Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

Giving powerful witness in society

In the opening address to the annual diocesan headteachers’ conference, Cardinal Vincent told heads: ‘Your task is to give a powerful witness in our society today.’ 

Exploring the nature of leadership in a Catholic institution, he reminded heads that they are ‘leaders of communities that take their character and their way of life from the gift of Catholic faith, whatever the proportion of Catholics who may be present’. 

‘Being Catholic,’ he said, ‘means being open to the whole and being dedicated to the unity of the whole,’ adding that it means ‘being ready always to embrace the other’.  The characteristics of Catholicism ‘should be imprinted into the life of a Catholic school,’ he noted. 

He explained that a Catholic headteacher ‘can never “go it alone”’. Rather, the role of a Catholic leader, he said, is ‘to strive to see the whole, to see and serve the strengths and to expand that sense of belonging’. At a time of ‘increasing fragmentation’, this is a ‘vital witness’. 

Leadership involves realism about current circumstances, to which ‘structures of cooperation between schools’ are a ‘measured and appropriate response’. 

Leadership also requires a vision. The ‘vision of education’ in Catholic schools, he said, has to be comprehensive and ‘run through the school like a strong rhythm’. 

According to this vision, education ‘always helps pupils to explore and embrace what it means to be human’ and ‘to develop a personal commitment to building a better society, to serving a common good, no matter the pathway in life they may choose’. 

He added that education should seek to express an ‘openness to the transcendent’, where ‘Christ is the centre and fullest expression of our human nature’.

These characteristics, he said, are ‘fundamental to a sound and healthy life’ and are the ‘deeper foundations of what is spoken of today as “British values”. A formation which strives to enable a person to achieve their best and use it in the service of society is the heart of citizenship.’ 

The headteachers’ conference took place from 21st to 23rd February at Ashford International Hotel.

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