24th September 2007
Bishop Patrick Walsh, Bishop of Down and Connor celebrates Mass To mark the Golden Jubilee of St. Mary’s High School, Downpatrick In St. Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick at 1.30 p.m. on Monday 24th September 2007.
The fruitful seed of educational opportunity for the girls of Downpatrick and the surrounding area was sown when St. Mary’s School opened its doors to pupils fifty years ago. And how fortunate it was that the school was to be in the care of the Sisters of Mercy who brought to the school a rich inheritance born out of a total commitment to give the very best education to children and to young people.
The 1947 Education Act with the introduction of post-primary education for all children heralded a seismic revolution in the whole education system with consequent challenges to all involved in education in our schools. Over the next decade or so all over our diocese a network of post-primary schools were built, built at great sacrifice, for the capital grant at that time for our schools was a paltry 50%, a sacrifice borne by the parishioners in parishes and by religious congregations. We must never forget that what we have inherited today was due to the generous sacrifice of those who have gone before us, who so valued Catholic education.
In the face of the far-reaching changes now being introduced into so many aspects of schooling and indeed into the structure of the school system, all who have the importance of Catholic education at heart must ensure that the enviable tradition, which we have inherited and of which we are the present guardians, will not only be preserved but built upon and further enriched.
Bishops and Religious Superiors will have major decisions to make as to how the entire Catholic sector will take its rightful place in the new educational system under the Review of Public Administration. These decisions will be made in the strength of our unity of purpose and our united voice, a voice which cannot be ignored.
A great cloud of uncertainty overshadows the whole field of education. We all know that what is commonly called the Eleven Plus Selection Procedure will finish with the test in 2008. What will follow is still very uncertain. This very worrying uncertainty for schools, for parents, must be lifted by the Department of Education and the Minister as soon as possible. When the Northern Bishops made our submission on this whole question a number of years ago, we stressed that unless everything, including the necessary legislation, was in place by 2009 there would be educational chaos. We can only hope that our words will not come true.
Whatever emerges we in the Catholic sector must ensure that every child who crosses the door of a Catholic school will have the very best educational opportunities.
School years are years for growth in maturity – maturity, physical, emotional and, very importantly, spiritual. And let us never forget that the raison d’etre of our Catholic school system is to enable the pupils to grow in faith, to discern what is of true value in life and to follow the path of truthful living, the path of Jesus Christ. If that were not the case there would be no reason to have a Catholic school. And here there is a huge responsibility on our teachers who accept appointment in a Catholic school to be a genuine witness to the pupils of faith and religious practice.
In the enterprise which is Catholic education, all of us – trustees, governors, teachers, parents and pupils -we are all, in the words of St. Paul “fellow workers with God” – working with God, preparing the ground, successive generations sowing and reaping so that the school will be a fertile field for God’s life to grow in the children – God’s life in its full human and spiritual dimension.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)