Launch of Catholic Schools Week 2011

24 Jan 2011

24 January 2011

Catholic Schools Week 2011

(i) Mount Sion Christian Brothers primary school and Edmund Rice International Heritage Centre, Waterford City (ii) Strabane venue: Holy Cross College, Strabane (iii) today is feast of St Francis de Sales

Catholic Schools Week 2011 was launched today in Waterford City, Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, and in Strabane, Diocese of Derry, please see below addresses by Bishop William Lee, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore; Sr Elizabeth Maxwell, co-chair of the Catholic Education Service; and Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop of Achonry, and chair of the Council for Education of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Address by Bishop William Lee, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore

I am very happy to welcome you to the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore to launch Catholic Schools Week 2011. It was entirely appropriate that we began this day by joining with the staff and pupils of Mount Sion National School in Assembly. The prayer, drama, song, witness and art work moved us to give thanks for our pupils and for the work of Catholic schools.

We are gathered here close to the tomb of Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers. We thank God for his gifts and for his commitment to education of the young people of this city.

I want to pay tribute to the work of the Irish Christian Brothers who for over two centuries have worked for the evangelisation and education of youth, and have been involved in many ministries, especially with the poor. Their first school was opened in Waterford in 1802 and from here their ministry spread throughout the world.

As Bishop of this Diocese I am very grateful for our Catholic schools. I know that the people of the Diocese value highly the education and formation that young people receive. I wish to thank all associated with the schools in the Diocese and throughout the country. Your work, your commitment and your dedication to the education and formation of the young are indispensable for the wellbeing of the pupils and the future of society.

I was fascinated by the question which Pope Benedict spoke to the large group of children who are in Catholic School in Great Britain when he met them in London some weeks ago.  He asked them: “What are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves?  What kind of people would you really like to be?”  These are questions that are put both to us who have responsibilities in education and to the children entrusted to our care.  What are the qualities that we see in others? This means what qualities do children look for in parents and teachers?

It is parents who have the primary task of moulding and shaping and guiding their children for the future.  Parents who are kind, gentle, loving, understanding, who have the encouraging word have the most important influence on their children.

What qualities do children look for in their teachers?  When most of us are asked about our own school lives and the things we remember most of all, I have never heard anyone answer, “That would be the good curriculum” or “that the timetables were well planned” or even “that our classrooms were bright and modern”.  These and many other aspects of school life are important but in my experience what always appears as the most significant memory is “I remember Mr. or Mrs. Someone”.  We remember the teacher who recognised us as individuals, who acknowledged our talents, who transmitted to us that we were capable of doing more than we had imagined.  Teachers who helped and encouraged us when things were not going well and teachers who quietly rejoiced in our small successes.  We are blessed today with our teachers.

We give thanks to God for all that is good in our education system.  We pray that Jesus Christ, who gave himself so that we could have life, will accompany and inspire us all as we give from the riches we have received so that future generations can flourish.

Address by Sr. Elizabeth Maxwell,  co-chair Catholic Education Service

I am very happy to be in the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre for the launch of Catholic Schools Week 2011. We are in an evocative place. We are very grateful to the Christian Brothers for welcoming us here. This beautiful church and the environment of this centre are conducive to our celebration and recall the theme of Catholic Schools Week 2011 – Catholic Schools: Rooted in Jesus Christ.  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12:2 tell us.  We are encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and so to discover the way which will lead to our happiness and the fulfilment of our hopes and desires for our schools and for our lives.

I represent the Catholic Education Service (CES) which is an All Ireland body set up by the Irish Bishops Conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland.  CES promotes the vision and mission of Catholic education as a truly person-centred process of lifelong learning based on Gospel values which are brought to life in the work of Catholic educators. It also promotes the Catholic education sector nationally. It strives to achieve a co-ordinated and strategic approach to the development of Catholic education across the whole continuum of lifelong learning.

