Homily of Bishop Deenihan for live streamed Mass to launch Catholic Schools Week 2022 in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar in the Diocese of Meath

Today, we celebrate the beginning of Catholic Schools Week, a week in which we are invited to reflect on and celebrate the work of Catholic schools in our parishes and communities.  I am delighted to be launching the week from the Cathedral in  Mullingar with representatives of the Catholic Post-Primary Schools in the parish: Saint Finian’s, a co-educational  post-primary school under the patronage of the Bishop; Saint Mary’s, a boys post-primary school under the patronage of the Edmund Rice Schools’ Trust; and, Loreto Girls Post Primary School under the patronage of the Loreto schools Trust.

On this day, we also celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God.  This is a celebration that Pope Francis introduced to encourage us to focus on the power and wisdom of  Scripture – the Word of God.

While both celebrations are distinct, they can be  linked easily enough too.  The Word of God must inspire and influence our daily lives and  the Word of God  must inform or permeate our Catholic Schools too.  Indeed, the mission of Christ, as outlined in the Prophet Isaiah in today’s readings,  can be said to be the mission of the Catholic School:  the Good News of salvation, the light of knowledge and the power of opportunity.  In 2022 it is easy to forget that Catholic schools pre-date free education in Ireland and provided opportunity  and education to many.

Today’s gospel is taken from the opening chapters of the gospel of Saint Luke and, like last week’s Sunday gospel, portrays an account of the start of Jesus’ public ministry.  Basically, the gospel relates how Jesus entered the synagogue and read an extract from the prophet Isaiah.

Context is important.  At the time of the incident, Jesus was beginning to attract public attention.  People were, understandably, asking who He was and what He was about.  It seems reasonable to presume that Jesus was aware of this, and so it was no accident that He choose this passage.   Perhaps in a time when Catholic schools are attracting much commentary and not of all of which is accurate, it might be worth stressing that this passage reflects the mission of the Catholic school also.

That passage from Isaiah was Christ’s statement of intent, what He was going to do, in accountability speak, His mission statement, in political terms, His manifesto.

‘He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind, new sight, to set the down trodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour’.  In some ways, you might think, a precursor of the corporal works of mercy.

And, of course, Christ delivered on this manifesto.  The  gospels, in their entirety, relate how Christ  subsequently put that statement of intent into practice.   In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the hungry were fed, Bartimeus had his sight restored and many others who were sick had their health returned.  The downtrodden and ourselves were given  new hope by the revelation of the Father’s love for us and, ultimately, by the Resurrection itself.

That passage from Isaiah is also a statement of intent for the Church and for each member of it.  In many ways, we shall be judged on how we implement that charter in our daily lives  or, simply, by  how we deliver on it.  Religion is not a passive activity between the believer and God.  It is something much more active and involves faith in practice.

What is often called the institutional Church, for all its failings, was aware of this.  Many followers of Christ, lay and religious, from this parish, this diocese  and every other, have been inspired by this passage.  They have worked with the poor here and elsewhere, they have worked with the imprisoned at home and abroad, they have given  the new sight of education to generations of young people and improved their standards of living.  They have pioneered health care systems in many continents.   That account is not mere history.  In this country, in this parish, several men and women are still operating by that charter, motivated by Christ, putting their faith into practice, making this place a better place to live in.  That is the contribution that Christianity has made and should make to society.

Those who do manage to follow that charter in their lives, as difficult as it can be, can take pride in the words of Christ to the Jews in today’s gospel, this text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen.  For the rest of us, they, the prophet Isaiah and  today’s gospel, represent a challenge and ideal of what to be a follower of Christ means.

In many ways, today’s gospel  represents a challenge to the Catholic school also.

Much has been written about Catholic schools.  There can be some confusion about what a Catholic school is and does.  For some, it is an excellent academic education, for others, it is  a more general and broad contribution, bearing in mind the needs of the student.  Unfortunately, others see is as indoctrination.  The reality is broader.

A Catholic school, and by extension, a Catholic education, is not just about ideas, or courses or even subjects or syllabi but, rather, it is about people.  People and individuals must not just be important but central to Catholic education.  People are not clones, are not stereotypical and  so, it follows, that people and students – especially students some might say – are not ideal, not perfect, and, dare I say it,  sometimes not even holy.  Students come from different backgrounds, with different personalities and have different experiences but, like everyone else,  are made in God’s image.

Bearing all that in mind, a Catholic school must be about people as they are in the here and now!  Sometimes we have forgotten that, hurt was caused and damage done.   Today, I believe, Catholic schools understand the importance of the individual, made in the image of God, and  our schools are happy places where students are supported.  That is as it should be.

