“The mission of schools and teachers is to develop an understanding of all that is true, good and beautiful.” Pope Francis (October 2017)
In writing this article, I have been provided with an opportunity to reflect on my 40 years as both a teacher and Principal in the Catholic system of Education. I have recalled pupils, colleagues, parents, clerics and government officials who I have encountered over the years, the impact and at times the challenges that they have presented me with, as I strove to deliver the ideals of Catholic Education.
I have always believed passionately in the value of Catholic Education. This I know came initially from my parents, who always wanted the best for each of their twelve children both spiritually and academically. We grew up in a home that had faith, self- worth, integrity and community responsibility at the heart of all that we held to be important. Each of us was actively encouraged to realise our potential in whatever field of life we chose to pursue. We were valued for who we were and each of us had a sense of worth beyond that accredited to academic success.
I believe that these are the values that I subsequently brought with me into my teaching life and they reflect the aspirations, values and goals of Catholic Education.
I will never regret my decision to become a Catholic teacher as my job proved to be both rewarding and challenging in equal measures.
In education we can be blinded by academic success being the only measure of value we place on a child. In Catholic Schools we are challenged to:
“…. consider them as a privileged means of promoting the formation of the whole person, since the school is the centre in which a specific concept of the world, of the human person and of history is developed and conveyed.” (Vatican Document, The Catholic School, 1977)
I have been privileged to work with so many colleagues, both teaching and non- teaching, whose aspirations were rooted in the Christian faith and who saw their vocation as doing what they could to bring out the best in each child so that every child felt valued, encouraged and celebrated for and in the development of their God given gifts and talents. I saw the teaching and living out of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and respect. There was a non- political raising of awareness of social injustice and the challenge to contribute to making life better for all under- privileged people. I saw the handing on and celebration of the faith in a way that allowed everyone to see that, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” (Saint Irenaeus)
Sacramental preparation and celebration with the children will always remain one of the highlights of my professional life. We adults could learn so much from their innocent respect and faith. In the craziness of living in today’s world, I hope that the sacraments and their faith can sustain our children in difficult times.
I have been saddened when Catholic Schools have at times been viewed as divisive and contributing to sectarianism in society. I only saw tolerance of, and respect for, other faiths and for human life evidenced in Catholic schools. Our challenge was always to see each person and situation through the mind and eyes of Christ.
In conclusion I have been blessed to work in Catholic Education as I have been able to actively live out my faith and values, while continuing to work towards developing a Catholic system of education which truly reflects the Christian values of equality of opportunity and respect for all, while also caring for the beautiful world that has been gifted to us.
My faith was the guiding principle by which I deployed my duties and the eyes through which I tried to see each child and adult that I educated or worked alongside or met on my journey through life.
Carmel Dunn is the retired Principal of Hollybush Primary and Nursery School