The Catholic Education Service has responsibility for the organisation of Catholic Schools Week.  This event today is the result of much hard work by a dedicated and creative group of people. The resource material for homes, schools and parishes are excellent and beautifully produced and printed by Veritas. We owe a debt of gratitude to Maura Hyland, Director of Veritas, and to Collette Dower, Veritas Designer and a native of Waterford.

The new National Directory for Catechesis, Share the Good News, will be of assistance in ensuring that our homes and our communities compliment the tremendous work done in our Catholic schools for the education, formation, and catechesis of our young people.  It is important that Catholic Schools Week is celebrated throughout the entire Catholic community and that all give thanks for the achievement of our schools.

I wish to thank the members of the Catholic Schools Week steering committee for their outstanding work. Lloyd Bracken, Monsignor Jim Cassin, Fr. Ger Condon, Fr. Martin Delaney, Fr. Michael  Drumm, Fr. Paul Farren, Tonya Hanly, Maura Hyland, Maeve Mahon, Bernie Martin, Tony McCann. Michael Redmond, Maria Spring, Orla Walsh and Sr. Eithne Woulfe.

In addition I thank those who prepared resources: Michael Kilcrann, Elaine Mahon, Maeve Mahon, Fr. Thomas Byrne, Fr. Martin Delaney, Fr. Louis Delfra, Mairead Ni Bhuachalla, Brigid Gillligan, Maura Gray, Tonya Hanly and Fr. Maurice Harmon. There are many others who were involved in various ways. On your behalf and on behalf CES I say well done and may many profit by the resources prepared for this week.

At this time CSW 2011 is being launched in Northern Ireland in the Diocese of Derry. We send greetings to Bishop Seamus Hegarty, Bishop Donal McKeown, Therese Ferry and Fr. Paul Farren and all gathered in Derry.

May Catholic Schools Week 2011 be a time for celebration, thanksgiving and support as we face the future.

Address by Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop of Achonry, and chair of the Council for Education

Tá mé an-sásta  ar an gcéad dul síos, faoin áit ina bhfuil muid bailithe ar maidin le Seachtain na Scoileanna Caitliceacha a láinseáil.

Tá muid anseo i gCathair Phort Láirge, cathair Edmund Iognáid Rís. Is anseo, sa mbliain 1802, (209 bliain ó shoin) a láinseáil an Ríseach ceann de na tograí oideachasúla is tábhachtaí a shíolraíodh riamh as ithir na tire seo.  Ón láthair seo amach, scaip gluaiseacht ar fud na hEireann (agus ar fud an domhain)  a thug oideachas , agus an muinín iontu féin agus an árdú céime a théann leis sin, do mhuintir  na tíre seo, go h-áirithe na daoine ba bhoichte. ’Siad Bráithre Iognáid Rís, Bráithre ná Toirbhirte agus Bráithre Críostaithe a rinne an éacht seo. Agus rinne siad sin, ní mar go raibh achmhainní mhóra airgid acu ón Stait nó ó aon cheárd eile, ach mar gheall ar an an Chreideamh a bhí ionta, agus a bhi dhá spreagadh. Bhíodar ionta fein préamhaithe in Íosa Chríost, agus a saol tugtha dó go h-iomlán. Bhí fhios acu gurb é an Criost céanna seo agus creideamh ann a spreagadh  óige na tire seo le dhul amach iad féin agus iad fásta agus oibriú ar son na muintire, le saoirse agus obair agus saol fónta a chuir ar fail. Agus ní sa mbaile amhain, ach ar fud an domhain mhór.

The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2011 “Rooted in Jesus Christ” is inspired by the Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland which was published less than a year ago in March 2010.

In the section of the Pastoral Letter specifically addressed to young people, Pope Benedict says: “[Jesus Christ] loves you and offered himself to you.”  Pope Benedict “encourages children, young people, to seek a personal relationship with Jesus … because He will never betray your trust.  He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning … keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and His goodness, [will shelter the flames of faith in your hearts].”

