I have rather missed the "Year of Catholic Education" that was launched from the "Big Assembly" during Pope Benedict's visit to England. The aims of the year were expressed by Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP in announcing the year, and again in the statement of the Bishops Conference on the Papal Visit after the meeting in November 2010:
“I want to announce that following your historic visit in England and Wales, we’ll be celebrating a year of Catholic education, and this will recognise past achievements, but also look forward to a future where we ensure that only the best education is delivered to our young people.”The blog for the Year of Catholic Education states its aims as follows:
“We thank also the Holy Father for his emphasis on the immense value of Catholic education. We appreciate the achievements of our schools and colleges and share their commitment to the constant search for excellence. We will celebrate this in the ‘Year of Catholic Education’.
During the year we are celebrating the great contribution that Catholic education makes towards the common good. We are encouraging the dioceses and Catholic schools and colleges to be in touch with us and tell us what they are doing to celebrate the Year of Catholic Education and how they can exemplify the theme of the Year of Catholic Education: “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).At a time when the place of the Catholic Church - indeed, of any religious faith - in the education service in our country is challenged by some, I can certainly see a political value in celebrating the achievements of Catholic schools. What will be interesting to see is how the "contribution towards the common good", the "search for excellence", of Catholic schools will be presented during the year. At one level, this is about success in examination results, and the other achievements that would be typical of any school, and quite rightly so.
But the successful promotion of the religious life of pupils and staff in Catholic schools should also be seen as part of their contribution to the common good. The rightful place of religion in the public life of the country was, after all, one of the themes of Pope Benedict's visit, achieving its clearest articulation when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.At this point, we run head on into a problem. Firstly, will those responsible for leadership in Catholic education have the political courage to speak out during the year for the religious nature of Catholic schools, when it would be easier to skip over that religious nature in favour of promoting achievements that are more acceptable to the secular elements of our society? And secondly, will those responsible for leadership in Catholic education be prepared to realistically evaluate the success or (more realistically) otherwise of Catholic schools in promoting the religious life of their pupils?
An initiative of the Catholic Truth Society, being undertaken in support of the Year of Catholic Education, illustrates this last problem quite acutely. According to the newsletter sent to CTS members, chaplains and RE teachers in Catholic schools have expressed to them a need for Bibles and copies of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in their schools. The provision of these resources to Catholic schools is the objective of their Christmas appeal 2010. These are really basic resources for the promotion of the Catholic knowledge and life of pupils attending a Catholic school, particularly a secondary school. It is surprising to realise that they are not always available in those schools.