Launch of CGCE Website
St Mary’s University College, Belfast
21 September 2007

Address by Most Reverend Seán Brady

It is an excellent day on which to launch a website promoting Catholic Education. It is the Feast of St Matthew – Apostle and Evangelist. There are churches called after him in this city.

An Apostle is someone sent. By Baptism we believe that we all share in the Mission given by the Father to his son, Jesus. Jesus, in turn, sent his Chosen Twelve when he said, “Go make disciples of all nations. Teaching them.”

Matthew is also an Evangelist, i.e., the bearer of good news, the author of the Gospel, which announces good news. Today, almost 2000 years later, the Good News according to Matthew continues to be read and heard and reflected upon around the world. In every Catholic Church, in which Mass is offered today, there will be a segment of St Matthew’s Gospel read. But before becoming a communicator, Matthew had a few matters to tidy up. He was a tax collector, not exactly the most popular position in the Israel of its day. Then he decided to take a career break and was seconded to the staff of the man from Nazareth. Of course he eventually opted for a total change of career and tradition has it that he preached the faith in the East. So I think the Feast of St Matthew is an excellent choice of day on which to launch a new website. That website promotes an education in which whole lives may be inspired by the Spirit of Christ. So what does this mean for school communities? It means that they need to inspire the lives of their pupils. They need to inspire them with Gospel values, especially the values of faith, hope and charity. For those are the kind of values which Matthew taught, and his teaching has been handed down, that is the value of truth and love, justice and forgiveness, peace and equality.

Jesus did not demand respect, but he got respect, because he taught with authority. The authority of someone who ensured, who insisted, that respect was shown to others, no matter what their race or their religion, their age or their gender or their state of health. Jesus got respect because he recognised the self-worth of everyone he met and he respected that self-worth.

This website will promote the Catholic School, which prides itself on trying to develop the self-esteem of every pupil. At the same time this website will serve to promote a type of school where discipline is highly prized. This is usually done by recognising and rewarding patterns of positive behaviour. It supports both student and staff. It monitors the individual self-discipline.

I attended a recent In-service day facilitates by someone from an Inner City School in London. The School insists strongly on respect, esteem and discipline and core values and in the process has turned around its own prospects considerably. A story was told to me, which has haunted me ever since, of a young man on death row who sent a last message to his parents. It contained, among other things, this question: “Why did nobody think it worth their while to tell me the difference between right and wrong?”

There are many wonderful developments in the technology of communication. The website is one example. But the supreme agent in education, I believe, remains the teacher. The extent to which the Christian Message is passed on in education depends on the teacher. For the integration of faith and culture in the pupil is made possible by other prior and all important integration, the integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher. The teacher must ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. If not, the pupils will be the first to notice.

I like this quote, which I saw recently, ‘Teaching has an extraordinary moral depth. It is one of humanities most excellent and creative activities.’ I am told the teacher rarely writes on the blackboard any more – but every teacher continues to write on the very spirit of human beings.

The curriculum can, and should, offer technical and professional training for future employment but we believe it cannot, and should not, be shaped solely by the needs of the consumer economy of the West. It should serve society by forming human individuals who, in turn, will change society for the better. To do so, the Catholic School must be itself a true community of persons. Of course it borrows good business models and practices for secular society but it is not itself just a business which delivers an educational product. Life every society it exists for its members. It is a place of formation, not just for the students, but for parents and even teachers.

This is a time of huge change in Northern Ireland – political, economic, social and educational. In that rapidly changing environment, the 547 Catholic schools here teach about 45% of all pupils and we take very seriously our role in both maintaining high standards, and contributing to a new society. I thank all those who dedicate so much of their energy and love to providing a high quality education for all young people, whatever their talents and needs.
Our schools have always been active in developing cross community and international links. They welcome people from all national backgrounds and people from various faith traditions or none. Catholic schools are not an obstacle on the road to reconciliation.
I hope that this website will help visitors to be aware of the exciting enterprise that is Catholic education in the 21st century.

Catholic Education and the Culture of Peace

As trustees of a sector that caters for 45% of the school-going population – we try to be aware of our responsibilities, especially of the responsibility to consolidate peace.

I believe that working for a culture of peace has to be part of the programme of all schools, in all parts of the world today. Education for peace is an expression of a vision which has to colour all education. The struggle for peace, and its partner, justice, are central signs of Christian life. We would hold that education, which does not have peace as a major focus is not Christian education at all. Because if we are to see Christ in our neighbours, love them as ourselves, and grow together towards the Kingdom of God, then we have to have Christian values by which to live our lives. Those values challenge the secular values of today. Violent solutions to conflict, a pride in possessions, consumerism, ruthless exploitation of the world’s resources are all signs of contemporary culture. Our vision of education warns us against creating ‘carbon copy people’ formed in the values of the contemporary world. We hope to have our pupils grow into a different culture, one of peace, justice, respect, forgiveness, reconciliation, service and non-violence. Of course it will be necessary to move from statements of vision and principles to strategies for action and implementation. The task for this century is to move the world from a culture of violence and war to a culture of peace. UNESCO has taken a lead in promoting a culture of peace which consists of promoting values, attitudes and behaviours, reflecting and inspiring social interaction and sharing, based on the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, tolerance and solidarity.

The Press Release emphasizes that the new website has been designed to cater for the inter-connectedness and diversity of the Catholic Education family. It reminds us of what Cardinal Newman once said: “I am a link in a change – a bond of connection between persons” Some chains serve only to shackle and to enslave but other, such as the links in the chain of a bicycle, serve to strengthen and empower.

May this new website strengthen the links between us and lead us to a greater understanding that we are indeed bonds of connection with each other and with our Creator.