A Catholic school must treat all its students equally, must value all the different talents and abilities of its students equally and if it were to be biased at all, would be biased in favour of the weak.  As Saint Paul put it in one of his letters, ‘There are a variety of gifts but always the one giver’.  That, in a sense, is the guiding inspiration of Catholic schools: A variety of gifts, a variety of students and a variety of talents but all made in the image of the one God who loves us and gave His son for us.   Seeing the face of God in the face of each other prompts us to act as we would want Christ to act with us!

That is why Catholic schools are inclusive.  Inclusion is not just about religious denomination. Inclusion must also take nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic background and  ability into consideration.  When these five criteria are taken into consideration, I would challenge anyone to tell me that Catholic schools are not as inclusive as any other type of school.  They must be to be true to their ethos!   Indeed, an Economic & Social Research Institute publication School  Sector Variation amongst Primary Schools in Ireland, bears adequate and independent testimony to this.   In this town, and in every other, we know this to be true from our experience.

The Catholic school must  embody respect.  Respect for the individual student with their own distinctive talents and characteristics, respect for others, also made in the image and likeness of Christ.   Respect for others is something that has resonated with Irish society in the last week.  Respect for others is a key task for schools and society.  Catholic schools – conscious that we are all made in the image and likeness of God – believe this to be true and it is, and must be, a key characteristic of any Catholic school.

In addressing this point, I also must mention  the teachers who teach in our schools, who know and who respect their students, who acknowledge difference and who support, not just academically, the students many and varied abilities and gifts.   One such teacher was Ashling Murphy of a Catholic school in Durrow in this  Diocese who died tragically and cruelly ten days ago.  May God reward her and may God comfort Ashling’s family.  Our teachers are integral to the mission of the Catholic school and they have our thanks and our admiration.   The voluntary work of Boards of Management must also be acknowledged.  The dedication of board members is further evidence of the esteem in which such Catholic schools are held – at both parish and national level.  If we value something, we will work for it and give our time to it.

A Catholic school is a school that can say of itself that quotation from John 10:10, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’.  That is very much the theme of Catholic Schools Week.  That is the contribution of Catholic schools to this community and to Irish society.  How many talents have been nurtured, how may doors  have been opened and, in so doing, how many were able to live life to the full?

In addition to that, many of our Catholic schools were founded by religious Congregations and Orders such as the Presentation, Loreto and Mercy sisters and the Christian brothers and were founded in fulfillment of the corporal works of mercy, to instruct and, in so doing, to feed, to cloth, to open doors and to  train and enable  a new generation for a new world and provide new opportunity.  That is the contribution made by, and the consequence of, a Catholic education.

Indeed, many schools are involved in outreach programmes to the community that involve assisting, supporting, visiting and so learn valuable lessons on social responsibility, social justice and social obligations.  Indeed, the ecological movement has been supported by students of Catholic schools who, like Pope Francis, see care for our common home a vital obligation.  Just last night, I presented the ‘John Paul II Awards’ to students from Trim and Kilbeggan Post-Primary Schools in Trim Parish Church.  The tasks undertaken for the award were an inspiring chronicle of faith in action in local communities and a powerful testimony of the selflessness and vision of our young people.

To conclude, one could do worse than to quote Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Mercy Sisters,  ‘The function of a school is to fit its students for life without unfitting them for eternal life’.  A good education, a Catholic education, is not a preparation for capitalism or a narrow narcissistic and selfish view of life but rather one of compassion, service, respect  and using ones talents and opportunities.

In today’s world, that is no mean achievement.  May that good work continue to be done in Catholic schools throughout the country and may it be appreciated, valued and celebrated.


Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Tom Deenihan is Bishop of Meath.  The celebration of this Mass will be livestreamed at 11.00am onhttps://www.mullingarparish.ie/livestreamfrom the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath.  The liturgy will include musicians from Schola Cantorum at Saint Finian’s Diocesan College. There will also be participation in the Mass from the Loreto Secondary School and Coláiste Mhuire, Mullingar.
  • Catholic Schools Week 2022 will be celebrated in parishes across the island from today until Sunday 30 January.  This year’s theme is: ‘Catholic Schools: Living Life to the Full’.During Catholic Schools Week, families, parishes and schools, North and South, participate in a week of celebration of Catholic schools reflecting on their contribution to the school community and to the common good to society.  Follow Catholic Schools Week 2022 on social media with #CSW2022