We are aware, as Sr Elizabeth has already said, that CSW is also being launched this morning in Strabane in the Diocese of Derry.  I would like to congratulate and thank everyone who contributed to the ideas and preparation for this years CSW, in this the year of Our Lord 2011.  I have the honour to launch Catholic Schools Week here in this impressive Edmund Rice International Centre in Waterford, for there is no more appropriate place in Ireland for launching Catholic  Schools Week this year when our theme is ‘Catholic Schools, rooted in Jesus Christ’.

Edmund Ignatius Rice

Speaking of Edmund Ignatius Rice, it was his Catholic faith, his personal rootedness in Jesus Christ (he was a man of deep faith and constant prayer) that prompted this successful businessman and entrepreneur at the beginning of the 19th century to leave the world of business and throw himself with all his energy into what he himself termed ‘raising the poor’.  It was the daily sight of poor boys on the streets of Waterford that roused him to action on their behalf. He left the world of business to give his life to educating the poor boys.  People come before business, commerce exists primarily not for profit or to enrich the few, but to serve men and women. This is a basic principle of Catholic Social teaching. The economy of salvation, as witnessed to in the life and self-giving of Jesus, takes priority over the fiscal and commercial economy. Edmund Ignatius Rice, because he was a man who listened to Jesus Christ, decided that people – and lifting them up – was his vocation, and that that was best achieved through education.

But not just any education. Education that was rooted in Jesus Christ, in his teaching and in his life, as Edmund Rice himself was.

Jesus – Teacher

Catholic Education takes its cue from the Sermon on the Mount.  “Seeing the crowds” the story begins,(and like the boys on the streets of Waterford in 1802, this was a crowd of poor and needy people) “Jesus went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven’”. Jesus told them who they really were, and what their great destiny was. He taught them their true identity. He told them the truth about themselves. He gave them dignity. [In speaking to parents in his Pastoral Letter to the people of Ireland last February, the Holy Father spoke of what children deserve: ‘to grow up in security, loved and cherished, and with a strong sense of their identity and worth’]


When we speak of the Gospels as good news, one thing we mean is that Jesus had a vision for his hearers and all who came to him, a vision of themselves that they needed to hear. It is not the world’s vision. It is the Father’s vision for people, people who are his children. It is the Creator’s vision of his creation. And it is this great teacher’s vision and view of the people out in front of him.  These people are blessed. There is a holiness about us as we are, in our very neediness. “We have been created in relation to God.” (Pope Benedict). We are children of God, first and foremost, and our destiny is life eternal. That sense of identity is what gives hope, in the midst of poverty, mourning, injustice & pain.

But also, that sense of identity consists in our capacity to be pure of heart, to thirst for and do justice, to be merciful, to be peacemakers. It can also bring persecution, and it does. Witness Iraq and Egypt in recent months. But in and through all these aspects of being human, we, as pupils of Jesus the new Moses, are blessed. We are close to God.

That’s what Jesus Christ the teacher taught those who gathered to hear and receive instruction from him. That’s the message too that coming from our teachers will give new life and dignity and so lift up the pupils who attend our schools today

Jesus’ vision, our vision.

Catholic schools carry this vision of the human person, and to be a Catholic teacher is to look out on the people/pupils in front of us with the eyes and heart of Jesus, seeing their vulnerability, but deeply conscious too of their capacity to render great service to humanity and to our fragile but magnificent world.

[I remember many years ago attending a function for a retiring teacher organised by parents in a small country primary school. The teacher stood up to say a few words. She was one of those teachers who, because of the marriage ban, had had to leave teaching when she got married. Later on, after the ban was lifted and her large family were in third level education, she returned to the classroom and remained on till reaching retirement age. What she said that day was very simple, but very striking. ‘When my own children were reared’ she said, ‘I went back teaching, and I tried to love your children in the same way that I had loved my own.’ That was exactly what she had done, and she was a superb teacher. A teacher after the heart of Jesus.]

