Blessing and Official Opening of Cloonakilla NS, Bealnamulla, Athlone

Words of Bishop Kevin on the Occasion of the Blessing and official Opening of Cloonakilla National School, Bealnamulla, Athlone

7th June 2018

Photo with thanks to Ss Peter and Paul’s Parish, Athlone

I was very interested to discover that the original Cloonakilla National School was built in 1958, just sixty years ago this year. I was in Senior Infants that year, but it was a long way from here. They didn’t call it Senior Infants in those days either, at least not where I went to school. We were called “High Babies”. I must say I prefer the sound of Senior Infants.

When you look at the history of this whole area, sixty years ago is just like yesterday. The whole area is rich with spiritual history and linked especially to the names of St. Ciaran and St.  Brigid. The very name Cloonakilla means the “Church meadow”. Cloonakilla National School was built on that ancient tradition of faith and learning. This new building which we bless today, is like the butterfly that has broken free of the chrysalis. It is beautifully designed and it opens up great possibilities for the future. It follows in the same great tradition of the school that first opened its doors all those years ago. I know one past pupil of the school very well. He is Father Michael Duignan, my own closest advisor on education, and I believe that his personal love of learning and his commitment to education are traceable back to his time here in Cloonakilla.

A school like this is a hive of activity and a place where great things are being achieved all the time. A Catholic School has the same responsibility as any other school to strive for excellence in every area of activity, so that each child can discover his or her own gifts and come to be who and what he or she is called to be. A Catholic School operates according to the Spirit of the Gospel and this should help us to recognise that in every child (and indeed every member of staff) there is a unique human being who is loved by God from all eternity. This is why a Catholic School is a place of welcome and encouragement for children of all faiths and none, for children with special needs and for children from every socio-economic group.

This school is a great credit to the hard work of our Principal Mary O’Rourke and her staff and I want to acknowledge that today, alongside the very generous commitment of the school management board. It can sometimes be forgotten that, in this Diocese alone, there are nearly 800 people working in a voluntary capacity as members of school boards. I am conscious that Cloonakilla is blessed with a wonderful parents association which, through hard work and imagination have been able to provide very significant funding to support the day to day activity of the school. Blessing is about giving thanks and, today, as we bless this new school, I think it is only right that we pay tribute to the officials of the Department of Education and Skills, and to all who were involved with them in the design and building of it.

Every school is a partnership between teachers and pupils; between parents and teachers. In the case of a Catholic School, the parish is part of the partnership. Since long before Irish independence, the Catholic Church has worked closely with the state to provide quality education for the children in our communities. Our particular interest in doing this is to support parents in educating their children in a context of faith. I value the partnership between Church and State which, I believe, has greatly benefitted our children and our society down through the years.

Here in the Diocese of Elphin we have enjoyed a very positive and fruitful working relationship with the Department of Education and Skills in seeking to serve all the children who live in our communities. It is unfortunate that some of the political messages which find their way into the public forum   which seem to suggest that if only religion and religious education could be taken out of the equation, everything in the educational garden would be rosy. I think it is important on an occasion like this to say that the ethos of a Catholic School is not about defining students or defining their parents. It is about how our Gospel values inform the way in which we work with families and with children, and why we do things in the way that we do.

It is increasingly accepted in Europe that religious education is an integral part of a rounded human formation because quite apart from formation in faith, it provides young people with a key to self-understanding as well as a key to understanding the culture and civilisation of Europe.

Irish society is, of course, more multicultural and less Christian than it was in past. Inevitably this change must be reflected in the planning for educational provision and curriculum development. I would want to support this, but it has to be done within a framework of respect for the role of school patrons and the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children. Here in the Diocese of Elphin we work proactively to bring about the best results for our children by listening to each other and by working together. It is my hope that the same spirit of partnership could be reflected in the framing of education policy at national level.

Photos with thanks to Ss Peter and Paul’s Parish, Athlone, Co Roscommon