Press Release Le Chéile Issue 28

18 December 2017

Issue 28, December 2017 of the biannual journal Le Chéile: A Catholic School Ethos Journal has just been published and circulated to schools in the north of Ireland. The journal, a publication of St Mary's University College, aims to celebrate and promote the vision of Catholic education locally:

• By identifying, exploring and promoting ways in which this vision can be lived in Catholic schools.
• By seeking to empower teachers with a renewed and revitalised sense of the spirituality and vocational nature of teaching.
• By aiming to encourage and inform practitioners in Catholic education locally.

This edition’s editorial is entitled: ‘Schools Distinctive in Hope’.

It reads as follows:

As teachers look forward to Christmas, few of them, from nursery to third level, would quibble with the view that they are encountering growing levels of challenge and complexity in their workplaces. As austerity deepens, and government demands increased curricular and financial accountability, schools are more constrained. In addition, keeping pace with rapidly changing learning styles preferred by young people — the so-called digital natives or ‘wired’ generation, who are more comfortable with the screen than the page — is a challenge. Turning in particular to focus on faith-based schools and their distinctive work, it is clear that they find themselves in a general cultural context in the West, which does not encourage religious faith, but actively works against it. Indeed, there is much academic and media focus on the worst possible versions of religion — all too readily at hand — claiming that religions lend societies a sacred legitimisation for violence, sectarianism, sexism, racism and every other social and personal ill. This litany often leaves teachers and parents bewildered and discouraged as they reflect on the challenge of educating and growing the upcoming generations.

However, discerning teachers can afford to be less anxious. We are certainly living through a period of social and religious upheaval, but this may turn out to be a time of opportunity for deeper reflection and renewal for those involved in the work of Catholic education. Whatever the institutional turmoil, the human spirit does not collapse. Beneath all the confusion, the Christian believes that a great power is at work, and something new is coming to birth. In this context, Catholic education needs to signal greater levels of hope and do more to ensure that it continues to provide a rich and complex space for holistic learning. In a society where all schools are subjected to league tables and many succumb to pressure to focus exclusively on the commodification of educational outcomes, Catholic schools, not least in Northern Ireland, need to demonstrate that they are distinctive and different, intent on achieving something more. Thus it seems fair to suggest that leaders of Catholic schools might ask themselves how their school, in addition to pursuing academic and sporting excellence, is cultivating in students a love for the Word of God, an experience in prayer, a solicitude for the work of social justice and care for the poor, the suffering, the newcomer and the earth. We need to remind ourselves that the spiritual thirst of humanity will never die and that there is so much that we can do now to help the new to root and grow.

This edition seeks, as ever, to encourage and assist us in this work:

• William Barry, SJ offers a brief but compelling vision of how teachers may be life-giving ‘images of God’ for their students.

• Fiona Dineen introduces new Irish Church guidelines for homes, parishes and schools regarding  preparation for and the celebration of both the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.

• Rev. John Dunlop, a former Presbyterian Moderator, offers a timely meditation on the urgency of our hearing the Christmas story.

• Ty Monroe, drawing on the experience and hard-earned wisdom of the great St Augustine, meditates on what it means to be a well-ordered teacher.

• Richard McGowan, SJ explores key dimensions of the global debates concerning the growing problem of gambling.

• Catherine Gilliland insists on the importance of books and stories in the rounded education of children and she urges teachers to be unstinting in their determination to develop pupil imagination and language skills.

• Leonardo Franchi explores the importance of reading to the professional and personal development of Catholic educators and offers advice on useful texts.

• Áine Bradley gives a positive evaluation of the new Grow in Love programme, welcoming in particular both its greater use of biblical stories and its online resources.

• Kate McGuigan explains the work of the nurture unit in her school, relating it to the forthcoming World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin, which Pope Francis is expected to attend.

• Ruairi Geehan reflects on his transformative experience with the L’Arche community in Trosly, France.

• Sophie Millar explains the work of that great St Mary’s perennial, the student Liturgy Group.

• Finally, two recently published books by both a former and a current college lecturer, Fr Paddy Delargy and Dr Gerard McCann respectively, are reviewed.

Ba mhaith liom beannachtaí na Nollag a ghuí oraibh uilig. Niall Coll

For further information please contact Rev Dr Niall Coll.

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