On Thursday 10th November our parish hosted the Bury Catholic Education Mass. This is an opportunity to give thanks for the gift of Catholic Education and to remember in the month of the Holy Souls deceased colleagues.
After Mass refreshments were served in the Minden Suite of the Fusiliers Museum
Here is the homily I delivered on that occasion
I want you to cast your minds back to the visit of Pope Benedict to us in 2010 and in particular to the Big Assembly that he held in Twickenham. I was fascinated by the question which Pope Benedict put to the large group of children from every Catholic school in Great Britain. He asked them: “What are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?”
These same questions are put both to us who have responsibilities in education and to the children entrusted to our care. What are the qualities that we see in others? This means what qualities do children look for in us? You don’t need me to tell you that children today are much more perceptive and discerning than perhaps we were in judging teachers and leaders.
When most of us are asked about our own school life and the things we remember most of all, I have never heard anyone answer “we had a well balanced curriculum” or that “we made progress and achieved a Level 6 or whatever ” or even that “our classrooms were bright and modern”. These and many other aspects of school life are important and must be attended to, but in my experience what always appears as the most significant memory is: “I remember Mr or Miss so and so”, in other words: “I remember a teacher who was different”.
We remember the teacher who recognised us as individuals, who acknowledged our talents, who transmitted to us that we were capable, capable of doing more than we had imagined, teachers who helped and encouraged us when things were not going well, and teachers who quietly rejoiced in our small successes.
Teachers do not constantly ask their children “what kind of person would you really like to be”. They draw out from within the child through patient dialogue what is best and most challenging in the child. Sadly many children today never arrive at that situation in which their talents are fully realised. They never reach a situation in which the talents they have can be offered and used to better society.
Life has changed; the economy has changed; society has changed, education has changed. The teacher can only do a certain amount. Most teachers go way beyond the requirements of mere duty and they deserve as individuals and as a profession greater recognition. We should not overburden our teachers with expectations that they alone can heal the wounds produced in children by a broken society. Very often however they are among the few who heroically try.
Tonight we gather and give thanks to God and celebrate that great gift which is Catholic Education in our locality. On a bad day we may well ask ourselves the question ‘Why do we do it? Why do we bother to turn up to work each day and literally flog ourselves to death for the children in our care? Ultimately it is out of love . It is because in the context of our Catholic faith we don’t need to be told by government officials that ‘every child matters.’ We truly believe it. Each and every student – created in the image and likeness of God. Every child matters whether they are gifted and talented or under achieving. Every child should be welcomed into our Catholic Family – it is who and what we are.
In the Catholic view of education every child in our care has special needs – to be what God, from all eternity has called them to be. Or in the words of Pope Benedict quoted earlier ‘to be the kind of person they would like to be.’ The task of making that happen is our vocation as those who, at whatever level, are involved in our Catholic Schools and for that tonight we say ‘Thanks be to God.’