By J P Morrisson, Director of Education
This summer we have witnessed many events that have shaped public consciousness about large gatherings of people. Images and testimonies from Charlottesville VA, Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and the beaches of Greece as migrants come ashore, are indelibly linked to a collective hesitancy and anxiety that our world today is characterized by prejudice, hate and mistrust. We fear one another and question others’ motives and reasons.
This is why the theme of this year’s Education Sunday, ‘Gathered in my Name’, is so important. Jesus said, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’. We must take strength and comfort that we are never alone, even if all we see or read around us appears to contradict this truth. Catholic schools, if they are to mean anything, must be the coming together of a community in faith ‘Gathered in my Name’. Their mission is to make disciples for Christ. They need to demonstrate and bear witness to how Jesus would quell prejudice, remove hate and instill trust and respect. Our schools must be seen to be environments of hope, healing and belonging. We are rightly proud and grateful that our diocese has schools and colleges that, year in year out, demonstrate academic excellence, professional diligence and parental aspiration. But if that was all that we offered then it is not enough. Not even close.
Catholic education is not about the gathering and interpreting of information; rather, it is about the formation of the character as a spiritual being in the likeness and image of God. This Education Sunday is an opportunity for Catholic parents, teachers, students and school communities to return to and refresh their relationship with and dependence upon Jesus Christ: the way for all of us involved in Catholic education is a person. Having worked in Catholic education for 25 years in this country and abroad one thing is certain: change is the reality in national policies. Systems are forever being reshaped, recalibrated and rejected for another system, only to be reshaped, recalibrated and again rejected. This can lead to cynicism amongst many that the system has let them down or they didn’t get a fair experience.
But Catholic education is not and never has been a system. It is a daily witness to the life and teachings of Christ. In the Gospels Jesus is called by many names and described in many different ways, but one description far outweighs any other. No less than 53 times Jesus is called Teacher. He is the teacher in every school in our diocese. He is present and living among the 91,000 students who enter our schools every day. Our job is to ensure that encounter is real in everything we do and sustained in all we achieve. Jesus’ love is present in how we treat and care for one another; his compassion is there when mistakes happen; his hope is in every child who puts on the uniform of a Catholic school that they will one day join him in heaven and experience his grace.
Education Sunday allows us to discern who we are and why our schools matter. Catholic educators need to use this day to look in the mirror and see the face of Christ. If he is not looking back at us then we need to look again. The Church provides schools to assist in its mission to make Christ known to all people; assist parents in the education and formation of their children; be at the service of the local Church, the diocese, the parish and the Christian home; and finally to be of service to society.
In a world seeking tolerance, harmony, respect, love, compassion, collaboration and diversity, so much of what we see on social media tells us that these values are absent from our world. But all of these values are found in Christ and they are found in our schools. The challenge is to ensure they can be found every day and for every one.
This year our diocese is seeking to invest in and nurture a network of Families of Schools across our diocese in a way that will allow us to protect, secure and develop Catholic education for the foreseeable future. At a time when all schools are having to do more with less it is vital that our school communities have greater opportunities to work together in solidarity. The diocese has spent the last seven months listening to teachers, governors and parents to shape a new vision and a new way to lead and manage our schools. This is outlined in ‘Families of Schools: The implementation of Catholic Academy Trusts (CATs)’, published this September.
A key element of this policy is an investment in and development of governance. All schools need good governors and their ability to hold up the mirror of Christ and recognise him in all that they see and do. This is a very exciting time for Catholic education and if you are interested in becoming a governor and wish to know more about what it involves please contact the Education Service to find out more.
Every day our schools are ‘Gathered in my Name’ and we all have a duty to ensure that every child who enters a Catholic school receives the sacraments and graces of the Holy Spirit as the one source that is never replaced or overlooked. We have a duty to be dependent on the true and consistent Teacher in all of our schools, Jesus Christ. It is only through our daily relationship with him and our regular encounter with his teachings that our schools will flourish.
Ask not what can a Catholic school do for you or your child, but rather what can you do to ensure the face of Christ is known to all who enter. Our prayers and gratitude are with all the teaching and support staff, governors, local authority officials, and support services who, at the start of a new academic year, lead our youth to know and love Christ our Lord.
Education Sunday is celebrated on 10th September.