Faith has always been an important part of her life, explains Sarah Seoige, a teacher of religion and Irish at Athlone Community School and an active member of political party Aontú.
Sarah considers herself very fortunate to have had “two of the most wonderful parents any child could have asked for”.
As a young girl, Sarah and her family enjoyed attending Mass regularly and prayer was an important part of their daily life.
“I had a great interest in the whole process of aw Mass and what a Mass had to offer,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t acknowledge its importance or what’s actually going on during the steps of a Mass. I was in Fifth Class or something and I remember sitting there really taken aback by the beauty of the Mass and the ritual, and the Eucharist. I was fascinated by it.”
This fascination led Sarah to study religion in secondary school, and eventually college, feeling the call to teach it to young people.
“I think within any life, every single person yearns for a peace within their soul,” she says. “I think that peace can only ever be found when a person realises there’s more to life than material things. In my opinion that peace is really found with God.”
It is this understanding of religion that Sarah seeks to instil in her students.
“To really embrace that student in front of you, to listen to them, to see their talents and help them pursue their strengths. These are the core values of teaching,” Sarah says.
When she was in secondary school, Sarah was torn between her two passions: teaching and medicine. In the end, teaching won out.
“I decided to go down the teaching route because my heart felt called to it,” she explains. “I wanted to be an influence on young people’s lives, and I liked to think I would be a positive teacher. I would always encourage students, no matter what, to try their best. I wanted to be a role model for them, to really help young people in achieving their dreams.”
After secondary school, she went on to study teaching in NUI Maynooth and St Patrick’s Pontifical University. She did her higher diploma in NUI Galway and now works in Athlone Community School, a “large and wonderful” school, as she describes it, with 1,300 students and more than 120 staff.
Sarah sees a great joy in teaching, even in the challenges that are presented. She believes that the different personalities and the ups and downs makes her vocation all the more enjoyable.
“Students will challenge you sometimes and you’ll come up against many different personalities,” she says. “But I think if you encourage students, if you try to understand from a student’s point of view, that’s what makes a teaching career so much more enjoyable. You really learn from each other and embrace
Much of her time is spent teaching Irish since religion was made an optional subject by the Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board. But she particularly enjoys teaching religion, which has played such an important role in her own life.
“Religion is just not given the airtime,” she says. “It’s categorised into one little box, whereas when I teach it, I would look at it as a huge spectrum from personal development, dealing with stress and anxiety, teaching little coping techniques. Then there’s the world religions, the similarities and differences. I would embrace all religions, and in the past, it was absolutely fantastic.”
Another important aspect of her upbringing was politics, which she describes as being “embedded in my veins”. Sarah’s family were strong Fianna Fáil supporters and up to a year ago so was she.
“I would have been a huge Fianna Fáil supporter all my life,” she says. “But I was not happy when Mícheál Martin, who I really looked up to, signed for abortion. I thought he let himself down and his followers down. So, morally I couldn’t support a party where one of the main core values was disrespected.”
Sarah spent nearly an entire year in the political wilderness, researching the other Irish parties. One of them, the recently formed Aontú, impressed her with their policies and their integrity, but she took her time before joining.
“What they stand for are things I would stand for myself. I didn’t rush into becoming a member. I wanted to do my research, check what they were about, make sure that they were true to their word. Certainly, Aontú seem and are so far a party of integrity and honesty.”
While the lockdown has made it difficult to teach and work for Aontú, Sarah believes the pandemic has led to an increase in faith.
“I have many friends who are surgeons and GPs,” she explains. “A lot of these people are turning to prayer to help them in their vocation of serving and helping vulnerable people who are suffering as a result of Covid-19. I also see colleagues when at staff meetings. Even the younger students have tuned in to Mass online and started to pray at night.
“Without a doubt, I genuinely think that the amount of people turning back to religion is wonderful,” she says.