Catholic schools reach out to wider community

The theme for Catholic Schools Week this year centres on Catholic schools being places of faith and learning. This theme was chosen to highlight the fact that all learning takes place in a values context. Monsignor James Cassin, Executive Secretary of the Bishops' Conference Council for Education describes education as being “an education in values”, being “much more than the transmitting of simple facts”. Often, religion and faith education is viewed as another slot in the curriculum instead of a rich tapestry that colours everything a child does. A philosophy of education is about what we view as important in life, what guides and nourishes our teaching and the value and dignity we put on other human beings. What is unique about Catholic schools was outlined by Pope John Paul II in an address to American bishops in 2004. He spoke of the challenge involved in clearly identifying the aims of Catholic education and applying the most beneficial methods in Catholic primary and secondary schools. He emphasised the key objective is transmitting “the full truth concerning the human person, created in God's image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit”.

Key elements

There are five key elements that give Catholic Schools their characteristic spirit. The first essential element is that the human person is made in the image of God and is worthy of respect and dignity. The second reflects the Christian belief that God and religion isn't something to be left on the doorstep when we enter a school or workplace, but is intermingled with everything we do. As Msgr Cassin put it- “we meet God in the bits and pieces of everyday life”. Daily interactions with other students, with our co-workers and with the priests and the people in our local community are all part of our relationship with God. The sacraments are central to the Catholic faith and during Catholic Schools Week, many schools will focus strongly on the celebration of the Eucharist. From opening Masses until the concluding Mass being broadcast from the RTĖ Donnybrook studios on Sunday, February 3, the importance of these privileged encounters with God through prayer, liturgy and the sacraments will link these spiritual experiences to the ordinary daily interactions in children's lives.


The belief that we are saved through Jesus Christ, but as part of a community, is the third theme of Catholic Schools Week. We're all connected to each other through the body of Christ and our mission is to “love God and to love our neighbour as ourself”. Catholic Schools Week is not just about what happens within the narrow confines of the school, but is about reaching out to the wider community with a message of peace, justice and love. There are various resources on which are very suited to the school setting, helping children to discuss and explore what their Catholic faith means to them. However, in Catholic education, it's vital that the link between home, school and parish is fostered and encouraged. This week is an ideal opportunity for parents to see how they can become more involved in guiding their children on their journey of faith.

I was very impressed with an account on the Catholic schools website about how the very active Social Action Group was set up in Rathmore, Co. Kerry. It was established following a simple question posed by a teacher asking what the students were doing to show love for their neighbour. One student answered, “Give us an opportunity to do something and we'll do it”. That was in 1975 and since then, the group has raised over a quarter of a million euro for projects in the developing world, built a day care centre and sheltered houses for older adults and have developed a Youth and Creativity Centre. This is the kind of initiative that parents can be central in promoting and establishing, working in unison with parishes and schools, whether in areas of social justice or religious education. Often children have the spark, but they need the support of committed parents to follow through on their Christian ideals.

Elderly support

The elderly have so much to offer when it comes to supporting Catholic schools and education. The Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week is designated every year to celebrating and paying tribute to the role of grandparents in handing on the Faith to their grandchildren and in offering their support to the community of faith. This ties into the fourth theme of the week, the fact that we belong to a long tradition of faith-based education, and how faithfulness to this tradition and the passing on of this knowledge of Catholicism is of great value and contributes greatly to the common good of society. It is this valuing and acquiring of knowledge which forms the fifth theme of the week, knowledge, which helps us learn about ourselves, each other and the wider world we live in.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the aim of Christian education which is “to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a ‘new creation’, capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him”. Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to celebrate and share that joy in transmitting a lively, active faith that really does attempt to reach out and change the world.