The teachers in our Catholic schools are our best asset and we are so dependent on them. We salute them today and we salute our Catholic Colleges in which they were trained. Many of them have modelled themselves and taken their inspiration from a Catholic teacher before whom they sat themselves as pupils.

Being a Teacher today

On October the 30th last, a teacher asked Pope Benedict ‘What does it mean to be a teacher today?’ This is what the Holy Father said:

“Being an educator means having joy in one’s heart and communicating it to everyone so as to make life good and beautiful; it means providing reasons and goals for life’s journey, presenting the beauty of the person of Jesus and making people love Him, His lifestyle, His freedom. … Above all it means holding up the goal of … that ‘extra’ that comes to us from God. This requires personal knowledge of Jesus, a personal, daily and loving contact with Him in prayer, meditation on the Word of God, faithfulness to the Sacraments, the Eucharist, Confession; it means communicating the joy of being part of the Church, of having friends with whom to share, not only the difficulties but also the beauties and surprises of a life of faith.

“You will be good educators if you are able to involve everyone in the good of the young. You cannot be self-sufficient but must make the vital importance of educating the young generations felt at all levels. Without the presence of the family, for example, you risk building on sand; without a collaboration with schools it is not possible to create a profound knowledge of the faith; without the involvement of the those who work in the sector of leisure and communication your patient efforts risk being unproductive and ineffective in daily life.”

There’s much to ponder in this reply of the Holy Father. Even if it is a truism to say that we teach most effectively and primarily by what we are, it still must be said.


Central to our school communities is a life of prayer and worship, both in school and out. That young people learn to stand and wonder at the beauty and mystery of all that is, is more vital for the world now that ever. Rampant consumerism is destroying and polluting so much of creation. People who learn that we are on this earth primarily to worship, to give thanks to God, Cruthaitheoir an uile ní, and to marvel at our environment are the people who are assuring the future of the earth. We cannot and must not create false divisions between the secular and the sacred. [Above all in the minds of children for whom this sacred unity is as natural as the day is long.] For us, all creation, the entire material world, is sacred. We stand on holy ground

Recently the Programme for International Student Assessment report told us of a serious drop in Ireland’s literacy and mathematics rankings. On reading levels among 15-year-olds, Ireland slipped from fifth place in 2000 to 17th place, while in Mathematics Ireland fell from 16th to 26th.  Recent criticism at the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Education and Skills made what can only be described as a spurious connection between this finding and the amount of time given in our Catholic schools to Irish and to Faith Formation. The suggestion seemed to be that it was time, perhaps, to drop these subjects altogether from the curriculum, that somehow that was the remedy for the falling standards in Maths and Literacy.  Are we to exclude the things that move our hearts most deeply and form the pillars of our Irish character and culture and conscience from our schools?.  And that at the very time when many modern advanced and advancing European countries are rethinking their overly secular stances on the provision of education.

Parental Rights

Let us be clear too that we stand firmly behind the constitutional guarantee of the right of parents to have the education they desire for their children. We support diversity of provision. We continue to be in discussion with with the Education authorities on the question of divesting schools for the sake of the good in our society that is diversity of provision. We have also begun intensive discussion within our own Catholic community on this matter, and also a process of structured research.

It is important also to state bluntly the truth that when it comes to the matter of control in education, the Government and the Department have now, and indeed always have had, by far the greatest say in what goes on in Catholic and in all other schools. The control card has been vastly overplayed by our critics, in Dáil Éireann and in newspaper columns particularly. Let’s be more honest in our assessments, and more respectful of our history, and the roots from which the liberty that is ours today as a nation has sprung.

For our part, we are very happy to work alongside the Department for the good of all our pupils, citizens along with their families of this thankfully democratic state. This has always been our position. And likewise we have always worked side by side with other partners in education, such as Teacher Unions,  too, for the sake of the good of all the students of our land and so that this country will deliver an education second to none to all students.

