Bishop Brendan Leahy launches new Catholic religious education curriculum and programme

28 Sep 2015

Launch at the Presentation Girls School, Maynooth

· The Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland and The new primary school Religious education series, Grow in Love

Firstly, I am delighted that we are gathered here today, having just heard the wonderful news that Pope Francis has chosen Dublin as the venue to host the next world meeting of Families in 2018. It is my fervent wish and prayer that Pope Francis himself will join us here in Ireland for this special celebration of faith and family.

Pope Francis has a great interest in religious education. Two weeks ago I was in the company of 10,000 grandparents at a gathering of the Catholic Grandparents Association. On that occasion I noted how Pope Francis often recalls his earliest religious education. It came from his grandmother. He tells, for instance, how on the evening of Good Friday she would take them to the candlelight procession, and at the end of this procession, pointing to the image of the Crucified Christ, she would say to them: “Look, he is dead, but tomorrow he will rise”. And he commented how he received his first religious education from his grandmother.

Today we are here to launch two valuable texts regarding Religious Education in schools across the island of Ireland – The Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland and The new primary school Religious education series, Grow in Love. It is an occasion to celebrate and I am grateful to you for your attendance here today at the Presentation Girls School in Maynooth. If, as Pope Francis affirms, education is “a key, key, key mission”, then the publication of significant texts to do with religious education that is so much at the core of the primacy school curriculum, is indeed something to highlight.

In recent decades the Church has been blessed with rich documentation on religious education ranging from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae in 1979 to the General Catechetical Directory published in 1997 and the 2013 publication by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love.

Drawing from that reservoir, we now have the first formal religious education curriculum for Catholic preschools and primary schools in the whole island of Ireland. Written in conformity to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in accordance with the vision outlined in the Irish Directory for Catechesis, Share the Good News, the Curriculum provides a structured outline of what religious education as an academic discipline in Catholic schools contributes to the Catholic education and formation of young children at pre-school and primary level. Parents (and I very pleased we have parents representatives here with us today) and teachers, academics, school leaders and parish communities have already welcomed this development. The Bishops of Ireland hope this Curriculum will provide a new impetus for the religious education and faith formation of Catholic children in the whole island of Ireland in the twenty-first century.

I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the contributions of all who contributed to the work on the Curriculum. In particular, Dr. Anne Hession of St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra for her many years’ work on the Curriculum along with Dr. Michael O’ Keeffe of St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra for his contribution to the section on Special Education; Mr. Brendan O’ Reilly (former National Catechetical Director); Ms. Maura Hyland, Ms. Elaine Mahon and all the team at Veritas; Ms. Kate Liffey, the current National Catechetical Director along with other members of the Irish Episcopal Conference centre; the various experts consulted in the areas of theology and liturgy, scripture and religious education, the Diocesan Advisors and teachers, parents and bishops and all who commented on early drafts.

In launching The Grow in Love programme I congratulate Ms. Maura Hyland and all the team at Veritas, especially Ms. Elaine Mahon of Veritas and Mr. Daniel O’Connell of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. This programme is an amazing achievement in many ways. I know that the feedback from teachers has been very positive. The “Let’s look, let’s learn, let’s live” sections remind us of the great method of “see, judge and act” that is so typical of Christian discernment brought into play now in Religious Education.

The Grow in Love provides many resources for children, teachers and families. Others here today will speak on that. I would like to commend the lovely artwork in the programme. It is so important to be attentive to beauty in religious education. Christianity isn’t just about what is right and true, but it is also something beautiful. We need to reflect beauty is speaking of the God who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ.

And Jesus Christ is central to religious education in Catholic primary schools. Pope Francis reminds us that the first proclamation that must ring out over and over again in our religious education is that ‘“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation, Francis explains, is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. Rather, “it is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (Joy of the Gospel, 164).

Let me return to Pope Francis’ grandmother, Rosa. I think that in telling us stories about his grandmother Pope Francis is saying something very important to us– and that is, that families play a vital role in religious education. Teachers, school principals and staff contribute very much to religious education in Ireland. Indeed, I want to express the gratitude of the Bishops for all they do so professionally and with commitment. Many of us remember with fondness our primary school teachers, grateful in many cases for their care and heart-felt engagement with us in our religious education. I think of interesting discussions that opened up for us with our teachers around religious themes.

But we cannot outsource education in Christian faith to teachers alone. Family involvement is crucial. I make my own words spoken in an important address at the weekend by Archbishop Eamon Martin at the National Eucharistic Congress: “A school catechetical programme alone, no matter how rigorous, will not secure the handing on of the faith. It will succeed only insofar as it builds upon the lived faith experience of the young people in their homes and family.” The new programme, Grow in Love, has taken great care to emphasise the role of the family, offering a simple and attractive book to be brought home so that the family can continue what has done in school. This book offers opportunities for parents to review and chat with their children about the themes that have been covered in school.

The launch of the two significant texts today cannot but also imply an appeal to parents: just as you are careful in all other aspects of your child’s upbringing, be generous in your attention given to this core aspect of your child’s life. Children have a right to be helped to articulate the religious sense they feel deep within them. I believe it is important to provide them with an early training in a language that enables them to express the deepest longing of their heart in faith, prayer and knowledge. We need to help them satisfy the desire of their soul and the thirst of their mind. As Christians, all of us, school, parish community and family are called to recognise that children have a right to the Good News that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is working together at all levels that we respond to that right.

The announcement last night that the next world meeting of families will be held in Dublin in 2018 provides us with a further impetus not to leave religious education only to schools but to renew our family and parish commitment to religious education now that we have a wonderful new Curriculum and religious education programme.


· Bishop Brendan Leahy is Bishop of Limerick and chair of the Council for Catechetics of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444