster trust and openness and create an environment that reflects family life. The school teaches much more by its structures than is ever taught in its classrooms.

Speaking to the Irish bishops gathered in Rome last October, Pope Benedict XVI commented on the important role of Christian Education today. “So often the Church’s counter-cultural witness is misunderstood as something backward and negative in today’s society. That is why it is important to emphasize the Good News, the life-giving and life-enhancing message of the Gospel (cf. Jn 10:10). Even though it is necessary to speak out strongly against the evils that threaten us, we must correct the idea that Catholicism is merely ‘a collection of prohibitions’. Sound catechesis and careful ‘formation of the heart’ are needed here, and in this regard you are blessed in Ireland with solid resources in your network of Catholic schools, and in so many dedicated religious and lay teachers who are seriously committed to the education of the young. Continue to encourage them in their task.”

A school is fundamentally a cooperative venture and no-where is this more true than in Ireland. The parents are the primary educators and they exercise their responsibility mainly through the teachers. The State determines the curriculum, lays down the guidelines for the running of schools, pays the teachers’ salaries and provides most of the money for the maintenance of schools. The various parishes own the schools and the bishop is the patron.

The local community plays its part through the Boards of Management. Boards of Management are an important part of the democratic structures of our education system. They were introduced by the State in 1975 as a system of partnership between the Church and the State. Both Church and State are deeply indebted to those who work in a voluntary capacity on Boards of Management. They do so without remuneration or expenses and are committed to serving the school and the local community to the best of their abilities.

In the week that saw the Government launch its “Taskforce on Active Citizenship” report – which encourages more people to get involved in community life – we should be mindful and appreciative that Boards of Management have been so focused for a generation.

Following the controversy of the last two weeks, it is important now to emphasis that individual members of Boards of Management are protected by the 1998 Education Act which states in §14#7 that: “no action shall lie against a member of a board in respect of anything done by that member in good faith and in pursuance of this Act or any regulations made by the Minister under this Act.” Furthermore, if the Board of Management is sued as a corporate body its liability is fully protected by insurance. It is entirely appropriate that this invaluable service to the education and formation of our young people is supported and protected by both Church and State.

But the Catholic school is not just an isolated unit. It is part of the community and of the Church and should not act in isolation. It has a function in regard to the entire community, particularly to the parents of pupils. Parents are not always aware of their role as primary educators. It is up to schools to make families more conscious of their role and to encourage them to fulfil that role. Parents cannot afford to sit back and expect the teachers and the priests to do the complete job of handing on the faith.

The dedication and commitment of national teachers over many years is one of the great features of Ireland. I remember with considerable affection my own teachers and I know that many others feel towards their teachers as I do towards mine. They did an excellent service to this country and to the Church. They had high educational expectations and most of all they conveyed a love of learning. They were men and women of values and they had no hesitation in passing these values on to the young people attached to their care. Despite the huge changes that are taking place in the educational world just now, I have no reason to believe that there is any change in the quality of our teachers.

The State too, under successive governments, has been very supportive of the interests of the Church and we need to acknowledge this lest take it for granted. The balance between our interests is a fine one, but a lot has been achieved over the years as a result of the cooperation that exists. The system of management devised in recent years has proved very successful. There is a genuine democratisation taking place so that people can have a genuine input into the process.

Yes, looking at the national scene we have much for which to be thankful. We have a lot of dedication and commitment. Here in Lusmagh that same dedication and commitment is brought to fruition today. Congratulations to all concerned and May the Lord continue to bless your work.

Bishop of Clonfert, Bishop John Kirby



    * Fr Philip Hearty (CSsR) is the Administrator of Lusmagh parish in Banagher, Co Offaly, in the Diocese of Clonfert.
    * The Principal of St Cronan’s National School in Lusmagh is Mr John Paul Downey.
    * Also in attendance: Minister for Finance Mr Brian Cowen TD, Ms Olwyn Enright TD and Senator Patrick Moylan.

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)