Diversity within Catholic Education

Talking of diversity, we know all about it from within in Catholic Education in this country. There is an amazing diversity of schools and traditions of education already within the Catholic family. There is Jesuit and Ursuline education; there is Mercy and Presentation and Loreto education; there is Christian Brother education and there is Holy Ghost and Dominican and Benedictine education. Etcetera. And there is great determination amongst these traditions that the richness of this diversity be not diluted. Witness the formation of the various lay trusts, big and small, in recent years.


However, it is important to state in the times that are in it, and in the face of new challenges and questions, that it is imperative that Patrons and Trustees of our sector unite and work together for the sake of the parents and children who are our constituents. We must work together to strengthen the Catholic Education Service throughout the island and the Catholic Schools Partnership here in the South. Unity is the most vital goal that we in Catholic education must achieve in our overarching structures if we are to secure the treasure that is ours for the young people of our country into the future.

Roots: strength in crisis

One of the reasons I like the theme we’ve chosen this year is because it is about roots. Tomorrow week, the third day of Catholic Schools Week, is Lá le Bríde , an chéad lá den Earrach , séasúr an síolchur. We celebrate Catholic Schools Week each year at the beginning of spring, the season of roots and rooting, of stirring up the soil so roots come alive again.

It is a time of crisis in our land.  In the Church, yes, but crisis reigns too in the world of politics and in the economy.  We have very serious and growing crime and drug abuse problems. The figures for murder and killings are frightening. Old systems clog up, institutions fossilize. All our institutions are under severe scrutiny. There is deep longing for renewal, for a new watering and stirring up of the soil. But renewal will not come in any sphere by a wholesale jettisoning of what we already have, but rather by taking our cue from nature and the season that is about to begin. We look to our roots. And so, our theme for this Catholic Schools Week could not be more ad rem.  We look anew to Jesus Christ and to his word. Yes, we had in so many ways become uprooted from Him. And let’s be honest. We have only recently begun, in regard to our Catholic schools, to ask what are we all about? Why are we involved? What is our specific charism or gift as Catholic Schools? For too long we unthinkingly took too much for granted. In the country and church that inspired John Henry Newman’s still so relevant ‘Idea of a University’, why did our  rich Catholic tradition of philosophy of education lay unconsidered over so many decades.

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, the Pope in his Pastoral Letter told us to remember ‘the rock from which we were hewn’ (Is 51:1). That Rock is Jesus Christ, Jesus the supreme teacher and educationalist, whose followers have given Europe and the world a magnificent tradition of educational thought and achievement. To have neglected that philosophical tradition and to have carried on for so long without any substantial reflection on that extraordinary heritage was remiss to say the least.  Thank God in recent years, that neglect has been recognized and we are now engaged, in events such as Catholic Schools Week, in putting our wares as it were out there in the public square for all to hear and consider.  It is for us now to show our people in this country that ‘evil and death do not have the last word’, as the Pope said on Oct 5 2008 when opening the Synod on the Word of God, ‘but Christ is the victor in the end. Always!’

So back to our roots for the sake of going forward, for the sake of our young people, and for the sake of our country and all its people, citizens and those who wait for and want citizenship here. We do this so our young people may have the broad and deep and holistic education they deserve as men and women for the 21st century, as human persons, as citizens of a Kingdom as yet only poorly and vaguely realized, for there is so much more to them than being mere cogs in an economic or technological machine.

Focal Scoir

Is iomaí rud eile a d’fhéadfaí a rá ar ócáid mar seo agus muid bailithe sa láthair beannaithe seo.  Ach tá mo shá-sa ráite,  agus go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht bhúr bhfoighid agus an éisteacht atá tugtha agaibh dom.  Críochnóidh mé le h-alt beag amháin as paidir an Phápá don Eaglais in Éirinn.  And remembering the man who is buried and honoured in this magnificent centre that bears his name, how very appropriate the Holy Father’s prayer is:

Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the ways of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Iarraimíd sin tríd an Té sin ina bhfuil ár gcuid teagaisc ar fad préamhaithe, Íosa Críost, ár dTiarna,


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00353 (0) 86 172 7678