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Bishop Leo O'Reilly's Homily
at the 80th Anniversary of Loreto College, Cavan,
25th September 2010
In his address to teachers and religious in St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, last week Pope Benedict paid a warm tribute to the foundress of the Loreto Sisters, Mary Ward, and spoke of his own personal debt of gratitude to the Loreto Sisters. He said: “This gives me an opportunity to give thanks to God for the life and work of the Venerable Mary Ward, a native of this land whose pioneering vision of apostolic religious life for women has borne so much fruit. I myself as a young boy was taught by the “English Ladies” and I owe them a deep debt of gratitude.” I can think of no higher endorsement of Loreto education than that!
The Pope went on to pay tribute to the work of religious generally in education and to emphasise the importance of the work of Catholic education for both Church and society:
I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious men and women in this land to the noble task of education. You form new generations not only in knowledge of the faith, but in every aspect of what it means to live as mature and responsible citizens in today’s world.
The Holy Father’s words have a special resonance for us here today as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of Loreto College, Cavan. We remember today the pioneering sisters and teachers who started this school at a fairly bleak time in our history. The newly independent Free State did not have the resources to provide secondary education, but the Loreto sisters and many other religious orders stepped into the breach. The courageous women who started this school had few resources except their deep faith in Jesus Christ and their own outstanding abilities, dedication and determination to succeed. And succeed they did beyond anything that could have been anticipated.
They provided a top class education for generations of girls from Cavan and from further afield. For most of those 80 years a very large proportion of the pupils were boarders. The school opened up new opportunities for young women and enabled them to take their places in the world in a wide variety of occupations and professions. At the same time they gave them a thorough religious education and formed them in the Christian faith in such a way that for a great number it became a deeply held personal conviction and a life-long commitment. They established a tradition of excellence in education that is known and valued far and wide and is still much sought after by parents and pupils today.
Times have changed, of course, and in recent years the work of education in Loreto College is carried on by an almost entirely lay staff. I say ‘almost entirely’ because I know that Fr Kevin Fay, your part-time chaplain, is a highly valued member of staff and his contribution to the life of the school is greatly appreciated. Times may have changed but the traditions established by the Loreto sisters still continue under the guidance of the very committed Board of Management, the dedicated Principal and staff, an enthusiastic parent body and with the support and encouragement of the Loreto Education Trust. The Catholic Ethos of the school continues to shape the values and activities of the school and this is particularly evident in the commitment to quality religious education and formation as part of the school day.
But ethos not just confined to the sphere of teaching religion. It permeates the whole life of the school. Something else Pope Benedict said in the address I mentioned a few minutes ago is worth repeating here today. He said, speaking to teachers and religious:
As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts” (Wis 7:16).
“True wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator”, knowledge of God, and that comes through knowing Jesus Christ. The bishops’ Pastoral Letter of a couple of years ago, “Vision 08”, pointed to Christ as the foundation of Catholic education. It said: “Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education. This is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Our schools take Jesus as their model and inspiration. And that means more than just being inspired by his ideas and ideals, as say, Montessori schools are inspired by the ideas of Maria Montessori. As the Gospel of today’s Mass suggests, our link with Jesus is much closer than that. He is a living presence in our schools. He is still with us. He still says to us as he said to his apostles: “Courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”.
The exhortation from the letter to the Hebrews, in the second reading, then takes on a very practical imperative for the community of Loreto College as the school celebrates this important milestone in its history: “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end”. Constant awareness of Christ’s presence and keeping our eyes fixed on him – that is the key to maintaining a vibrant Catholic ethos in your school.
The new decade of the new millennium will bring new challenges. The great challenge highlighted by Pope Benedict in Britain last week was the challenge of aggressive secularism. It will be just as big, if not a bigger challenge here. I have no doubt that the girls who come to this school today bring the same youthful enthusiasm and idealism as those of previous generations. But they live in a very different society and culture. They live in a culture which is often hostile to faith and to Christian values. The need for schools like this to reaffirm their Catholic identity and to address that challenge is clear. I am very confident that you will meet the challenge. I wish you God’s choicest blessings in the years ahead and continued success in your noble educational endeavour.